7 Ways To Rediscover Friendship In Your Marriage And Save It
Happily married couples aren’t smarter or richer than others, they simply have hit upon a dynamic that prevents their negative thoughts and feelings about each other from hindering their positive ones.
In other words, they have an emotionally intelligent marriage.
Happily married couples are in touch with their emotion, and the more they’re able to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage, the more likely that they’ll live happily ever after and stay on the positive side of the divorce odds.
The good news is that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be built.
In this article, you’re going to learn how to save your marriage by rediscovering your friendship with your partner.
Ready? Let’s get started!
- Why Do You Need To Save Your Marriage?
- Myths About Marriage
- Why Does Most Marriage Therapy fail?
- What Makes Marriage Work?
- How To Strengthen Your Friendship?
- #1. Enhance Your Love Maps
- #2. Nurture Your Fondness And Admiration
- #3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead Of Away
- #4. Let Your Partner Influence You
- #5. Overcoming Your Solvable Problems
- #6. Overcoming Your Perpetual Conflicts
- #7. Create Shared Meaning
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Why Do You Need To Save Your Marriage?
About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. And the divorce rate for second marriages is even higher.
Because of the high chance of getting divorced, it makes sense for all married couples, including those who are satisfied with their marriage, to work on strengthening their relationship.
Many people don’t realize how important it is to save their marriage until it’s too late.
Some people may think that getting a divorce is no big deal, and some might see it as trendy.
However, undergoing a divorce can be damaging, not only for the couple, but for the children and close family and friends.
On the other hand, people who are happily married live longer, healthier lives than those who are unhappily married.
Happily married couples also tend to be more health-conscious than others, they keep after each other to have their regular checkups, exercise, and eat nutritiously.
Myths About Marriage
The idea that you can save your marriage just by learning how to communicate more sensitively is hardly the only misconception about happy marriages.
There are many other myths that can not only lead couples down the wrong path but also convince them that their marriage is a hopeless case.
Among these misconceptions:
1. Personality Problems Ruin Marriages.
We all have issues we’re not totally rational about, but they don’t necessarily intervene with marriage.
In fact, the key to a happy marriage isn’t having a “normal” personality but rather, “finding someone with whom you mesh” and you find yourselves able to accommodate each other’s strange side with care and respect.
For example, someone who hates having a boss would be happier with someone who treats him like a partner and doesn’t try to boss him around, than he would have been with and authoritarian woman.
2. Common Interests Keep You Together.
Common interests strengthen the marriage depending on how you interact while pursuing these interests.
A couple who love photography can enjoy taking pictures together and praising each others’ skills.
Another couple may equally share a love for photography but not the same mutual respect.
They might start arguing which mode is better and how much light exposure is ideal. It is hard to see how perusing their common interest can benefit their marriage.
3. Reciprocating Keeps Your Marriage Strong.
Some people believe that reciprocating positive words and deeds is what keeps marriages from falling.
When they meet a kiss with a kiss and a smile with a smile, and when they reciprocate helping each other and so on.
However, this quid pro quo usually operates in unhappy marriages where each spouse feels the need to keep scores of who did what for whom.
This can create tension and hostility between the couple.
4. Avoiding Conflict Ruins Your Marriage.
“Tell it like it is” isn’t ideal for all marriages.
Many couples lead a happy marriage even though they often ignore conflicts and go on as if nothing happened, and still be satisfied with their marriage.
Couples simply have different styles of conflict. Some fight a lot, some avoid conflicts at all costs and some are able to talk out their differences and find a compromise. No style is better than the other as long as it works for both people.
However, having a different style of conflict can be a problem such as when one spouse wants to talk out a conflict while the other spouse wants to avoid it and act as if nothing happened.
Looking for creative (and inexpensive) ideas of things to do together with your partner to deepen your connection and love?
“175 Best Date Ideas” is a $9 e-book that will help spark what you had when you first met.
Why Does Most Marriage Therapy fail?
Traditional marriage therapy would suggest learning how to communicate better.
When couples find themselves in a conflict, they usually become so focused on proving that they’re right and their partner is wrong and on how hurt they feel.
This usually shuts down the lines of communication between them. And this is why, improving communication between the couple seems like the perfect approach to solve conflicts, find compromise solutions, and regain their marital composure.
Improving your communication with your spouse is usually done through active listening. The therapist would ask the spouse to state their complaints as “I” statements that focus on their feelings, rather than hurting the other person by accusing them or criticizing them.
So rather than saying “You’re so selfish always leaving me alone,” they would say “I feel so lonely while you’re working late.”
Then the other spouse is asked to paraphrase both the content and the feelings of his partner to show that he’s actively listening to her.
He’s also asked to validate her feelings to show that he respects and empathizes with her. He might say “It must be hard for you to be by yourself when I’m working late”.
By making the couple see their difference from each other’s perspective, solving conflicts should take place without anger.
However, while there are circumstances where active listening can come in handy, researchers have found that, in the long run, typical couples were still distressed, and some of them relapsed within a short amount of time. In fact, the spouse knows that the person being trashed behind the “I” statements, is him.
And it’s unlikely for someone to be magnanimous in the face of such criticism. So even if active listening can make your fights less damaging and less frequent, it alone cannot save your marriage.
In other words, getting couples to argue more nicely might reduce their stress level while they argue, but it isn’t enough to bring life back into their marriage.
It takes hard work to maintain a healthy, nurturing marriage. But once you understand what makes a marriage work, saving or safeguarding your own marriage will become more manageable.
What Makes Marriage Work?
Studies show that happy marriages are never perfect unions.
Many couples had significant differences in interests, values… and conflicts between them weren’t infrequent. However, they are very satisfied with each other.
While no two marriages are the same, happy marriages seem to follow seven principles even when they’re not aware of them.
At the same time, unhappy marriages came short in at least one of these seven principles and oftentimes in many of them.
By identifying which of these components are weak spots in your marriage, you’ll be able to devote more time and energy toward mastering these principles and save your marriage.
Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.
This means happily married couples mutually respect each other and enjoy each other’s company.
They tend to know each other intimately including each other’s likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, values… they have a growing fondness for each other that they express in little ways day in and day out.
Even when they’re busy, they find ways to stay connected including talking frequently on the phone and checking in to see how their important meeting went and so on.
Through these small ways, couples maintain a happier marriage than those who go on romantic vacations and give each other lavish anniversary gifts but have fallen out of touch in their daily lives.
When couples keep their relationship strong, they’re able to sail smoothly through troubles.
Their positive thoughts about each other and their marriage can replace any negative feelings they might experience.
They assume positive things about each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Through the seven principles presented below, you can work on strengthening your friendship with your spouse.
Strengthening friendship doesn’t prevent couples from arguing. Instead, it gives them a powerful tool that prevents conflicts from getting out of hand.
In fact, strong friendship between the couple usually guarantees the success of the “repair attempt”.
This refers to any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating while arguing. A repair statement such as “Hey, I’m sorry” can be enough to stop negativity from getting out of control.
This might sound simplistic, but it’s not. Strengthening your marital friendship isn’t as simple as just being “nice”. And even if you feel that your friendship is already solid, you might be surprised to find there is room for improvement.
How To Strengthen Your Friendship?
#1. Enhance Your Love Maps
Many married couples are guilty of the habit of inattention to the details of their spouse’s life. One or both spouses may only have the vaguest idea about the other’s likes, dislikes, joys, fears…
The husband might not remember the names of his wife’s friends or coworkers and so on. In contrast, emotionally happily married couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world.
They remember the major events in each other’s lives, and they constantly update their information when it comes to the facts and feelings of their partner’s world changes.
They create a love map in their mind through which they get to know their spouse on an intimate level.
This knowledge, not only strengthens their love and friendship but also gives them the fortitude to cope better with stressful events and conflicts.
One of the major causes of marital conflicts and divorce is the birth of the first baby. Because of the importance of such an event especially for women, sudden changes might occur.
His wife that used to be ambitious and adventurous, might decide to give up her job to stay at home with the baby. Her fundamental sense of meaning in life has changed. She’s more willing to undergo great sacrifices for her baby’s sake.
Without keeping up with what his wife is thinking and feeling, the husband might become confused with the change in his wife. He won’t be able to give the support his wife needs and conflicts arise.
Any other major change like a job shift or a move or illness or even the passage of time alone can have the same effect. The key to staying connected, as life changes around you, is to understand and know more about each other. To help you deepen your understanding of each other, make sure you cover some of the following areas:
- The stresses your partner is currently facing.
- Some of your partner’s life dreams.
- Your partner’s religious beliefs and ideas.
- The names of some of the people that are irritating your partner lately and the relatives your partner likes the least.
- Your partner’s favorite music and movies.
- The most special times in your partner’s life.
Knowing your spouse’s everyday life, hopes, and fears and keeping up to date with these details will give you a fairly detailed love map that will allow you to handle any problem that crops up in your relationship.
Looking for creative (and inexpensive) ideas of things to do together with your partner to deepen your connection and love?
“175 Best Date Ideas” is a $9 e-book that will help spark what you had when you first met.
#2. Nurture Your Fondness And Admiration
Happily married couples can find themselves distracted at times by their spouse’s personality flaws.
However, when a sense of fondness and admiration is cultivated in the couple, they would still feel that the person they married is worthy of respect and honor.
The best way to know whether a couple admires each other still, is usually how they view their past. It’s hard to praise each other when your marriage is troubles.
But by focusing of your past, you usually can revive some positive feelings.
However, when negativity has overtaken the relationship, any positive memories might be distorted.
Fondness and admiration can be fragile.
This is why it’s important to become aware of how crucial they are to your friendship, and constantly remind yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities.
Fondness and admiration will help you maintain a sense of respect for your spouse that in order will prevent negativity from escalating when they disagree.
To revive or enhance fondness and admiration in your marriage try discussing with your spouse the following topics:
Your Marriage History:
- Discuss how the two of you met. What was your first impression of each other? What was it that made your spouse stand out?
- What were some of the highlights of your dating stage?
- Of all people in the world, what led you to decide that you wanted to marry that person?
- What did you like most about your wedding and your honeymoon?
- What moments in your marriage stand out as the hardest? Why do you think you stayed together?
Your Marriage Philosophy.
- Why do you think some marriages last while others don’t?
- Determine together who among the couples you know have a happy marriage and who have an unhappy marriage. What is different about these two marriages?
Discussing these topics and answering these questions, from time to time, often remind couples of the fondness and admiration that inspired their decision to get married in the first place.
Another way to revive your admiration for your spouse would be to build the habit of thinking positively about him.
By becoming more mindful of his characteristics that appeal to you most and meditating on them, or simply keeping a journal where you write down every day three things you appreciate about your partner.
#3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead Of Away
Many people think that the secret to life-long romance is a candlelit dinner or a by-the-sea vacation, but real-life romance is rather fueled by little ways to stay connected.
When your spouse is having a bad day at work, and you take a minute of your time to text him, words of encouragement, or when your spouse has had a bad dream and you say “I’m in a hurry, but tell me about it so we can talk more about in the evening” instead of “I don’t have time for this”.
In such instances, the couple is making a choice to turn toward each other rather than away.
When partners turn toward each other rather than away, they maintain a positive sense of each other and their marriage, even when they’re faced with major life stress or conflicts.
1. Become aware of how crucial your small interactions are.
The first step in turning toward each other more is to become aware of how important these everyday interactions are for your marriage stability and sense of romance.
Not taking these mundane moments for granted can make an enormous difference in your relationship.
2. Start doing more things together.
Choose the three most things you wish your partner would do with you, and ask him to do it.
Below are some mundane activities you can start doing together:
- Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went.
- Make a shopping list and go shop for groceries.
- Cook dinner together or bake.
- Exercise together.
- Call each other morning during the day.
- Do yard work or car washing together.
- Attend sporting events.
- Work at home together.
- Drive to or from work together.
3. Calming-down conversations.
Although any everyday activity listed above can draw you closer to your spouse, the first activity “Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went,” is the most effective one.
This conversation can help you manage the stress that is not caused by your marriage.
In fact, marital therapy shows that couples who can help each other cope with stress from other areas of their lives, keep their marriages strong, while other who are overrun by this stress see their marriages relapse.
However, in order to have the desired effect, it’s important for both to listen to each other with empathy, without judgment, and without trying to offer unsolicited advice. It’s also crucial to choose the right time when you both want to talk.
Remember that this is not the time to discuss conflicts between you. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally regarding other areas in your lives.
While turning toward each other is beneficial for the stability of your marriage, doing the opposite can be hurtful.
People might get distracted, or simply start taking each other for granted. But sometimes, there are deeper reasons why couples turn away from each other.
It can be a sign of hostility over some conflict, or simply it can be because of a disparity between their respective needs for intimacy and independence. If you feel like your spouse is turning away from you in little ways, or his concept of closeness is suffocating you, the best things you can do, is to talk it out.
Doing this will help you understand each others’ needs and learn how to better fulfill those needs.
#4. Let Your Partner Influence You
Men who are willing to share power with their partner, are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. And while, it’s also important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect and share their power with their husbands, in reality, the vast majority of wives already do that.
They let their husbands influence their decision making by taking into consideration their opinions and feelings.
However, men struggle to return the favor.
Letting your partner influence you doesn’t imply that men should give up their personal power and let their wives rule their lives. It simply means not to resist power sharing and decision making with women.
The happiest marriages, in the long run, were those where the husband searched for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way whenever a disagreement takes place.
Moreover, sharing power and letting your partner influence you come with many pluses:
– Husbands who are willing to share power, are better able to listen to their spouses’ needs, opinions, and values.
This will increase their spouses’ satisfaction, and increase the likelihood of coming up with a solution or approach to a problem that satisfies both partners.
– When a husband accepts his wife’s influence, their friendship strengthens, making it easier for him to follow the first three principles presented above: “deepening his love map, bolstering fondness and admiration, and turning toward his wife as a matter of course.”
– Husbands who let their partners influence them, honor and respect their wives and are open to learning more about emotions from them.
They become emotionally intelligent.
They start to understand not only their wives world but also those of their children and friends, and are better able to connect emotionally with others.
If you have some difficulty accepting influence from your spouse, try doing the following:
1. Understand what it means to accept influence.
This like we mentioned above, doesn’t mean to give up your personal power and let your spouse rule your life. It simply means taking into account your spouse’s needs, feelings, and values before making decisions.
And when you disagree, try to compromise and look for a common ground that will leave you both satisfied.
2. Acknowledge the problem.
Start taking responsibility for the parts of your marital troubles that are caused by your struggle with sharing power.
3. Ask for help.
Ask your spouse to gently point out the moments when you are being defensive or disrespectful.
This will help you gradually adopt the habit of sharing power.
#5. Overcoming Your Solvable Problems
Conflicts in marriage, even happy ones, are inevitable.
However, some conflicts are solvable, while others are perpetual that will always be part of the couples’ life in some form or another.
Although solvable problems are less painful and intense than perpetual ones, they don’t always get resolved which can cause a great deal of pain and frustration between the couple.
Like constantly fighting about getting to work late when commuting together because one spouse fails to wake up early enough, or takes forever to get ready.
Solving solvable problems can be quite easy when you respect and accept each other while discussing the conflict.
The approach to solving solvable problems can be summarized into five main steps:
Step 1: Soften Your Startup.
A harsh startup that begins with criticism and contempt will likely lead to more intensive fighting and eventually emotional distance and loneliness that lets the marriage wither.
In contrast, a gentle startup is more likely to resolve the conflict and leave you both feeling positive about each other and about your marriage. The right way to discuss conflict is by making a direct complaint that doesn’t contain criticism or contempt.
This means to state the facts without blaming and to use “I” statement to express the way you’re feeling about the issue, instead of using “You” statements that can make your listener feel blamed.
Step 2. Learn To Make And Receive Repair Attempts.
When you find yourselves entrenched in conflict and the conversation is getting out of hand, you can prevent a disaster by knowing how to stop.
This can be done by using repair attempts such as saying “Hey, I’m sorry,” or, “Can we please take a break, this is getting out of hand.” These statements can be enough to deescalate the tension and improve the effectiveness of your problem-solving.
Step 3. Soothe Yourself And Each Other.
Discussing conflicts can be emotionally and physically overwhelming for both spouses. This makes it hard to give or receive repair attempts and prevent negativity from escalating.
This is why it’s important to soothe yourself and each other.
When you find yourself starting to feel overwhelmed, stop the discussion, and let your spouse know that you’re feeling overwhelmed and that you need to take a break.
During that time, do something soothing and distracting like exercising or meditating. After you’re soothed, try soothing your partner too while discussing the conflict, by holding hands or giving him or her a massage.
This can help you associate each other with feeling relaxed instead of being a trigger of stress for each other.
Step 4. Compromise.
In a loving relationship, no one can get things his way all the time, no matter whether or not he was right.
This is why compromising is the only way to resolve marital problems. This negotiation can only be possible after you follow the steps above.
Only then can you get into a positive mode that will allow you to compromise.
Remember that for a compromise to work, you’ll have to keep an open mind to your spouse’s opinions and desires, even when you don’t agree with it.
Step 5. Be Tolerant Of Each Other’s Faults.
Couples might believe that to resolve a conflict, their spouse needs to change.
But the truth is, resolving conflicts isn’t about one person changing, it’s about finding a compromise that can accommodate each spouse’s needs.
This is why you need to accept your spouse’s flaws and shortcomings and not try to change him or her.
#6. Overcoming Your Perpetual Conflicts
Couples, including happily married ones, can spend so much of their time arguing over the same issues.
However, in happy marriages, couples remain very satisfied with their marriages because they deal with their differences.
In other words, the goal isn’t to resolve the gridlocked problem, but rather to be able to live with the problem peacefully.
The approach to do that can be summarized into five main steps:
Step 1. Become A Dream Detective.
Perpetual problems are usually a sign that one spouse has hopes and wishes that aren’t being respected by the other spouse.
These hopes and wishes are part of your identity and give purpose and meaning to your life such as a sense of freedom, adventure, and so on.
Even when couples hide their deep personal wishes in an attempt to make the marriage work, these wishes remain something they’re longing for and could trigger conflict.
This is why you need to identify any unfulfilled dreams behind your perpetual problems.
Step 2. Tackle Gridlocked Marital Issues
After finding out some hidden hopes and wishes, choose a particular conflict, and work on it.
Share with your spouse where this wish comes from and why it is so meaningful to you.
Suspend judgment and show interest in learning more about your spouse’s position.
Step 3. Soothe Each Other
Adressing a conflict can leave you emotionally and physically overwhelmed.
When you start feeling overwhelmed by the discussion, let your spouse know how you feel and take a break for at least 20 minutes to cool down before you approach your spouse again.
Make sure you soothe your spouse too by holding hands or giving him or her a massage.
#7. Create Shared Meaning
Marriage isn’t just about sharing a house, raising kids, and making love.
It’s also about creating an inner life together; a culture rich with customs (like Saturday dinner out), rituals (like a champagne toast after the birth of each baby), and myths the couple tell themselves that explain what it means to be a part of the family they have become.
This doesn’t mean that the couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life, but they find a way of honoring each other’s basic needs and core values.
The culture they created together incorporates both of their dreams and is flexible enough to change as the couple grows and develops.
When the couple has this sense of shared meaning, conflicts become much less intense and less susceptible to lead to gridlocked problems.
You can strengthen your shared sense of meaning by building in family rituals of connection such as:
- A weekly date for the two of you.
- Celebrating achievements whether they were minor or major. This can create a culture of pride and praise in your marriage.
- Rituals of personal care to help each other when feeling exhausted and stressed out.
- Community rituals for caring for others, or opening your home to the people you care about, and keeping in touch with friends and family.
- Rituals surrounding lovemaking and feel emotionally safe in talking about what is good and what needs improvement.
- Planning birthdays and special events like holidays, anniversaries, and religious celebrations.
Happily married couples aren’t smarter or richer than others, they simply have built a strong friendship that prevents any negative thoughts and feelings from hindering how positive they feel about each other and about their marriage.
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman