Tim and I sat in the dimly lit hotel lobby and clinked our glasses together celebrating seven years of marriage. I looked at him with so much joy because this year we had tackled three kids, a book release, a new job, an ACL surgery, settling into our new home and so much more. The sweet rest of overcoming obstacles and reflecting on how good God had been to us—it was a moment I will cherish while I am standing at the bathroom tub rinsing my child’s hair and little voices are gleefully yelling in my face. Before marriage, I thought friendship between a husband and wife grew in the highlights; but now I know it happens in the grit of choosing each other over and over again–a lifetime commitment to be partners and friends.
I think by now, we all know how important it is to tend to our marriages. With the country’s divorce rate so high, we are even more protective of this sacred relationship.
Yet, I bet you didn’t know that the main determining factor for a couple’s overall martial satisfaction is the quality of a couple’s friendship (Dr. John Gottman).
Gallup’s research indicates that a couple’s friendship quality could account for 70% of overall martial satisfaction (research from Vital Friends by Tom Rath).
And those of us who understand marriage to be a covenant—a lasting contract before God—then we are aware that “making it work” isn’t enough. We are partnering in each other’s overall growth, discipling a family, and sharing in ministry together. So if connecting and maturing in our friendship is a big part of this than what can we do to becoming better friends with our spouses?
Another friendship expert our of the University of Kansas, J.A. Hall, defines friendship as support and emotional nourishment. These are the two ingredients to assist us in feeling connected.
Focus on the day-to-day support.
Friendships between spouses aren’t built on the big moments but on the small stuff that happens every day. Share the load. Take turns washing dishes and taking out the trash. Dr. John Gottman says that the day-to-day support is the biggest indicator for a couple’s deep friendship. Knowing you have someone who is going to be there when you need them grows trust and security. We are free to ask for help and know we won’t be shamed for it. What can you do to communicate the support you may be needing and in what ways can you support your spouse in this season?
Emotionally nourish your spouse.
Encourage one another. Celebrate each other. Leave corny notes of what you love about them. And be emotionally present. Instead of looking at your phone, make room for you and your spouse to connect emotionally. If you are needing quality conversation starters, check out Kat Vellos’ calendar for a year worth of great conversation pieces. Pray for one another. Be consistent in your vulnerability instead of being hot one day and cold the next. We have the unique position of walking with our spouse through spiritual maturity and this requires being engaged and to pray for one each other like Paul prayed for the Colossian community: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col 1:10). Nourishing faith makes a strong bond.
Be more positive.
Life is hard so don’t drag your feet and sigh through it. When you have a brighter outlook, it will positively affect the person who shares a bed with you. Shasta Nelson, in her book Frientimacy, found that “any relationship that drops below five positive interactions for every negative one is a relationship that will be harder to recover. If we can continue to bring moments of joy, conversations touched with laughter, compliments that uplift, events that invoke our adventurous side, and actions of kindness—then we are making sure we have the savings to deal with the harder stuff.”
There are a variety of ways you can develop your friendship with your spouse. Think about what it would look like to meet the needs of your spouse in a positive, meaningful way. We all have different ways of feeling loved and connected with and you most likely, know your spouse best.
But, your spouse can’t be the only friendship that matters.
It’s a lot of pressure to expect your friendship with your spouse to meet all of your relational needs. Our spouse may not always be the best person who listens unconditionally, who will push you to go the gym every morning, or loves to decorate the house with you for holidays. If we expect them to give 100% to everything we want and need—they will disappoint us.
And unfortunately, we can take these few things they don’t do well and turn it into the gauge of our entire marriage. You may think thoughts like: If he doesn’t motivate me or push me then maybe I shouldn’t be married to him. If she doesn’t like going out to big gatherings and would prefer to stay home every weekend then maybe this wasn’t the right choice of a partner. “Like a pencil we try and force one person to be sharp in every way—leaving us with a useless and semi-dangerous object” wrote Tom Rath in his book Vital Friends.
So, how do we value our friendship with our spouse without making them the only friendship that matters?
Focus on what your spouse does contribute to your life
What are the areas they specifically sharpen in you?
Put less weight on the needs your spouse doesn’t meet
That’s what community is for. Every friendship contributes something different.
Continue to thank your spouse for what they bring to your life
Gratitude is everything.