“True friends are never apart; maybe in distance, but never in heart.”
Is the key to a happy relationship just being your partner’s friend?
It sounds a little too easy, but according to research by Dr. John Gottman, long-term vitality and connection are maintained through moments of intentional friendship woven throughout the course of your relationship.
Below are five simple ways to strengthen the friendship in your romantic relationship.
Make small moments into pivotal experiences
Think about the “honeymoon” phase of your relationship—that time when everything about your partner seemed fascinating. You loved their hair, their goofy jokes, and the way they just look at you. It all drew you even closer to them.
Fast forward a year or two into your relationship. No doubt there are moments that still draw you to your partner, but you notice that “flame” is a little less vibrant. It seems like more of a chore to make time to be together.
This is when the intentional work of maintaining your marital friendship is most important.
Couples in long-term relationships must turn the seemingly small and mundane into opportunities to attune to one another. For example…
“Are we out of olive oil? I forgot to check when I was in the kitchen earlier.” Partner shrugs and doesn’t look up from the phone.
Partner puts the phone down and responds, “Hmm, I have no idea. But I’ll check on my way out and stop into the store on my way back from the gym later and grab one.”
The difference is that you intentionally take the time to tune in, actively listen to, and respond to your partner in a way that leaves them acknowledged and heard.
Express genuine interest in your partner
Do you do fun things together during your free time? You don’t have to have the same interests as your partner, but you can absolutely enjoy time spent together by engaging in one of their (or your) interests.
Perhaps your partner loves baseball. You don’t have to become a sports expert overnight. However, you can attend games with your partner and enjoy the excitement on your partner’s face when their team hits that home run. If your partner enjoys art, take a class with them. It’s about finding activities that validate your partner that you can participate in together.
Make everything positive in your relationship foreplay
As contrary as it may sound, the smallest ways that you acknowledge your partner’s questions and expressions are the most significant in strengthening and securing your physical bond. According to Dr. Gottman’s research, there is actual legitimacy to the “romance starts in the kitchen” mantra.
Daily experiences like doing the dishes, folding laundry, watching TV, or cooking together can be opportunities for a deeper connection to occur. These can be moments to share about your day, talk about your goals, or simply to check in on how each other is feeling.
What are some daily activities or rituals that you wish your partner would do with you? Would it be nice to have them fold laundry by your side or simply sit together at dinner and have a conversation instead of silently scrolling through your phones?
In his New York Times bestseller “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Dr. Gottman includes an extensive list of potential activities that couples can do together throughout their day to prioritize emotional connection. Check out the list and get ideas on what you could invite your partner to do with you!
Be on your partner’s team
When obstacles and outside stressors come against your partner, they need to know you’ve got their back. After all, you’re on the same team. That means you can show genuine interest in being on your partner’s side and try your best to never do or say anything that could leave them feeling insignificant or alone.
Examples of this look like standing up for your partner when you see them feeling uncomfortable in a social setting. Or, when your partner faces rejection or disappointment, you can say, “I know this hurts, but I believe in you.”
As with any friendship, your bond must be nurtured and prioritized. Creating meaningful experiences, showing genuine interest in one another, and being on the same team are all simple, daily actions that you can make right now to strengthen your relationship. Cultivating these will become a lifeline for you both.
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