Dr. John Gottman conceptualized relationships by creating The Sound Relationship House, which is a blueprint to romantic relationships. The first three levels of the house are called the friendship system. They are the foundation of the house and the relationship.
Most couples start strong in this area. In the beginning, they spend hours talking on the phone, texting throughout the day, and sharing stories late into the night. They are aware of each other’s past, the present, and their hopes for the future. They learn each other’s quirks and pet peeves. As the relationship matures, couples begin to engage in logistical conversations rather than storytelling. “Are you picking up the kids from school?” “Don’t forget we need to pay the internet bill?” “Take the meat out of the freezer!”
In the midst of doing life together, make space for storytelling. We continue to grow and evolve as individuals, and you want to ensure you don’t leave your partner behind. Start by getting into the habit of asking open-ended questions.
- What is it like to be an only child?
- How do you feel about your promotion?
- What has been on your mind lately?
Open-ended questions will elicit a story that will tell you more about what is keeping your partner up at night, be it a dream or a challenge.
Fondness and Admiration
Think of your close friend. They possess traits you admire and you feel proud of their accomplishments. You brag about them to others and you cheer them on when they feel insecure. Typically, at the start of a romantic relationship, you do the same with your partner. Everything they do is mind-blowing! Yet, as the “honeymoon stage” comes to an end, you hyperfocus on the behaviors and personality traits that bother you and you stop acknowledging everything that is right.
Over time, this can give way to contempt. According to Dr. Gottman’s research, contempt is a predictor for divorce.
You can show fondness and admiration by:
- Giving your partner specific compliments (e.g., “You look great in that green shirt. It makes your eyes pop.”)
- Highlighting their qualities and traits (e.g., “You are easygoing and make stressful situations feel like a breeze.”)
- Say thank you in a meaningful way (e.g., “Thank you for making me laugh after a long day.”)
Fun & Flexibility
Bring play into the relationship and support each other’s interests. Couples who can be silly and laugh together, stay together. Flexibility is key and it requires you to engage in activities you may not care for because these are important to your partner. It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone for the sake of your connection.
Sadly, fun is the first thing out the window when caught up in the stressors of life. Like everything else, it takes intentionality.
- When was the last time you did something spontaneous with your partner?
- When was the last time you did something new in the bedroom?
- When was the last time you belly laughed together?
Having a strong friendship correlates with a positive perspective of the relationship, effective conflict management, and a strong sense of “us.”
In the book Eight Dates, Drs. John and Julie Gottman provide a list of activities that couples can engage in to bring the fun back. These are just a few:
- Plan a meal together and invite friends over
- Go to a spa and enjoy being together in the hot tub or sauna
- Tell stories about the most embarrassing or entertaining episodes of your lives
Find Ways To Connect Regularly
Booking a couples massage or planning a trip to an exotic country is tons of fun, but these things cannot be done on a daily basis. Connection is sustained by the small day-to-day interactions that bring you closer together. Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver, cite a newlywed study in the book What Makes Love Last? that concluded that couples who remained happily married at the six-year follow-up had turned towards each other 86% of the time. They had also used humor and affection in their interactions. In contrast, the couples who didn’t make it only turned towards each other 33% of the time.
Turning towards means seeking support, comfort, and attention from your partner and them being responsive and attuned. Bids can sound like:
- How do I look?
- Let’s take our dog for a walk.
- Let me tell you what happened when my mother called.
Trust & Commitment
Long-term close friendships are founded on trust and commitment. Trust that your friend has your best interest in mind and that they are invested in the friendship. You can count on them when you are in trouble. The same applies to romantic relationships. If you want to nurture the friendship within your relationship, you have to ensure that you are behaving in a trustworthy way and demonstrating your commitment consistently.
Trust is not built overnight or with grand gestures. You build trust every day. This is what Dr. John Gottman refers to sliding door moments. When you choose your relationship over your job, family of origin, friends, and hobbies regularly, you build trust and show commitment.
Understanding the importance of a strong friendship can motivate you to befriend your partner all over again or to keep watering your growing friendship daily.
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