Daily Archives: January 14, 2008

Friendship in Marriage

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Paul and I play Scrabble. It’s our dorky obsession. We even have a travel Scrabble board which rides around in our trunk just in case we’re stranded somewhere and are struck with a sudden, irrepressible need for a triple word score. We pull it out sometimes at restaurants and play through a whole game while sipping bottomless cokes and eating steak fries. It’s an acknowledged truth between us that, though I have the larger vocabulary, Paul is the master of Scrabble mathematics (a skill that somehow allows him to lay down only two tiles and still score a whopping 39 points.) This makes for close games, and we’re pretty evenly matched in the wins and losses department.

You know what they say: the couple that plays together stays together. Even if the play sometimes involves beating each other about the head and shoulders with a pocket dictionary. (“I told you ‘pukka’ was a word! You dare to challenge me?”)

This month’s Marriage Support Groups discussion topic is Maintaining Friendship in Marriage. Studies show that one of the biggest predictors of marital success is having a strong friendship at the foundation of your relationship with your spouse. Fun, teamwork, trust, communication, loyalty, laughter–the building blocks of a good friendship are also essential to a fulfilling marriage.

Here are this month’s discussion questions:

Ice Breaker: Many wedding invitations feature the popular phrase: “Today I marry my best friend.” What one characteristic of a good friend have you come to appreciate most about your spouse since your wedding day?

1. According to Dr. John Gottman*, the common denominator among most long-lasting, happy marriages is a firm foundation in friendship. He describes this as “an abiding regard” for each other that expresses itself in big and little ways every day. Share some of the ‘little things’ that you and your spouse do to nurture your friendship.

2. Most successful marriage friendships are characterized by something called positive sentiment override. This means that despite the usual irritations and disagreements two married people experience, their positive feelings about each other and their marriage are so pervasive that they tend to supersede the negative feelings. The natural state for a marriage in this condition is optimism. What can we do to help create this ‘positive sentiment override’ in our own marriages?

3. Research has revealed that there is one behavior that nearly all emotionally healthy marriages have in common. That behavior is called the repair attempt (though the couples who use it may not even realize it.) In an argument, a repair attempt is any statement or action-silly or serious-that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. A funny phrase, a sincere look, or a familiar hand squeeze-whatever it is, in healthy friendships it disarms the combatants and brings the tension back down to a manageable level. Share a common repair attempt you and your spouse use.

4. Emotionally connected couples tend to be very familiar with each other’s worlds–what their days are like, how they feel about things, their dreams and worries, their favorite dessert. How well do you feel you know the little details of your spouse’s life? What can we do to improve this intimate knowledge of each other?

5. Another key to a strong marital friendship is to create shared meaning, an inner life together that emphasizes the feeling of being part of a special and unique bond. We do this in a number of ways: traditions, inside jokes, personal rituals, shared goals and dreams. Give an example from your own marriage. How do you cultivate that sense of “us-ness” with your spouse?

6. Share one thing you could do to be a better friend to your spouse.

Assignment: Plan a date night this week for the two of you. Nurture that friendship with the gift of time!

*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver