Since I was a little girl, my biggest dream has been to build a happy marriage and family that would last forever. I was dreaming of big Christmas reunions with my brothers and sisters and their kids and my kids, and their kids and all of us under the same roof, happy, laughing and playing games.
Being the oldest child in a family that was torn apart in a divorce, I have seen the misery, pain and long lasting difficulties that an unresolved parent situation poses on everyone in the family. I really love my mom and dad, but their life choices are still affecting us all today. We are four siblings, I have a sister and two brothers, and we all together now have 7 kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats :D
In my childhood I was very close with my grandparents and learned a lot from them, but my kids are not so lucky with their grandparents, they get little time together. One of the reasons is that the grandparents are still working daily jobs and their lives are very busy in general, but the other reason is that my parents are not ready to be in the same neighbourhood. Ever.
This week-end I met my dad after a really long pause and my daughters seamed to feel like he is a stranger. And that hurt. So today I decided to talk about the #1 thing I have found to be important in building a happy marriage. :D
My life long dream and a crisis year in our marriage have lead me to read a lot about relationships. One of the resources I find really reliable is The Gottman Institute. In 2015 they released the Book The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work, based on their research done in the Love Lab. And the main researcher John M. Gottman, PH.D. says he can predict if a couple will divorce with a 91% accuracy. I think they are doing some really cool things there!
Why should keeping your marriage happy be important to you?
Multiple impressive studies suggest that keeping relationships happy will result in you having a better life! According to The Gottman Institute:
People who stay married live four years longer than people who don't.
The Grant study, the longest study in human history researching on what are the factors that make our lives happy, and the main scientist behind its conclusions Robert J. Waldinger suggests that building warm and strong relationships makes us happier, healthier and wealthier.
So what is the #1 thing I have found to be important in maintaining happiness in marriage?
There are many myths on what are the main causes of divorce, some of them are:
- Personality problems
- Not having common interests
- Avoiding conflict
- The fact that Men are not biologically "built" to be married
- Men and women are from different planets
However, according to Gottman and Silver, “Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.” So it is not all these myths that lead us to divorce, but not being friends.
And I can totally agree to that!
In their studies they found out that: "The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship."
And this is what I have found out to be true in our marriage too! When I feel like we are best friends with my husband, I feel happy, satisfied and passionate. And I want to be his best friend and that makes us laugh, solve our conflicts, trust each other and be happy together. Here is some more on why that is so from P.S. I love you:
Positivity bias of Friendship
Think about it: when you identify your partner as a best friend before a spouse, positive thoughts about him/her become overwhelming disproportionate to the negative thoughts. If you meet a friend for lunch and she forgot to order your sandwich without onion, would you give her “the look” or start shouting about how “selfish and inconsiderate” she is for not remembering the way you like your sandwich? Of course not; you would you pick off the onions, make a joke about onion breath at the office, and thank her for buying lunch.
The positivity bias of a friendship makes it easy to look past mistakes or small frustrations. Positivity bias occurs when a relationship has had so many positive interactions that negative interactions can be chalked up to an anomaly. Instead of thinking your friend was careless enough to forget that you hate onions, you might attribute the careless mistake to the stress she’s been under at work lately instead.
Positivity bias makes it easy for both partners “to feel optimistic about each other and their marriage, to assume positive things about their lives together, and to give each other the benefit of the doubt” (source).
The human attachment theory helps to explain the need for best friend behavior in a marital partnership. Research conducted on the attachment theory suggests that humans tend to attach themselves to one primary person when they are upset or scared. “Relationship partners are especially important when people are faced with a stressful event,” says social psychologist Paula Pietromonaco of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, “because [partners] have the potential to comfort and calm the person who is experiencing distress or to hinder that person’s efforts to feel better.” (Science News)
In other words, happily married couples turn towards each other during an argument — even if the argument is about each other — because they prioritize each other’s sense of well-being.
Best friends don’t fight ‘til the death of their marriage because the point of the conflict is not to cause the other person pain — the point is to find a solution and move forward.
Happily married couples find a way to calm each other down when an argument is escalating, either by making a joke, apologizing, offering a warm embrace, or simply by acknowledging that you both need some time to walk away and cool down.
When you’re married to your best friend:
Nobody cares who makes the money
…as long as you’ve got enough resources to support each other’s dreams and sustain a desired quality of life. A best friend doesn’t mind paying for two concert tickets because he/she knows that a concert without their partner would suck. They also never make you feel bad if they pay more than you because they recognize the other ways you contribute to the partnership (i.e. manual labor, acts of kindness, doing the taxes…).
Vacations are easy to agree on
…because the most important part is simply hanging out together — whether you’re sipping insta-worthy cocktails at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas or sharing leftovers out of a styrofoam box in a Motel 6.
Chores are divided 50/50
…or whatever split both partners see as “fair.” Some couples split household chores by task (I’ll take care of the laundry if you mow the lawn), by day of the week, time of day, or simply by who gets home first. The point isn’t that the actual workload is split evenly between partners, but that there is a sense of equality in the effort contributed by each person. In fact, best friends may actually take on more chores voluntarily when their partner is feeling sick or stressed out, knowing that he/she would do the same if the roles were reversed. While it may seem uneven at the time, best-friend-first couples trust that this temporary imbalance of effort will even out over the course of their lifetime.
You have incredible sex
…because you can openly communicate what you like in the bedroom. Couples that are friends before lovers feel a sense of gratification when they play a role in their partner’s sexual satisfaction; they view sex as a two-player game where the object is not to ‘win’, but for both players to have as much fun as possible playing the game. What fun is it unless your best friend is having fun, too?
You feel understood
…and emotionally connected 99% of the time. There might be a few slip-ups here and there (even the most loyal friendships endure forgotten birthdays once in a while) but best-friend-first couples pride themselves on knowing details of one another’s individual lives. Best friends check in with each other daily to find out how they are feeling, what kind of stresses they’re facing, and if there is anything they currently need or want. Best friends know each other’s biggest dreams, inquire about their progress, and celebrate every win (big and small).
You still fight (a lot)
…because all couples argue, whether they are happily married or on the brink of divorce. Couples who identify as best friends first, though, fight productively — that is, they fight with the intention of resolving a conflict instead of fighting solely to feel emotionally connected. Best friends also respect each other’s style of fighting as much as they can emotionally handle. The way best-friend couples fight is no different than any other marriage; some people like to retreat for clarity during conflict while others like to confront issues head-on until it’s resolved. The difference is that best-friend couples have found a way to fight about issues in a way that incorporates both partner’s style of processing emotions.
According to science happily married couples commit to putting in the work required to maintain their friendship through the inevitable ups and downs of life.
If you feel like your relationship is more of a partnership than a friendship, shift your perspective to think, act, and respond the way you would to a best friend.
Happily ever after doesn’t start with a champagne toast at a wedding; it starts the moment you turn towards your partner and realize you’re looking into the eyes of your very best friend.
Devoted to my best friend and husband, Kārlis Andersons!
About the Author:
Anna Andersone, CEO