Want a Good Marriage? Then Build a Great Friendship

On Thursday morning she asked if he’d like to go to marriage counseling.

On Friday he cleaned the kitchen.

Anything … he was willing to do anything, if it meant that he didn’t have to go to counseling. He wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted, but he was pretty sure that picking up after himself was part of it. And he was right, the simple act of cleaning the kitchen, something he had been meaning to do for months, seemed to decrease the pressure. But just when he thought he was out of the woods, it started again. From the moment he walked in the door, until he fell asleep on the couch, his life was a series of complaints. How had their marriage come to this? They didn’t even seem like friends any more.

Marriage therapist John Gottman identifies “friendship” as one of the four essential components of a healthy marriage. And here is the good news, in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he shares some creative tools to foster friendship, and I’m going to share some with you.

First is something he calls a “Love Map”. It means consciously delegating a part of our minds to gathering and maintaining information about our partners. For instance, do you know the important people in your partners’ life, his/her favorite food, holiday, way to spend an evening or vacation spot? How about his/her greatest fear, disappointment or regret? If you do, congratulations, but don’t forget to update the information often. If you don’t, how about taking the time to create this space in your brain?

Another element of “Friendship” is something he calls “Turning Toward”. In relationships we all make bids for contact during our time together. One person may say something like, “Did you hear about…?” Or, “Listen to this.” Or, “Can I show you…?” and, as you might imagine, how these “bids’ are received makes a huge difference in the quality of the friendship. If the other partner takes the time (seconds really) to look, respond, or just generally acknowledge the bid, this is considered a “Turn Toward”. If on the other hand, the bid gets ignored, this is considered; you guessed it, “Turning Away”.

In successful relationships, there will be dozens of bids for contact over the course of a day. In failing ones, only a few. Even though not all bids are answered, it seems as if in the troubled relationships the partners have given up trying to get the attention they need.

When I explained this to the man in the above marriage he said, “I can do that.” And he seemed relieved. Maybe he thinks this will get him out of further counseling, or cleaning the kitchen, and maybe it will, but if they both take these suggestions seriously, it may get them into a happier marriage.

Like Martin Luther said,

“There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.”