BY TABATHA RENEGAR
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Those just might be the seven most hoped for, yearned for, worried about, sought after, and dreamed about words in the English language. And for those of us in a committed relationship, we’ve reached a point where they come pretty easy. But when was the last time you looked your significant other deep in the eyes and said, from the bottom of your heart:
“I like you!”
“I am so glad we’re friends.”
It’s probably been a while right? Or maybe it’s been since, well…. Never. We are all so busy trying to find our soul mates and the loves-of-our-lives that we lose sight of the friendship that almost certainly started the loving relationship that you and your spouse are in now. So how can we nurture that friendship now that we’re so deep into this love thing? And why is it important?
Every expert under the sun will tell you that friendship is the cornerstone of a happy marriage. Not money, not success, not having cute kids together, not even sex…. Friendship! Being friends with a spouse has proven time and again to be the main characteristic of happy, lasting marriages. Keeping that friendship solid depends on many factors – kindness, patience, etc. However, I think the common denominator to all of those feelings is one BIG thing:
The daily exchanges that you and your husband or wife are having may or may not count as actual communication. “I’m picking up the dry cleaning after work and then running Sarah to field hockey practice – there’s leftovers in the fridge,” does not count as effective communication. Let’s look at some steps that you both can take to ensure that your marriage is infused with the kind of communication that will sustain the cherished friendship with the person you married.
- Spend time together talking every day
Not about the bills, grocery lists or recent car troubles but about each other and what’s happening in your lives. How does she feel about being passed over for that promotion at work? Does he need to talk about his concerns for an aging parent? Turn off technology and let your spouse share what he’s feeling and listen… really, really listen. Ideally, you should carve out 20-30 minutes for this daily.
- Be specific when issues arise
Let’s face it, even in the closest friendships conflicts will appear. Do your best to avoid sweeping generalizations that make your partner feel targeted. “You never make dinner!” is too broad and accusatory and won’t start a healthy dialogue. Instead, try “I would be grateful if we could take turns making dinner or if you could make the salad while I prepare the chicken.” It’s hard for the recipient to get defensive when you’ve stated your feelings as a respectful request.
- Listen with an open heart – not defensively
Your best friend should be able to express his feelings to you without being met with a counter-attack of defensiveness. Yes, it’s hard to hear when our actions or words have impacted someone in a way we didn’t intend them to. But take a deep breath and listen so that you can truly learn from the feedback and move forward in a positive way.
- Accept compliments and give them frequently
Sometimes when someone who knows us inside and out tells us something nice, we’re inclined to say “What? You know I didn’t have time to condition my hair this morning!” when a simple “Thank you” would have sufficed. I am not sure why it’s human nature to give compliments easier than accept them but let’s all work on that! Especially in our marriages where it’s so easy to be comfortable and not appreciate the blessing of your life partner finding something positive to say about us! And while we’re working on taking them, try handing out more compliments to your spouse. Little things you notice and take a moment to say something nice about will begin to build a sweet sense of intimacy between the two of you. After all, who else is going to appreciate how nicely his nose hair trimmer is working?
Being married to someone you love and cherish is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest blessings in this life! Being able to call that person your best friend is just icing on the cake! If we all try to invest good energy into that friendship, it’s going to reward us for many years to come.