Why Spouses Make Poor Friends But Friends Make Good Spouses
Friendship Is Important To Love
All of the excitement, uncertainty, wonder and self doubt that makes the beginning of romantic love so emotionally juicy are useless when it comes to committed love. Committed love is a wellspring of love that flows between two people, and relationship insecurity is like grains of sand, that over time, clog the well and choke off the flow of good feelings. Commitment alone is not enough to form happy relationships, you need a feeling of friendship as well.
Friendship in marriage and love, creates a bond that feels tight, secure, safe and inseparable. All the angst of love is left out when friendship flourishes. If you're not feeling all the love you want to feel in your relationship ask yourself “Am I friends with my spouse (or partner)?”, and if the answer is “I don’t know” or “I think so” then the answer is most likely “no”. Friendship is a skill we learned in first grade and since that time we know who our friends are and who aren’t. So you’ll probably want to work on that area of your relationship.
But In Case You Really Weren’t Sure
Here are a few friendship qualities that let you know whether you and your partner are friends in a committed love or just spouses.
Do you prioritize your partner because you “have to” or because you “want to”? Feelings of obligation and duty don’t arise in friendship. Friends are drawn to one another and feel no resistance to that attraction. Friendships are notable because of the ease in which you come together and enjoy each other. If it takes any effort to pull yourself away from work, friends, family, kids, the dog or television, to prioritize time with your partner, then you have a friendship problem in your relationship.
Are you showing interest in your partner’s interests? It takes very little effort to slip into the world of your friend. Showing interest in each other's lives, joys, and concerns happens naturally between friends, it’s something that comes naturally. When your friend gets excited about a new line of shoes, or a book, or a movie, you are interested and curious to know more about it because you are excited to know more about them. You wouldn’t scoff at or judge your friend because they were into the Netflix series “ Tiger King”, you would simply accept it, with wonder, curiosity and a little ribbing. If showing interest in your partner is a struggle because either “You don’t have the same interest.” or “You feel their interests are stupid.” then you aren’t true friends.
Are you able to disagree with your partner without fearing your relationship might end or that love would stop flowing between you? Now contrast this thought with how often you disagree with your friends. You disagree with friends about everything and never fear that the friendship will end. Friends disagree about which movie is the best of all time, what stores offer the best deals, or which diapers are the most absorbent. Yet, disagreements among friends don’t produce doubt about the strength of the relationship. If you fear a loss of love between you and your spouse (or partner) over disagreements, then you’ll want to take some steps to work on that fear and your friendship.
Do you allow stress from work, kids or family to ruin positive moments with your partner? Stress doesn’t seem to flourish in real friendships. While spillover stress does occur in all forms of committed love, friends still find a way to put their stress aside and enjoy a positive moment with each other. Spouses can’t seem to shake stress and allow it to cover everything the way an ice storm covers the landscape. And like an ice storm, stress makes communication between spouses cold, hard and a slippery slope. In fact, it's just the opposite in a friendship. A friend is a person you turn to for comfort in times of trouble, context when you lose perspective, and release from life’s tensions. If you’re not able to find context, perspective and stress relief within your marriage or partnership, then, you guessed it, you're not quite friends yet.
How were your responses? Does your committed love, marriage or partnership feel tight, secure, safe and inseparable? If so, then you are friends as well as partners? But if your marriage or partnership is so loaded, with insecurity and emotional disconnection, that you need to operate on eggshells, then it’s time to work on your friendship with your partner.
Lists Are Not Enough
If you google “how to increase friendship in marriage”, you’ll find a five step solution, from a prominent psychologist, that lists ways that friendly couples relate to one another. But if you examine the list carefully, it’s really a list of what spouses, who are already friends, do naturally. The list seems inadequate to help couples who struggle against fear, doubt their love is real, feel resistant towards pleasing their partner, or feel any other strong negative emotions. Couples who struggle to connect, and see offense and rejection in their partner’s facial expressions, sighs or body language, will find the Google list hard to put into action.
For example, the list says you can improve friendship if you “make everything positive in your relationship foreplay”. This means, make all of your connections outside of the bedroom positive ones. O.K., this sounds good, but positivity is a huge step if a couple can’t even sit together without feeling high levels of anxiety around what the other partner is thinking and feeling. Anxiety can’t be turned into positivity through habit creation. This list and others like it are aspirational, but not practical for a couple working to befriend one another (again).
So What Is An Anxious/ Insecure Partner Supposed To Do?
Hurt feelings and deep relationship disappointment will make you feel many things, except like friends. When committed love doesn’t show signs of real friendship, then you’ll need to focus on the insecurity, resentment and anger plaguing your connection.
It’s Our Problem, Not A His or Her Problem
No single partner is solely responsible for the lack of friendship and love that keeps committed partners from experiencing happiness together. Both partners add to the insecurity, disappointment, resentment and anger in the relationship. Each partner acts as perpetrator and victim within the relationship. Except in cases of emotional or physical abuse, both partners cause hurt in equal and opposite measure.
Negativity Is Keeping You From Friendship
Negative emotions and feelings keep committed love from forming into a love and friendship. Negative feelings like resentment, anger or a lack of love produce pain and injury to our entire psyche. To solve negativity problems, you’ll need a holistic solution, one that heals the entire system, mind, body and spirit.
Here are four couple exercises designed to address mind, body and spirit healing for anxious, resentful or loveless couples.
Sit In Silence
Silence quiets the mind (eventually). Sitting in silence with your partner is a great way to silence worry and anger and to settle any emotional churn that follows. To practice silence, pick a quiet, undistracted place and sit face to face or side by side with your partner. Hold hands if it feels comfortable to do so, this will increase the circulation of energy between you. Set a timer, 15 minutes is awesome, less is ok. Then, clear your mind and allow whatever comes up to gather, build and dissipate in the silence. You won’t benefit from doing this practice once and then dropping it. You’ll have to make it a regular habit before you see relationship improvement. Remember not to process the experience any longer than five minutes, otherwise you defeat the purpose.
Practicing silence together is a great way to sit with the noise of insecurity, or the emotional recoil caused by lack of love and resentment. Eventually, once your system accepts that this is a “thing” and you’re doing it, the noise will quiet down. Your relationship nervous system will also feel less frayed and more calm when you are conversing together. Try it without music for best results. In a relatively short time, a space will open up between you, and in that space you can plant the seeds of a new friendship with each other.
Over-Dramatize Your Emotions
Resentful and hurt couples communicate from within an emotional minefield. When one partner says or does something that is perceived as wrong, it can lead to hours of unpleasant conversation. One proven and playful way to express what you are feeling to your partner and avoid the minefield, is to play-act your feelings using nonsense words. Suggesting that you “play-act” may sound really over the top, but just remember, “ drama” is already present if you and your partner aren’t already friends. This exercise gathers all of that drama energy and puts it to constructive use.
When you over-dramatize your emotions, using nonsense words, you advocate for your feelings, without reanimating any hurtful skeletons in your relationship closet. Dramatizing your emotions gives your partner colorful insight into your feelings simply through your tone, inflection and body language.
When you over-dramatize and leave out real words, your partner can focus on the emotional content in your message. Your message will be received without your partner losing energy or spinning out due to the words you used. At the end of over-dramatizing, the speaker will feel empowered and heard and the listener will feel overjoyed that they “get it”.
Walk To A Conclusion
The saying is, when you assume, you make an ASS of U and ME. We all know how bad it is to jump to conclusions. Assuming causes confusion, misunderstanding and makes people feel unseen. Most of the time our biggest assumptions are just flat wrong, and it’s no wonder to find out that fighting couples assume a lot. So for insecure couples, jumping to conclusions escalates a misunderstanding and launches the mind and heart into fear and scarcity.
Unfriendly spouses assume that their partner’s words and actions signal disapproval of them. The very next time this feeling overcomes you, instead of jumping to conclusions like “He doesn’t love me.” or “She doesn’t respect me.” or “He doesn’t find me attractive.”, try “walking” to your conclusion. Walking to a conclusion allows your partner to jump on the logic train with you. The benefit is that your partner can help you get off the train when your logic is headed towards the wrong station.
Here is how it’s done: Take as many sheets of paper or sticky notes as needed, and write down each link in your chain of thoughts. For example, if my partner tells me she got an offer for drinks with her friend at the same time we scheduled a movie night, I could make the assumption that she is bailing on me and the movie for her friends. Or I could say in a huff “You went out with her just last week.” which assumes one day is more than enough for a two week period. Or I could go straight into “You always want to skip our movie night…”, which assumes she remembered it was movie night and she didn’t want to be with me, and she prefers her girlfriend to time with me. Whew! That’s a log of assuming. None of my assumptions are completely untrue, but most of them are more wrong than not. When I walk to a conclusion, I write down each step of my logic on paper, and show my partner and myself exactly where my logic train skipped the tracks.
A good way to play with this exercise is to order each sheet of paper on the ground in front of you. This will make it clear where your mind jumped to conclusions. Allow your partner to fill in gaps in your logic. For example from above, my wife could answer, “No, I really enjoy our movie nights, but yes, I want to see my friend, because she is leaving for a month and I won’t have another chance for several weeks. I wanted to suggest, we move movie night to Sunday afternoon. Would that be ok?” I am left with my feelings in tack and my spouse isn’t trapped in a no-win situation with my false assumptions.
Walking to a conclusion can short circuit any habit of assumptive thought you have about your partner’s intentions. Once you get this exercise down, you’ll start to walk through your conclusions without sheets of paper and make progress towards more loving and friendly conversations.
The final exercise is Practice Pleasure. Practice Pleasure is a conversation game couples play by making a string of positive feeling statements to amplify a positive experience. This is a quick game that can be played anywhere and at any time. Here is how you play: The next time you are enjoying a pleasurable moment, let’s say eating icecream together outside on a warm day, you might say “This ice cream tastes delicious!”. To Practice Pleasure, your partner jumps in and offers “Yes, and the warm evening air and the cool of the ice cream feels so good in my body!” You continue, “Yes, I love the smell of summer, it's so refreshing!”. Your partner concludes with “Yeah and my strawberry ice cream smells just like summer too.” Now you could go on and on to infinity, but at some point, you just stop and wait for the next positive moment to practice with. You get the point?
Practice Pleasure is a way to stretch out pleasure in a moment of time together. When a couple expresses about the same moment together through their senses, they stamp and certify their positive experience. Doing this the first few times may feel a little over the top in the beginning, but the result is a deepening of intimacy in the souls of each partner.
In contrast, when you fight over and over again around the same topic, you create negative amplification and stamp moments with negativity. Practice Pleasure is the exact opposite of negative amplification. Practice Pleasure is like tattooing some of your favorite moments with your partner into your psychic relationship body.
Friends implant pleasure naturally when together, it’s why friends are so indispensable in our lives. When you Practice Pleasure with your spouse or partner, you are expressing friendship, albeit in an over the top and outwardly awkward way. But isn’t being friends with your partner worth this kind of silliness?
To move your committed love into the friendship zone, you’ll need to stop thinking and feeling that it’s your partner’s fault. You are both responsible for the situation. No single partner has more or less of the blame or shame. (See my article on betrayal for more on that subject). Hurt, resentment and anger are negative feelings that force you out of friendship with your partner. Developing a friendship with your spouse or partner requires more than copying a list from Google. You need a way to bring your mind, body, and spirit into positive feelings and out of fear and insecurity. To increase friendship, use the physiological exercises above. The exercises listed can help shift your relationship into a neutral energy where friendship can flourish.
If your relationship has experienced the horror of betrayal read my blog post: How To Heal Wounds After Betrayal here. For help couple help to move your relationship in to love and friendship sign up to get a Relationship Inventory here.