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The Importance of Friendship in Healthy Marriages

I am a big fan of John Gottman and Nan Silver’s work, and their findings/principles for making marriage work make a great deal of sense to me. As the authors of “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, Gottman and Silver focus on the simple truths behind happy marriages.

One of my favorite pieces of Gottman and Silver’s book is focused on the idea that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.

They explain that a true mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company is of paramount importance. When you are married, it is important to really know your partner…and to be well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams.

The authors also believe that it’s about the little, everyday experiences in life that count…not necessarily the large, sweeping gestures. Gottman writes on this topic as follows: “Through small but important ways, (this couple) maintained a friendship that is the foundation of their love. As a result, they have a marriage that is far more passionate than do couples who punctuate their lives together with romantic vacations and lavish anniversary gifts but have fallen out of touch in their daily lives.” (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, pg. 20)

Gottman believes that friendship is extremely important in a marriage because it offers good, strong protection against feeling adversarial towards your spouse. When the friendship tie runs strong in a marriage, Gottman believes that despite the inevitable trials and tribulations of married life, these couples are able to experience something he labels “positive sentiment override” (pg. 20). In essence, this means that their positive thoughts about each other outweigh the negative. As a result, when something frustrating/upsetting/disruptive happens, the marriage foundation/equilibrium is not shaken or disrupted to an extreme degree. This positive feeling in the marriage allows each individual to feel optimistic about each other and the future.

Most marriages tend to start out in this way, with things swinging towards the positive, and the two partners feeling a close connection of friendship. However, as time rolls along, sometimes anger, irritation and resentment can build up, forcing friendship and connection out of the picture. This leads to “negative sentiment override”…where things get immediately taken in a more negative way, and the benefit of the doubt is rarely given to the other spouse. Simple words expressed to one another can feel like an attack or a invitation to argue.

In another post this week, I will share some of Gottman’s excellent tips to help couples strengthen their friendship bond, even when things seem negative and hopeless.

John Gottman and Nan Silver’s book can be found here, for those of you who are interested in reading it for yourself! I highly recommend it to all of my clients: http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Principles-Making-Marriage-Work/dp/0609805797/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326319392&sr=8-1


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