“Have you seen this?” Vic, my husband, had found something on the Internet, and he wanted to share it with me. “Sorry, I can’t stop right now, hon; I’m writing an article on love maps,” I replied, continuing my work.
Oh, the irony.
Great Friendships Build Happy Marriages
If you’re like me, you might be tempted to believe that love makes the marital world go ‘round—that the happiest couples got that way by being the most in-love. But according to the world’s foremost successful-marriage scientist, Dr. John M. Gottman, it’s friendship. The thinking and the data go like this: Without friendship, love fades, but with friendship, love grows and grows.
Here’s a bit of what friendship looks like to scientists, and how we can all benefit.
Great Friends Keep Good Love Maps
If you’re partnered, think back to when you were first dating. Half the fun was getting to know each other, right? You probably asked one another a lot of questions about what you each enjoyed, liked, thought, believed, and dreamed. It’s likely you wanted to know all about what your sweetie’s day held in store, and at the end of the day, you wanted to know how it had all gone. Chances are, you knew their pet peeves, worries at school/work/parenting, and the names of their best and worst friends.
In short, if your mate were a map, you knew that map blindfolded.
Somewhere along the way, though, most of us begin assuming we know all this already; we don’t need to ask anymore. And since all of us continue to change, grow and have new experiences through our lives, this means our maps become less and less accurate—much as cities are always adding and closing roads, so an old map is eventually useless.
Happy couples get it that friendship entails adding onto their love map continually. Every day, they ask what’s in store for their partner; how the day went; how and what their mate thought and felt about events from the miniscule to the sublime. They do less assuming and more asking.
The good news? Anyone can learn to do this. And science shows it takes about 5 minutes a day.
Great Friends Turn Towards Each Other
When Vic asked for my attention, I didn’t ignore him and I didn’t lash out at him~two behaviors science shows will kill marital love, done too often.
But I didn’t do what really great friends do, either. I didn’t actively give him my attention, nor even do the next-best thing of promising him my attention in a few moments: “I need to concentrate on this sentence I’m writing, but can I come see it when I’m done?”
Life and love are made of little moments, and it’s in those little moments that our partners ask for our attention with a word, a look, a touch. Science finds that we build or undermine our unions in these small moments. We give our attention to what and whom we love, and choosing to attend to our mate becomes a choice towards friendship and a better marriage.
Plus, it’s tough to keep up with your love map if you’re not tuning in.
The good news? Anyone can learn to do this. And it takes about the same amount of time as ignoring or lashing out—while making life far, far more enjoyable.
Great Friends Get It Wrong Most Of The Time
Even though I spend most of my time writing about how to apply relationship science to finding and keeping great unions, I often forget about what I write. I mess up…a lot.
Fortunately, I don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t either. Gottman found that the happiest couples still make mistakes about 2/3 of the time, failing to tune in, turn towards, or build their love maps.
Instead, all we have to do is our imperfect, glorious best. Like a strong batting average, getting things right even 1/3 of the time is more than good enough.
Upshot? These simple steps work, they take very little time, and they don’t need to be done perfectly.
And that’s the best news of all. It means great relationships aren’t just for the lucky and the few, or solely for couples with tons of time and two perfect people. It means fabulousness isn’t just for the perfectly behaved—or even the mostly-perfectly-behaved.
It means we can all start making small steps in the right direction, today, and see positive results in our friendship. And hence, in our love.
Does it work? I’m going to go try it again right now. How about you?
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015. You can get a free chapter and see more at http://www.lovefactually.co