Relationship Friendship — 07 November 2010
Cultivate a deeper friendship with your spouse

It is with delight that some individuals proclaim, “I am married to my best friend,” and rightfully so. A bonded, supportive, loving friendship in which we are valued, respected, desired, liked and loved helps us live up to our higher potential and cope more effectively with life’s challenges. Yet, once we achieve true intimacy, we may tend to take it for granted and risk losing its magical benefits.

Research on social connectedness confirms that people who have friends fare better both emotionally and physically and live longer than those who do not have close associations with others.

One study done by Erin York Cornwell and Linda J. Waite, “Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults,” confirms, “Social disconnectedness is associated with worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support.”

Clarifying the health benefits of marriage, Stephanie Coontz, the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, highlights, “We learn that it is the relationship, not the institution, that is key.”

One of the essential elements in a good relationship is true friendship, in which both parties are accepted and honored for their essence, thoughts, feelings and actions. Acceptance of the mate requires recognizing that he/she is different from you and is cherished for it. This creates safety for a partner to thrive and the freedom to reciprocate in kind.

We need to overcome the tendency to believe that, “If you are unlike me, then there is something wrong with you.” When we hold fast to the belief that the way we are, how we feel and act is the “only” acceptable way, we are prone to criticize and disparage our beloved. Negative judgments and disapproval distance us from empathy and love for our mate.

Acceptance is an essential ingredient of friendship. It is propelled by curiosity and fascination with the other’s being. Acceptance holds another precious even when he/she is feeling, thinking or acting differently than we do. Acceptance views another’s errors as normal intermittent occurrences, not signs of character flaws. Being accepting requires solid loyalty to the mate, even when he/she has just dropped the ball. An accepting attitude minimizes the embarrassing, clumsy or annoying ways and highlights and affirms the good and beautiful in another.

Friendship requires acceptance, compassion and true allegiance. To cultivate a deeper friendship in your love relationship,

• View your partner as a precious athletic teammate. No matter how unsuccessful his/her performance is during this game, still regard your spouse as a talented, highly valued winner!
• Affirm all positive traits and delight in mate’s accomplishments. Excuse errors and failures as situational – not essential character traits. “It was impossible to do any better than you did under these circumstances.”
• Respond to partner’s disappointments, hurts, and insecurities, as you would wish him/her to respond to yours during your weaker moments, with kindness, compassion, and unwavering appreciation and support.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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