A version of this post first appeared on Psychology Today.
Friendship has been found to be the key to a healthy relationship between partners. Think about a time when you met another couple—from those first moments, you probably were able to guess at the level of affection, respect, and friendship present between the pair. What clues do we all use to detect how a couple feels about one another or the level of satisfaction they found in their relationship? Now, think about your own romantic relationship or marriage—how would it measure up in these areas?
Strangers on a Train?
Have you ever taken a moment to simply observe couples in restaurants? You can tell a lot from their interactions. Are they constantly staring away from each other, or checking their phones? Do they eat without saying a word? If the level of interactive companionship dips toward zero, chances are the relationship isn’t bringing much joy or excitement to either partner.
Watching a pair of good friends is a different story: They interact throughout their shared experiences—chatting and laughing as they arrive at the restaurant, while being seated, reviewing the menu, and definitely while they eat. You can see connection and communication of an extremely engaged and interactive style.
When two people are into each other, romantically or platonically, there is a sense of “togetherness” between them reflecting their intimacy and engagement in the relationship. If you want to get your relationship back on track, treating your partner with the tenderness and kindness you offer your closest friends may be helpful.
Below are a few suggestions that may help you recharge your intimate relationship:
Befriending Your Partner
1. When speaking to your partner, listen to the words you use and the tone of your voice, and to the attitude you bring to the encounter. If it’s not reflective of the commitment and intimacy you aspire to, then revamp your communication style to let your appreciation show through.
2. Reflect on the varied messages you send your partner by the way you treat them—and revise, if needed. Do you show your partner the same respect that you show your friends? Do you make a big deal out of your partner’s decision to order a venti caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream, while you would never say a word to a friend who went overboard on calories? If this sounds familiar, reflect on the “golden rule” and think about how you’d feel if your partner did these things to you.
3. Encourage your partner in what they do and refrain from criticizing their efforts. Just as friends expect you to provide encouragement and support, so does he or she. Even if you would rather see a job done right than have the luxury of not having to do it yourself, be tolerant of your partner’s attempts and accept, accept, accept .
4. Be patient when your partner is dead-set on making a mistake no matter how much foresight, wisdom, and insight you want to impart. We often laugh indulgently about our friends who have to learn lessons the hard way; we need to recognize that our partners might also need to go that route. (Exceptions would of course include matters of life and limb, or potential financial insolvency; but a little spackle on the wall should be okay.)
5. Offer to be a part of your partner’s projects or hobbies. Don’t fake enthrallment, but offering to find the right screwdriver or go on the occasional bird walk is something any friend would do.
6. Avoid unrealistic expectations. If you expect your partner to tag along on shopping trips, for example, be willing to do the same for him or her.