Your Romantic Partner as Friend

Keys to deepening your relationship.

Posted Jan 24, 2021

RawPixel, pxhere, public domain
Source: RawPixel, pxhere, public domain

After the infatuation stage, the friend part of a romantic relationship is core to its satisfaction and longevity.

It is in that spirit that I offer these suggestions, distilling and building not just on lessons from my 30 years as a personal coach and husband of even longer standing, but also on the core advice of experts such as the iconic John and Julie Gottman, authors of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages.

Listen and ask.  That may be the most potent key to deepening your friendship and, yes, your love: Listen and ask follow-ups, for example, “Tell me more.” “Can you give me an example?” What’s the implication? "What do you want to do about it?"

Listen-and-ask signals caring and respect, plus you just might learn something. Alas, listen-and-ask is more difficult than it seems: When your partner wants you to listen, you may prefer to focus on yourself, your child, or your work. Or you might be angry with your partner and in no mood to listen.

So active listening, the kind in which you’re really processing what’s being said, requires a commitment, deciding that the benefits of active listening outweighs the opportunity cost.

Like any habit, it becomes easier with practice. So you might want to start by committing yourself to one brief stint of active listening to your partner each day. Of course, it’s appropriate that you invite your partner do the same for you. 

Of course, you needn’t be available for active listening on demand. It’s perfectly appropriate to say, for example, “I can't listen now. Can we talk in say 15 or 20 minutes?"

Demonstrate respect. You can show respect not just with active listening but by bestowing earned praise for behaviors that your partner values, even if they’re not your priority. For example, if your primary value is in homemaking and parenting, and your partner’s is about contribution at work, look for legitimate opportunities to praise the work and, more broadly, that you honor your partner's approach to the life well-led. You also demonstrate respect by trying to empathize with if not support your partner's position in a conflictual situation: perhaps one that's in the family, or a problem s/he's having at work.

Initiate conversations about what your partner is interested in. For example, if your partner is worried about his or her mental health, reputation, whatever, ask about that. 

Please avoid sniping: consciously or not jibing at your partner when unnecessary, for example, correcting irrelevant errors and, more seriously, finding ways to make your partner feel less than, to no benefit. Each criticism is like a banderillo: the decorated lance that's jammed into a bull to weaken it in a bullfight. Gottman encourages using the following rule of thumb: make five positive or supportive comments for each criticism.

The opposite of sniping: Do look for opportunities to find agreement, build on your partner's assertions, and, as mentioned, dispense earned praise. 

Compromise. Not every problem has a win-win solution. So the wise partner does some things s/he'd prefer not to do but that the partner values, for example, regularly seeing the grandparents or maintaining the yard.

If you end up feeling that you’re doing most of the compromising, instead of demanding change, ask, and do it in a way that doesn't make your partner feel defensive, for example,

I feel I’ve been doing a lot of the compromising, for example, spending less, keeping the house cleaner than I’d otherwise want, spending quality time with you in the evening when I’d prefer to get some work done. I’d really appreciate if you would more often compromise about what we watch on TV, who our friends are, and how quickly you’re ready to listen to my issues. Is there any legitimacy to my request?

Have a relationship summit. That’s a series of honest conversations about the practical parts of a relationship: money, communication, home, work, children, extended family, recreation including friendships, substance abuse, goals and dreams, divorce/separation, and spirituality.

You might agree to discuss three of those topics, one to be explored for a few minutes every night for the next three nights. Start each of those meetings with each of you writing one thing you like and one thing you don’t like about how your relationship is handling the topic. Then, share what you’ve written with each other. End the meeting with each of you saying one thing you (not your partner) want to do differently. If it's nothing, that’s okay — Not every area needs improvement and not everyone is ready to change, at least at that point. Considering having a relationship summit once or twice a year. When my marriage was struggling, our first marriage summit was what helped most.

Do activities that bond. What do you easily enjoy together: Sex? Taking long walks? Cooking together? Playing a game or sport together? Doing activities that you both enjoy is a painless way to deepen the relationship.

The takeaway

Unfortunate but true, long-term relationships require work. After infatuation's anesthetizing effect has faded, real-world issues become clear. No formulation, let alone one that's presented in a brief blog post, can turn a troubled relationship into paradise, but If you’re persistent in implementing even some of the aforementioned ideas it should help, maybe even enormously.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

Other articles in this series include, Mentoring a Gifted Child, and next: Platonic Friendship, Your Child's Friends, and then Befriending Your Aging Parent.