There is a lot to be said for keeping your enemies close, but there is even more to be said about being close friends with your lover. In a new research study that we are just now completing with over 400 adult participants, we explored the role of relationships and friendships with happiness, self-esteem, and fidelity, too. Some interesting preliminary findings have been revealed about the role of friendship and exclusive romantic relationships.

Almost Everyone Wants to Pair Off and there's a Good Reason

One of the strongest findings of all from the study was that men and women who were married or partnered reported the highest overall well-being of any demographic group. This revealed a pretty significant difference, too. People who are in satisfying romantic relationships reported higher levels of happiness, but this does not mean that a romantic relationship is essential to life satisfaction. There are many other factors that positively influence your satisfaction with life including platonic friendships which are definitely indicators of life satisfaction!

Being Buddies is Good, Being "Besties" Might be Better

Not only did the participants in the study who were partnered report  higher levels of life satisfaction, it turned out that self-esteem is higher if you consider your partners as friends and when we consider our partners as our “best friends,” our self-esteem tends to be a little bit higher. This just goes to show that companionship is every bit as important as the romance might be when it comes to exclusive relationships. And these findings were true across the lifespan – not just for those who have reached midlife or older. If you are partnered, when your relationship with your significant other can be considered a friendship as well as a romance, you are also less likely to be unfaithful to a partner you consider a friend than one you do not. Perhaps that reflects the idea that many of us tend to treat our friends with a little more consideration than we do our own family at times.

Sidenote: Divorce Doesn't Limit Happiness

There's been so much controversy on the long term affects of divorce on a person. In this new study, approximately 40% of the respondents reporting having experienced a divorce -- but there was no significant difference in life satisfaction or self-esteem between this group and those who had not ever experienced a divorce.

Hugs and Kisses are Essential, Too

However, while being able to turn to your partner for empathy and companionship are clearly essential to your well-being, it’s still a very good thing to keep the flame of passion alive, too. It’s not the quantity of sexual encounters that affects relationship satisfaction – some folks crave high octane, high frequency lovemaking and others are totally fine with a lot less. The important thing is for each partner to feel that their needs are being met by their partner.

For those who are happy with less sex, they may find the benefits of other frequent displays of affection are worth their time. For instance, one study (Floyd, Boren, Hannawa, Hesse, McEwan, & Veksler, 2009) found that increased romantic kissing between married or cohabiting couples results in higher relationship satisfaction and lowered perceived stress and serum cholesterol. Not only does romance increase your subjective well-being, it also clearly increases your physical well-being, too! The physical benefits of a warm embrace have also been noted to be significant – lowered blood pressure, lower anxiety, and lower heart rate and respiration are just some of the physical effects experienced.

Friends are Awesome if Love hasn’t Found You

Having a life companion can make a huge difference in the subjective experience of stress and strain. When we have an “in-house team member,” we feel more able to cope with the struggles that we face in life. There’s an old saying that “a burden shared is a burden halved” and it’s pretty accurate from all reports. While finding true love is important for many people, making sure you have good friends is even more essential to long-term well-being and sometimes it is much easier -- and mroe rewarding -- to find a good friend than a life partner. In this new study, it was revealed that having an adequate number of friends in your life who care about you was an amazingly powerful predictor of life satisfaction. For some people, that number may be a single good friend and others might want a houseful – and either extreme or somewhere in the middle is just fine.

So if romance isn't on your agenda, set your sights on friendship. It turns out that having at least one friend who cares about you is a sure way to feel good about the world – even when it feels that everyone else is against you!

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Share your experiences of contemporary friendships through this survey!

References

Degges-White, S. (in progress). Friends and lovers are key to a happy life.

Floyd, K., Boren, J. P., Hannawa, A. F., Hesse, C., McEwan, B., & Veksler, A. E. (2009). Kissing in marital and cohabiting relationships: Effects on blood lipids, stress, and relationship satisfaction. Western Journal of Communication, 73(2).

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