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Why Couples Need Other Couples

Research shows that double dates make your own partner more attractive.

Source: Sjale/Shutterstock

A simple message to consider before planning your next night out as a couple: We usually see dates as about the romance between two people, but it should be noted that being with good platonic friends can enhance a couple's relationship.

If your partner is having a good time, you will, too. Through interviewing 123 couples together—and 122 members of a couple whose partners were not interviewed, Kathy Deal and I reached a few conclusions about the advantages of friendships among couples. (Between 75 percent and 80 percent of those we interviewed were married, the rest were partnered.)

To understand the findings, it is important to provide a framework for how couples operate. We found couples could be placed in one of three broad categories when it came to couple friend-making. Couples were:

  • Seekers, very interested in meeting new couples;
  • Keepers, content with the couple friends they had though open to new friendships; or
  • Nesters, content in staying within a very small circle of friends and not interested in making new couple friends.

People in the first group tend to be extroverts. The couples in the second group tend to have very busy lives that include a lot of family members and activities; they were open to new friends but were not seeking them. The third group, nesters, tended to be more introverted. They may have found each other later in life and were not willing to spend time sharing each other with people outside of a small circle of friends. Their relationships tended to be described as happier.

Of course, some couples were composed of people from different categories—for example, one extrovert (seeker) and one introvert (nester). These couples had to compromise to meet each other's needs and usually reached a median where one was pushed to socialize a bit more and the other agreed to socialize (or reach out to new couples) a little less. Thinking of these tendencies to make friends as on a continuum may be helpful where it becomes a little of one person's desires matched with a little bit of another's. In fact, no two people can agree 100 percent of the time about the extent to which they wish to seek out new friends or stay within a smaller circle of friends.

Conclusions About Couple Friends

Dragging one's spouse/partner into spending time with another couple she or he is not especially fond of is not a good idea, and is especially difficult for younger couples. Older couples tend to have more time on their hands. They do not need to shepherd their time as much as those raising young children, who may be struggling professionally, trying to make time for extended families, trying to find alone time, trying to find time to be alone or with close, individual friends without the partner/spouse around, and/or trying to find time for just the couple.

At the same time, seeing one's spouse/partner happily engaging with another couple can make that person more attractive. Being with close friends that both partners like can bring out the best in everyone. Shooting a hole in one, seeing the beach at dawn, laughing at a bad movie, or cooking a great meal may be enhanced when sharing it with a partner as well as another couple. In addition, learning from that couple how they have handled the normal ups and downs of life can be instructive and provide ideas about how to handle the struggles that emerge raising young children, assisting aging parents, or dealing with thorny personal issues.

So my wish is that couples consider sharing Saturday with another couple they respect or admire, and from whom they can learn. That may mean one member of the couple will have to become a little more of a seeker and a little less of a nester. Or it might mean the seeker agrees to hang with one of the few couples the nester enjoys being with.

Herein lies the compromise that many couples make every day to maintain a relationship. But doing so may bring out the best in someone you love.