The Marital Virtue of Friendship

Almost everyone believes that spouses should be each other’s best friends. And in fact, the best research on strong, lasting marriages shows that friendship is at the heart of a good marriage. Most of the time, however, we think of friendship as having fun together and enjoying one another’s company. This ordinary kind of friendship focuses on good feelings. And sometimes when those good feelings sour, so do the friendships. Of course, as couples, we do experience a great deal of fun and happiness. But life gets more complicated as couples become parents, and we can’t rely on the fun and good feelings as much. If we want our marriages to last through the inevitable ups and downs of life, we need to build a deeper kind of friendship.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized there were different kinds of friendships. He described the deepest form of friendship as the kind where friends share a vision of what is good and important in life, and they work as a team to build a good life together. This kind of friendship is what we mean when we say that friendship is at the heart of a good marriage. This kind of friendship is called character friendship, and it makes marriages strong and stable because the relationship doesn’t depend entirely on our feelings, which naturally change from day to day. Instead, character friendship depends on who we really are and where we want to go in life.

One of the most exciting parts of a partnership is knowing each other for who we really are. This involves learning day-to-day about our spouses’ likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. As you are preparing to become parents, you are learning things about yourself and your life-time partner that you have never known before. So this is a unique opportunity for couples to work harder at getting to know each other inside out.

Knowing each other for who we really are also helps us to know what’s most important to us as a couple. Obviously, being clear about where you want to go in life makes a difference in where you end up. Right now as you are preparing to bring a new life into the world, it is especially important that you are clear on those goals that bring you and your spouse together. The reality is that parenthood tests your partnership in a way that just being a couple cannot. Couples who are clear about their shared life goals will be better prepared to deal with the challenges of becoming parents and to keep their relationship strong. Research confirms that at this time of life most adults come to sense that life is about more than fun and good times; they learn that deeper meaning and joy in life are found in reaching outside themselves to care for others. Most couples believe that rearing a child together is the most profound life goal they can share. Of course, there are many other worthy life goals that bring couples together, like contributing to their communities. Whatever those shared goals, they form the foundation for the kind of deep friendship that we all seek in marriage.

Even when you know each other very well and have shared life goals, problems will still arise. You will still disagree some times, but the most important thing you can do is to find a way to be allies rather than adversaries in solving the problem. If you’re both committed to the same goals, it is easier to be on the same side in dealing with a problem and to keep it from pulling you apart. Some couples may need to improve their problem solving and communication skills to be on the same side, and there are many great programs out there that can help. But behind any skill you also need the right motivation for the skill to work. Wanting to be on the same side comes from remembering that your marriage is more important than the argument.

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for your new life as parents is to invest the time now in getting to know each other more deeply and to discuss your shared life goals. It would be nice if we could somehow just read each other’s deepest thoughts instantaneously. Until we can do that, however, we have to do it the old-fashioned way and actually talk. You may find quiet, uninterrupted talk-time to be at a premium when the baby comes. Take advantage of the time you have now.

Talking to better know each other and the goals that you share will be more than fun in your relationship. It will build the character friendship that will make your marriage stronger. The activities below will also help you to build character friendship.

Further Reading
Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness, Chapter 6

Personal Activities

1. In Your Lifetime

List five things that you as an individual would like to do, accomplish, or experience before you die. Then list five things that you would like to do, accomplish or experience with your spouse before you die. Don’t be afraid to include big dreams and lofty goals. Simpler, more mundane experiences are fine, too.

 INDIVIDUAL                                                           WITH SPOUSE

1. _______________________________    1. _____________________________

2. _______________________________    2. _____________________________

3. _______________________________    3. _____________________________

4. _______________________________    4._____________________________

5. _______________________________    5._____________________________

2. Spouse Service

Based on what you know about your spouse (or what you learn through the 20 questions game below) think of something you can do to act on what you know in a way that will make your spouse particularly happy. For example, if he or she has a unique love of a certain food, plan a day to prepare or purchase it. Or if there is something specific you do that helps relieve his or her stress, like rubbing toes, find a time when you can do that.

WHAT YOU WILL DO                                      WHEN YOU WILL DO IT

_______________________________    _______________________________


Partner Activities

1. Marriage Moments 20 Questions Game
(Adapted from John M. Gottman & Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown, 1999. Used with permission.)

How well do you know your partner? This is a fun, interactive game in which you and your spouse can see what you already know, and see that there may be things you still don’t know about each other. It will help you get to know each other better and it will help strengthen your friendship.

Step 1: Each of you will need a piece of paper and a pen. Together, randomly select twenty numbers between 1 and 60. Each of you should write these numbers down in a column on the left hand side of his/her paper.
Step 2: Below is a list of questions numbered 1 through 60. Beginning at the top of the column, match the number you chose with the corresponding question. Each partner will ask and in turn be asked this question. If the spouse being asked the question answers correctly, (the one asking the question will be the judge of this), he or she receives the number of points indicated at the right of that question, and the asker of the question receives one point. On the other hand, if he or she answers incorrectly, neither one receives any points. The winner is the person with the higher score after both partners have answered all twenty questions.
Fun Suggestion: Unless the satisfaction of winning is enough for you, you may want to jointly decide on a small prize for the winner. A backrub, or a favorite dessert are just a few ideas, but you know each other best. Just have fun with it.

1. Name my two closest friends (other than you). (2)
2. What is my favorite musical group, composer or instrument? (2)
3. What was I wearing when we first met? (2)
4. Name one of my hobbies. (3)
5. Where was I born? (1)
6. What stresses am I facing right now? (4)
7. Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday. (4)
8. When is my birthday? (1)
9. What is the date of our anniversary? (1)
10. Who is my favorite relative? (2)
11. What is my fondest dream concerning the birth of our child? (5)
12. What is my fondest unrealized dream? (5)
13. At what time of day do I feel the best? (3)
14. What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios concerning the
birth of our child? (3)
15. What makes me feel most competent? (4)
16. What turns me on sexually? (3)
17. Wife asks: What food have I craved the most since being pregnant? (2)
Husband asks: What is my favorite dessert? (2)
18. What is the best thing you can do for me to help me relieve stress? (2)
19. What is my favorite way to spend an evening? (2)
20. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life? (4)
21. What kind of present would I like best? (2)
22. What was one of my best childhood experiences? (2)
23. What was my favorite family vacation? (2)
24. What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed? (4)
25. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)? (3)
26. What is one thing I would love to see our child do? (3)
27. What do I most like to do with time off? (2)
28. What is one of my favorite weekend activities? (2)
29. What is my favorite getaway place? (3)
30. What is my favorite movie? (2)
31. What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do
I feel about them? (4)
32. What are some of my favorite ways to work out? (2)
33. Who was my best friend in childhood? (3)
34. What is one of my favorite childhood memories? (2)
35. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.” (3)
36. What would I consider my ideal job? (4)
37. What do I fear most about parenthood? (4)
38. Who is my least favorite relative? (3)
39. What is my favorite holiday? (2)
40. What is my favorite time of day for lovemaking? (3)
41. What is my favorite TV show? (2)
42. Which side of the bed do I prefer? (2)
43. How do I want to do Christmas gifts with our child? (4)
44. What am I most sad about? (4)
45. Name one of my concerns or worries about the birth and the raising
of our child. (4)
46. What medical problems do I worry about? (2)
47. What is my most embarrassing moment? (3)
48. What was my worst childhood experience? (3)
49. Name two of the people I most admire. (4)
50. Of all the people we both know, who is the one I mesh with the least?
51. What is one of my favorite children’s storybooks? (3)
52. What is my social security number? (2)
53. Name my favorite household chore. (2)
54. What is my favorite restaurant? (2)
55. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, and wishes? (4)
56. Do I have a secret ambition? What is it? (4)
57. What is my biggest desire for our child? (3)
58. What do I feel I am inadequate at? (3)
59. What do I feel very competent at? (3)
60. What has been my hardest trial? (4)

2. In Your Life Together

After you have completed personal activity #1, come together and compare notes. Make a list together of things you would both like to do as a couple. Look at what your partner has put down as personal goals and dreams. Take the opportunity to learn more about your partner by talking about the things he or she has listed.

Our Shared Goals

1. __________________________________________________
2. __________________________________________________
3. __________________________________________________
4. __________________________________________________

5. __________________________________________________

3. Mission Statement

Think about the things that are the most important to you as a couple to do or accomplish in life. Think of a brief statement that summarizes your main goals and write it in the space below. You may want to refine your mission statement a few times. Then post a nice copy of it in your home. Review it often and make necessary changes so that it always reflects the goals and values of your family.

Our Mission Statement





4. Shared Project

Find a project that you can do as a couple. Some examples include:
Community service.
Building something for your home.
Getting in shape.
Family history/genealogy.
Learning a new language.
Starting a business.

Set aside 30 minutes this week to plan this project together and get started.

OUR SHARED PROJECT:___________________________________________

Create Your Own Activity

You may have even better ideas than these for activities that will work in your particular relationship to build character friendship. Be creative! Think of something you can do either as individuals or together and write your activity here:

Friendship Activity:

Printable version