Marriage is a Friendship

Ever been camping? You know you need to stock your fire with kindling and get those coals going strong rather than just pour gasoline on it to have it flame. Gasoline works of course, but when the fire dies down it will go out. When you stock those coals and take your time, those coals will usually last all night and be there in the morning to easily start the flame again. If you keep feeding the fire it can stay aflame even through a storm! This is the theme of our marriage retreat and so true about our relationships.

We tend our relationships well at the beginning; we go on dates and talk all night! Everything is exciting and new and worth the energy and time. Then distractions come in like kids, jobs, illnesses and we do longer make tending our fire a priority.

Happily married couples behave like friends and handle conflicts in positive ways.

Session 1 with Greg and Kathy Moore


In our relationship conflict is healthy but we need to have a 5 to 1 ratio on positive and negative comments. If not you will become argumentative and withdrawn. It is the small things that are the blowing on the coals of the fire.

Magic 5 to 1 ratio Adapted from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Gottman & SIlver.

  • Show interest: Looking the spouse in the eye when they talk with nods and uh huhs. It’s acknowledgement.
  • Be affectionate: subtle and quiet ways like touching, a pat, holding hands, touch feet while you read the paper at breakfast. Nothing even needs to be said. Of course words of affirmation are also ways of showing affection.
  • Small acts of kindness: quick calls during the day, a note in their lunch box, helping with housework.
  • Be appreciative: A small words of thanks for routine expectations like putting clothes away, complimenting spouse of something like they look nice today.
  • Show your concern: Express concern for your spouses worry. It may not bother you, but you need to let them know you understand it effects them.
  • Be accepting: Acknowledge that you hear what they are saying even if you do not agree. Summarizing what they say lets them know they were heard.
  • Play and Joke around: playful teasing silliness when you know it is received as that. If you notice they don’t really appreciate your joke, that would be a sign not to do it.
  • Share your joy: Let your partner know when you feel exceptionally good. That picks up the others spirit.
  • EKG Eye contact, Kiss, Goodbye or greeting: Whenever you are parting or coming try to kiss and give them a second of your time.

John Gottman has been conducting marital therapy research for almost 30 years, and is a well-respected leader in the field. Based on this research and clinical testing of the theory, he and his wife Julie Schwartz-Gottman have developed a solid understanding of why some relationships last and why some do not, as well as an effective model for relationship therapy. The Gottmans have studied both the “masters and disasters” of marriage (as the absence of what makes for a good relationship may not necessarily be the same thing as what makes for a bad relationship), and offers that there are a number of myths about why relationships succeed or fail. – source

 Myth #1 Affairs cause divorces – Gottman reported that 20-25% of people in divorce mediation groups say an affair was areason the marriage ended, but the reason given by 80% is the deterioration of intimacy in the couple.
  • While in the 1970′s men had (or at least reported having) more affairs across their lifetime than women, the numbers are now about equal; today 32% of men and 21% of women admit to sexual infidelity at some point during the marriage (Tafoya & Spitzberg, 2007).
  • It is thought that the equalization of infidelity rates in men and women is largely due to women moving into the work force, and having greater access to partners and financial freedom to pursue other options if they are unhappy in the marriage.
Myth #2 Gender differences cause divorce – If this were so, the divorce rate would be 100% for heterosexual couples, and 0% for gay and lesbian couples. The whole “Men are from Mars: Women are from Venus” stereotype is based on outdated gender norms.
Myth #3 – Communication problems cause marital conflict – Actually, distressed people communicate quite clearly what they feel and mean. The Gottman’s note that you can’t really teach people to never disagree or argue, as all couples disagree and argue at some time. Rather, what is important is what they do about it, how they reach some kind of agreement afterward, and how they handle the emotions stirred by conflict. While the Gottman’s offer that men are somewhat more likely to engage in some processes of emotional shutdown (flooding), and that women are somewhat more likely to begin sensitive discussions in harsh ways (nagging), both men and women engage in both processes.
Myth #4 No quid pro quo makes for an unsuccessful marriage – The idea is that doing good things for your partner is contractual on getting good things back; if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you, but if you don’t do this for me, I won’t do this for you. The Gottmans’ research shows this is not the case for unhappy couples (“disasters”), but neither is it true for happy couples (“masters”). This makes sense when you think about… Quid pro quo reasoning is good for legal contracts, but not for relationship contracts. The goal of American marriage is love, and so having your partner do things for you because they get things from you doesn’t really make you feel loved.

So what IS true?

Truth: When it comes to arguments, it’s more your match than your style – The Gottman’s found that the conflict style of the partners (attackers, soothers, avoiders) matters less than thematch between the couple:

  • soothers overwhelm avoiders, and you get the distancer-pursuer dynamic where the first chases the second seeking some reaction while the second avoids the first to avoid being hounded
  • soothers and attackers have little ability to influence each other, little positive sentiment, and a great deal of emotional tension
  • avoiders and attackers are the worst pairing, showing severe distancer-pursuer patterns

Truth: Most problematic issues are not solved, but managed – The Gottmans’ found that masters and disasters in marriage both faced chronic problems. The difference was that masters tended to find a way to deal with them to keep them in check, while disasters tended to constantly fight and feel gridlocked around what to do.

Positive Sentiment Override

Make your marriage a priority. A way to make sure that happens in using positive sentiment override. In Positive Sentiment Override (PSO), positive comments and behaviors outweigh negative ones about 20:1. This means that there is a positive filter that alters how couples remember past events and view new issues. Just because your spouse did something negative in your eyes that should not effect how you view their character. The smalls things they do that impress you go straight to their quality and character. This feels like grace to me.  PSO is built on a few basic processes:

  • An intact Fondness and Admiration System, in which the couple is affectionate and clear about the things they value and admire in the other. Remember Oprah’s idea of a “thankfulness log,” or a daily list of things you appreciate and are thankful for? This is how it helps marriages.
  • Love Maps or a good knowledge of the partner’s world (work, family, self) and showing an interest in it during non-conflict times. Have you ever seen those marriage quizzes that ask things like, “True or False: I know what my partner wants to be doing in five years” or, “True or False: I know my partner’s most painful childhood memory”? These are the kinds of things that people know about their partners when they have well-defined Love Maps.

An absence of serious conflict, marked by

  • Softened Startups, or tactful ways to bring up a problem
  • soothed Physiology during the argument so no one gets “emotionally overheated,”
  • Acceptance of Influence, so partners (typically men) can accept the desires and wishes of their partners (typically women)
  • Repair Attempts or efforts to make up by using humor or conceding a point (there’s about one effort every three minutes for most couples)
  • De-escalation of hot emotions and efforts to compromise
  • Bids for Affection or efforts to connect through a shared joke, a quick kiss, or a quiet smile that is returned
  • lack of Gridlock on problem issues by finding the underlying reason for the conflict and finding a way to meet both partner’s needs

A point Greg and Kathy made is we can grow our marriage by growing together as soul mates. Studying the bible together and studying marriage together. Growing in faith and knowledge together could be an amazing journey and that you did it together makes it even more amazing!

We also need to develop a sense of “we.” When we get married we become one, which means we would do things together. Read a book together. Do activities that your spouse likes that you think you may not, you may be surprised that you actually enjoy them to. Or even just seeing how happy it makes your spouse is enough to do it again.  Make decisions together and goals. Develop a shared vision for your future. When one person is left out of the decisions that can make them feel unimportant and cause them to look for that value somewhere else.


4 thoughts on “Marriage is a Friendship

  1. I couldn’t agree more! How can you be in a relationship with someone that you don’t consider a friend? I was married and my husband and I were not friends. We had difficulty getting along and eventually became so resentful toward one another that we divorce in spite of the fact that I had never wanted that to be an option. Now I am with a man that I would consider to absolutely be my best friend and what an enormous difference. We are not “head over heals, crazy in love”, we are truly close and loving toward one another. We love each other because we are such good friends. I’m so thankful that I’ve learned how incredibly important this is in the last few years. It is the foundation of a good marriage.

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