I was attending a seminar on marriage when the marriage counselor at the front of the room posed a question to the class: What is the secret to a happy marriage? The people in the class spouted out various answers, like, giving 100%, service, disagreeing well, saying you’re sorry, selflessness, and the list went on. I nodded my head agreeing with all of them, but narrowing it down to one response, I could not do—so I was interested to hear the counselor’s answer.
After several more minutes of discussion, she stated a simple word that had not even been touched upon: friendship. Everyone seemed to think, Ahhh, How was that not on my radar? It was just the right word and it was such a refreshing answer. The difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy marriage was friendship.
She didn’t need to say much more. Friendship was what I pictured in a good marriage and had always wanted. The idea of being friends first like Olivia wrote about last week is awesome, but I’m also grateful that it is possible to mold friendship now even after marriage! What I heard at the marriage seminar was an unspoken challenge to look into the way I “worked on my own marriage” in a new light. This one word “secret to a happy marriage” provoked a commitment in me not to “work on my marriage” with Logan, something that sounded like a drag, but to work on my friendship with him, something that seemed so loving and very doable.
I examined myself, Was I a good friend to him? I thought about the kind of friend I always strived to be to my good friends. I thought about what qualities my closest friendships had and how I never really scrutinized those relationships the same way I sometimes did with my marriage. With the marriage counselor’s one word answer I realized almost in an instant that I had some things I could easily change as I took this refreshing approach to marriage.
For one, there were some practical things to avoid. In John Gottman’s book, Building Successful Relationships, he highlights four “don’ts” in communication that are destructive and can steal friendship from your relationship.
- Criticism: attacking the person instead of the problem
- Contempt: seeing/treating someone as lower than you (example: responding to their feelings with “No you don’t”)
- Defensiveness: not listening or owning up
- Stonewalling: giving the silent treatment
It is interesting how bad habits like these can steal friendship away from your marriage. It is why they are so destructive.
On the other hand, when I think of my good friendships, I think of trust, love, respect and mutual understanding. I think of something that can withstand the test of almost anything including distance, time, and/or stress. I think of naturally making time and space for each other and a willingness to do almost anything for each other. I think of smiles, jokes, and laughter, but also of accepting tears when they are present. I think of fun. I think of loving honesty, but not criticism. I think about how true friends always assume the best and give the benefit of the doubt to each other.
While a lot of these things are the keys I thought about when wanting to “work on my marriage,” I like thinking about it as working on my friendship instead because that mindset shift turns it into something I know I can do. The secret to a happy marriage isn’t as complicated as it sounds—it is as simple as being a good friend.