The Importance of Friendship for Couples Dealing with Conflict

couple-riding-bike-0620135The Gottman Method of therapy, developed by John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, is remarkably successful at helping couples who are dealing with entrenched conflict. Some of the effectiveness of this method originated in the opportunity the researchers had to observe happy, healthy couples who volunteered to participate in their studies. These “masters of marriage” helped researchers identify the specific behaviors that contribute to friendship and create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill among members of a couple.

Helping a couple reaffirm or rebuild the friendship aspect of their relationship is a critical factor in addressing problematic conflict. Three elements of friendship are emphasized in this approach.

Building Love Maps

Developing a “love map” about your partner involves knowing his or her inner world, personal history, values, beliefs, and attitudes. Partners who are effective in relationships frequently update their knowledge of their partner’s world through observation and conversations. Picking up on the details of their partner’s stresses and dissatisfactions, as well as keeping in touch with their hopes and aspirations, helps partners to know how the other person views and experiences the world.

We can sometimes go on autopilot in relationships, especially when we have been with one person for a long time and it seems as though we already know everything about him or her. People who express curiosity and active concern about their partner’s thoughts, emotions, and opinions are consistently happier and more fulfilled in their relationships.

Fondness and Admiration

Each couple constitutes its own world, integrating each person’s personal and family history, personality, and the things that give meaning to their lives. Couples who have strong fondness and admiration have succeeded at creating a culture of appreciation together. In these relationships, each person feels cherished and appreciated for who he or she is, with all his or her quirks and foibles. These couples frequently affirm and validate one another in small, everyday ways as well as through special events and celebrations.

Couples who practice and express fondness and admiration give the relationship a lot of “care and feeding.” Just as we think about getting the minimum daily requirement of nutritional content in our meals, people need emotional nutrients as well. When we feel acceptance in our relationships and are able to experience our home life as a refuge from the stresses and demands of our daily lives at work and in the public arena, it nourishes us quite literally, enhancing the function of the immune system and contributing to our well-being and longevity.

Turning Toward

The phrase “turning toward” refers to a conversational pattern that was coded by researchers. It’s what happens when one partner initiates a conversation and the other person acknowledges and responds. It has nothing to do with simply turning and looking at your partner when you’re speaking. Turning-toward behavior is natural and spontaneous, not a forced or fake way of interacting with your partner. You can, however, increase the amount of turning toward in your relationship just by being conscious of the value and importance of this way of interacting. It doesn’t have to mean agreeing with your partner; you can simply say, “Yeah, I know,” or “Oh, really?” and this counts as turning-toward behavior.

This model of therapy is strengths-based and helps couples identify which aspects of their relationship are working well in addition to addressing any areas of concern. The Gottman research team spent 12 years studying gay and lesbian relationships, and their findings have been found to apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kate McNulty, LCSW, Gottman Method Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • aimee

    June 20th, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    How do I get my husband to turn toward me instead of always feeling like he is turning away?
    It seems like he goes on the retreat from me any time that something goes wrong, and I want to help and reach out to him, but this turns me off so much that then I want to retaliate and turn away from him too.
    It feels like a cycle and pattern of behavior that both of us will struggle with breaking :(

  • Lisa

    June 21st, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Sometimes I think that the lack of real knowledge about one’s partner is what is leading to the ever increasing divorce rates in our country.
    I think that too many people focus on the here and now without really knowing what makes this other person in their life tick. They fail to see all of the intricate little things that make this person who they are, so when those start to show up and cause issues, they are kind of stuck with what they should do about it.
    I advise anyone not to rush into a commitment and to give yourself time to really get to know someone. That helps you create that love map together that you can turn to as a guide for the relationship when thigs get a little tough from time to time.

  • Trina

    June 24th, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    I find it to be so sad that it is the friendships between married couples that are often the first thing to go. For so many of us it was the establishment of these friendships that allowed us to come together in the first place and showed us that this just might be a person with whom we are compatible. But for whatever reason we get married and we forget to nurture that thing that once brought us together in the first place. That is the one thing that in most cases is the most critical to keep, and yet this is generally the first thing to go. I want my husband to stay my best friend, as I think that one of the cornerstones of a strong marriage needs to be cultivated within that framework.

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