Marriage and Dating: Why Being a Friend First Is Important

happy couple“Oh, leave me alone, Dr. Deb. I’m in the bliss of love; I do not want to think of such boring things as friendship.”

I know exactly what you mean. Friendship sounds boring. Whereas falling in love is so exciting. Chemistry will back you up, too. Your brain chemistry is actually different when you fall in love than all the rest of your life.

The Chemistry of Attraction

In fact, the chemistry mimics the high of addiction. Researchers have pinned down the chemicals that flow in our brains and bodies when we have that rush of romantic excitement. Here’s some interesting research. A psychologist in York, England, had subjects who were complete strangers follow this protocol: They told each other intimate details of their lives for half an hour and then were directed to stare into each other’s eyes for another four minutes without speaking.

You won’t believe this. Or maybe you will. The subjects in many cases reported feeling “deeply attracted” to the other person—and two of these couples got married!

Researchers have demonstrated that that heart-pounding feeling of being in love is driven by norepinephrine, which is chemically related to adrenaline. Dopamine, found in the brains of people who are addicted, is also involved. And serotonin goes down. The level found in lovers is the same as that found in people experiencing obsessive compulsion. No wonder partners both obsess about the loved one and idealize the person.

Who would want to give this up?

But I’m not asking you to. I’m saying I’ve got the secret for having your cake and eating it, too. You can—and should—delight in the heart-pounding giddiness of love. It was planted within our brains to enjoy.

But if you want the whole thing to last, then you need friendship, too. And friendship is most certainly not boring. Think of your own good friends, the ones who have your back, the ones who are there for you, no matter what. The ones you can tell anything to and the ones you would do anything for. That stuff is real, dependable, and meaningful. Remembering times your friend was there for you brings tears to your eyes. Well, it does to mine.

What’s Friendship?

So what is friendship? It is mutual:

  • giving
  • valuing
  • respecting
  • joy

A key here is the word “mutual.” Friendship has to be a two-way street. You are generous to each other with your time, your ideas, your feelings. You value what’s in the other person’s head and who that person is. You respect one another, always, even if you get angry. And there’s joy in being together.

This is the combination that gets you through the storms of life; it helps you enjoy the good times more because someone special is with you. And when friendship underlies the attraction, you can trust the other person completely. If your friend looks out for you and cares for your soul, not just your body, then you know you will not be taken advantage of.

Friendship and Attraction: A Perfect Mix

What’s more, there are ways to resurrect the excitement of falling in love for long-term couples who are true friends. That life gets in the way in the form of kids, mortgages, work, and in-laws should not dictate leaving the excitement behind. It can be revived by taking time—regularly—for just the two of you to be romantic.

If that English researcher found that total strangers could be attracted by looking into each other’s eyes and telling personal secrets, surely two good friends who happen to be married or in a relationship can reignite the spark the same way.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, Relationships and Marriage 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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Coley

    March 5th, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    I am totally for this. I think that when you find someone that you love it is because you are attracted to them, yes, but there is something that goes so much deeper than that and that comes form being friends forst. I have done it both ways, jumped in head firsat into a relationship with girls that I didn’t really like that much, only because they looked good on my arm. And while it may have been exciting for a while to have that kind of sttraction, that soon wears off and then what’s left? You don’t even have someone that you can talk about things with or really who would even care of you did. So much better to establish a friendship forst, take it slow, and see how things go from there.

  • Ladijma

    September 14th, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    Thank you Coley: I appreciate your imput

  • Bella

    March 6th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    Not sure if you have to actually be friends first because I think that sometimes that initial attraction can superceded that. I do, though, think that you have to be great friends with your partner. Like, you have to be able to have conversations and share everything with this person, something that has to go beyond the physical.

    You have to want to be with this person all the time, no matter the story or the event, this has to be the person that you want to share your news with. I think that if you see that you only want the physiacl stuff from thsi person, then this is a relationship in crisis that needs help.

  • Drake

    March 6th, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    I thought I was friends with my first wife but then she stabbed me in the back and I realized that our friendship ended long ago.
    For the most part it had all become about convenience and habit, not staying together because we actually still loved each other.
    I wish that we could have found a way to end the marriage while we were still friends, but again, didn’t work out quite that way.

  • Jake

    March 7th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    Well, it’s like this. On those days when you really feel less than thrilled with being married, it is a whole lot easier to be less than thrilled with someone who is your friend at the core than it is to be less than thrilled with someone who is just a passing attraction. I think that if you are friends, when you have that solid base to build upon it is a whole lot easier to work through your problems than it would be with someone that you didn’t care that much about to begin with. Friendship binds the two of you together, keeps you commited, and makes you want to make things work, even when times are difficult.

  • DrDeb

    March 7th, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I’m sorry Drake that your wife stabbed you in the back. So, going forward, the most important thing is to maintain that friendship, as Jake says, through tough times. And to keep checking as to whether your friend, ie, your wife or husband, is happy. Then you know where you stand. I’ve heard lots of stories from clients at the verge of divorce where one person says, “I thought things were all right” and the other person says, “I’ve been telling you I’m unhappy for a while and you don’t listen.” Part of being a friend is listening even to things we don’t want to hear. That’s the only way to correct problems before they get out of hand. I’m not saying this is what happened to you, but going forward for anyone, these are good policies.

  • Drake

    March 9th, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    You may have a point DrDeb, but I know that I tried to talk to her and get her to tell me what was going on and she would say that everything was fine. So after that’a ll you get after a while, I stopped asking.
    I know that I am as much at fault as she was because Lord knows there were things that I could have done in a better way. But I can’t take full responsibility, I still think that much of that lies with her.
    But I’ve tried to move on and make peace and hopefully learn from those past mistakes.

  • Johnny Sawyer

    March 11th, 2014 at 1:33 AM

    I believe you cannot have an awesome and lasting love relationship without first being friends. It’s the fundamental building blocks for that awesome mind blowing relationship everyone dreams of.

  • Nancy w

    March 11th, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    I don’t know how all of this used to work but I know for a fact that my grandparents barely knew each other before they got married, they were just thrown together by their two families who thought that they would be a good match. I am sure that it wasn’t exactly what either of them wanted but then ended up having one of the longest marriages that I know of. Not sure how happy either of them were at the core, but somehow they thought that it was important enough to make it last for all of those years so that’s something to be said for that. I know that I want to marry my best friend and for love, but they didn’t necessarily and made it last for whatever reasons and for them I guess it worked.

  • Zack

    March 11th, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    I have been married for ten years and I have to say that building friendship is one of the most important things if you want to make it last, but not the only one. My wife started to insited on working through our issues with therapy, and I couldn’t be any more glad we did it. We met Dr. Marleen and She have helped us have a happier, healthier, more fulfilling relationship.

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