• Maureen Houtz, M.A. LMFT

Just friends?


I hate the term “just friends.” It describes the idea of a friend as less than. It suggests that there is something better. It glorifies love at first sight or falling in love as superior. What about falling in like to begin with?

Do you know couples who started as friends? They began in college, they’ve known each other since 4th grade or they were the friend of a friend.

They experienced time to observe, share, grow, appreciate the other’s uniqueness. There is a sense of durability in these relationships. Likely, they came to know each other’s families, saw them through holidays and birthdays, they have a history that is grounded in familiarity.

One of the things I have observed is that time isn’t a factor for the ‘friend’ couples. There has been a gradual coming to know the other. Most people don’t bear their souls immediately nor should they. We are complex creatures and it takes a very long time to come to know and “get” another. Friend couples have learned to trust the other over a span of time and through trials and heartaches.

There isn’t a scrutiny of the words spoken. There is an acceptance of each other and an ease in disagreements. No one seems to be pretending to be someone they are not. A friendship is invaluable when it is honest, patient, kind, real. There is a ‘knowing.’

Friends get to see the other in all of their ugliness, their pettiness, their heartaches, their joys; a friendship as a foundation provides so many of the skills needed in a long term relationship.

If a couple isn’t fortunate enough to have friendship as their foundation, I try to encourage couples seeking help to begin to look at their relationship from a business perspective.

Seeing each other as partners, working on the same team with mutual goals. Each partner takes on the tasks and chores that most reflects their abilities.

Some couples get adversarial over time- is it lack of respect, poor ability to influence each other, lack of appreciation? Whatever the reason, the idea of a scorecard is detrimental. Being on the same team is necessary for future harmony.

“Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.” ― John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert

Here are some tips to move in the direction of friendship:

Make small moments important.

Look at your partner when they are speaking

Be polite if they are interrupting you. Ask for a moment

Be courteous in your interactions, all of them!

All of this shows you are in tune with their world.

If it feels awkward, it will get easier.

Express genuine interest in your partner.

Stretch your own limits for their sake, some of the time.

Let your partner know if it is hard for you.

It should never be always one person’s way.

Talk out a compromise.

Do not bring up other examples of when you gave in or were right.

We decide every day to love

The smallest ways that you acknowledge yours partner’s questions and expressions are the most significant in strengthening and securing your physical bond.

Look for activities that you can do together. Even home chores or sitting together can be a beginning.

Make your friendship unconditional.

Accept differences

Know there will be disagreements.

No matter what, I love you.

This is not above deserving, this is about deciding.

Be on your partner’s team.

Stand up for your partner

Be on their side.

Never say anything that would leave them feeling uncomfortable in a social setting.


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