With the framework of marriage laid out, we now turn our attention toward the friendship aspect of a marriage (the other elements will be explained in subsequent posts). Friendship is the basic fundamental relationship by which all of the other relationships listed above are actually comprised. This makes friendship not only the most elemental but the most important of all the above. But in order to fully understand friendship, in so far as marriage is concerned, we must explore one of its most important elements; the dynamic of interpersonal trust. Trust is at the very core of practically all interpersonal interactions. It is especially important within the context of marital friendship.
The illustration of the handshake
It has been said by Anthropologists that the common physical exchange between many in various informal settings otherwise known as the “handshake” dates back as far as our common ancestry can be traced. The purpose for shaking hands are much different than they are now. Originally, it was a way for two individual human beings to ensure that neither was holding a weapon with which they could harm the other. By one human extending his empty hand he was making a gesture essentially, that he came in peace. By the other human joining his open hand, he was showing that he too meant no harm.
It is through this illustration of the handshake, that we can see the basic fundamental of human relationships of trust demonstrated. The basic understanding between two individuals that neither one deliberately intends the other harm.
When trust breaks down
In my professional experience, I have helped countless couples to recover from infidelity. To see the shockwaves that ensue from the breakdown of trust when a partner is unfaithful is indicative of the importance thereof. As a matter of fact, it is essentially impossible to help a couple recover from infidelity if their trust is irretrievable. I know you must be asking yourself; “How is it possible for a couple to regain trust after it has been violated by an affair?”
It is not that the trust the couple once had is restored overnight. It is a process that begins slowly and builds upon each development until much of the original level of trust is retained. However, all of the original trust will never be retained. If this is the goal of any of the couples I work with; I make sure to immediately taper their expectations.
At the core of rebuilding trust is the faithful spouse’s ability to stretch their perception to fathom that in some way; the cheater did not act in a manner to cause deliberate harm to them. This ties back into the handshake illustration. Now, this does not mean that I encourage my patients to engage in intentional delusions. On the contrary, when we delve into the cheating spouse’s motives, we can see that they were actually acting out of preservation of the relationship.
In other words, the relationship had become so unbearable to them that they were faced with the conundrum of ending it altogether or reaching out to another and thus avoiding a split. But let me be clear about that last point; this never includes someone who cheats because they have a sexual addiction or some other condition which is entirely exclusive and not rooted in any way in the relationship.
Consequently, by looking at the effects of infidelity on a relationship we can see just how essential trust is. It is the very fiber that holds it together.
From trust to admiration
If trust is the basic foundation by which all human relationships are built on then admiration is the next level. It is basically impossible to be friends with someone whom you do not admire in any way. Regardless of the quality that is found admirable, admiration of one another is essential for a friendship between two individuals to continue. Even more so in a marriage. Take the admiration away and it is like taking the air out of a hot air balloon; it is useless both in concept and syntax.
Two people in a friendship having things in common is also essential. We all know the saying; “opposites attract” and although this is sound, it is not that two individuals must have everything in common in order to be friends. What they have in common only needs to be enough to form a base for which differences can be supported. From that point, a common experience of shared events is often enough to carry friends, and especially couples, through many personality changes that come naturally with age and life experience.
You would be amazed at the number of couple’s whom I interview in the first session at my office, that tell me they barely spend any “quality time” with each other on a weekly basis. Usually, this is not because they have grown to dislike this type of time but because of a lack of prioritizing it in their busy routine.
One of the first steps I encourage them to take is to restore the quality time in their relationship. This never ceases to amaze me because when I ask many of them to think back to the beginning of their relationships; they all acknowledge they spent plenty of quality time at one point or another. Needless to say, by taking the small step of restoring the quality time; couples experience immediate improvements in the overall quality of their relationship(s).
By appreciating that marriage is built with various similar and different core relationship frameworks we can not only increase our understanding of the institution overall but help couples to improve their marriages. By focusing on the friendship aspect of a marriage we can see the far reaching effects of it. By working to improve a couple’s friendship we can foresee the overall improvement in the quality of their interactions and overall marital bond.
Furthermore, because the elements of a healthy friendship are essential to nearly all interpersonal human relationships (marriage not excluded), it is the single most important facet of all. In other words, it is imperative for a couple to work on their friendship in order to improve their overall marriage.