Taking the Temperature of Your Marital Friendship

Taking the Temperature of Your Marital Friendship:


Our topic for this newsletter is ‘taking the temperature of your marital friendship’. John Gottman (well known marital researcher, and author of a number of books that I recommend on the books page of this website)  suggested viewing one’s relationship like a house where the foundation is the marital friendship. I find that many couples who come to my office in some distress have lost this part of their relationship. They may have fond memories of the ways they used to be together and interests they used to share but children, work, a variety of stressors – even the relationship process itself, have made the marital friendship difficult to sustain.

The challenge is that the relationship friendship is very important to the longevity of the relationship and the ability of the relationship to manage the storms of our lives, hence its placement at the foundation of the relationship. Marital research by Gottman has shown that a troubled relationship correlates with trouble in the friendship area of the relationship. He has also shown that those who weather the same stressors but have a deep relationship friendship are able to weather those stressors versus those who have lost their friendship and succumb to the storms. This is born out in my practice. When I ask troubled couples, when is the last time you had a date or when have you enjoyed some time together without another couple or the kids they have a hard time remembering that.


What is meant by the marital friendship in Gottman’s terms?


Part of the definition includes the amount of mind space that each spouse has devoted to their partner. Or in other terms, what kind of a love map do you have regarding your partner? For instance, does your partner know your favourite foods, artist, music group, how you like to spend your free moments, how you like to entertain, what you are proud of, how you envision your ideal future, your favourite all time movie, book, sports team, what colours are you are likely to be drawn to in a car or clothing, what your current secret dreams are, what embarrasses you, what makes you anxious, who the difficult people or situations are in your life, what currently has the most meaning to you – just to name a few.

This is not only a gathering of information, it is also experiencing your partner in a positive way in the world. That means that you are spending some quality time together, exclusively (no kids or other couples, although this is important to your relationship too!). Date nights cannot rely on spontaneity in most cases, but need to be planned out and put in the calendar. In this time in our culture, for many couples, it seems to be meaningful if both partners take responsibility for planning and executing these date nights. So you each need to step up to the responsibility plate in love, planning and if necessary finding the babysitter. Marital friendship is the cultivation and deepening of the enjoyment of the other person and the couple relationship. When a relationship is troubled, or when a couple find their relationship in the sleep zone, this cultivation needs to be even more deliberate.

Martin Buber made a case for the statement that ‘to be known is to be loved’. I find that troubled couples who are in a defensive, painful place may say they know their partner and may predict the other’s thoughts, feelings, behaviours and intentions. They do so based on a negative bias and create a picture that is one sided. They often feel stuck, having their partner in a negative box that is difficult to get out of. This is not being known by the other and sounds and feels quite different than being known in love.

Virginia Satir, a relationship communication expert, suggested that couples look at each other with an attitude of curiosity. This allows couples to grow out of their boxes and become more known to themselves and their partner as they explain and describe themselves. This is how couples normally begin their relationship. There were long talks and intense listening with an attitude of curiosity that helped the relationship to blossom and grow. This attitude of curiosity allows each partner to put aside their own view of the world (including their view of their partner’s world) and concentrate on the world of their partner. Knowing and being able to reflect their partner’s world deepens the sense of love that you and your partner feel. This relationship area is especially important to sustain, the longer or more difficult the relationship becomes.

Be encouraged! Use this information to weave something potentially life giving to your relationship!


If you would like ongoing quality relationship
information, visit my Healthier Marriages website.



The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional that is familiar with your particular situation. There is also no guarantee being made as a result of information provided or the counseling services offered.