How The 7 Rules Of Friendship Can Improve Your Romantic Relationship

Rules of Friendship

Research explains how friendship rules can improve romance, intimacy, and sex. Read on to know the 7 rules of friendship that can improve romantic relationships.

“My husband was my best friend,” a widow in her sixties told me when I was gathering information for a project on women’s friendships. “I think that was the secret to our marriage.”

She and her husband were together for 40 years before he died. “Don’t get me wrong. I had women friends, and he had men friends,” she said. “And sex was very good. But I think it was the friendship that got us through difficult times and that kept us together when life got complicated, painful, and even when it was just boring.”

I heard similar things from a number of women (and men as well), and research says they aren’t alone: In one study, 44% of participants said that their romantic partner was also their best friend. And there’s evidence that these folks might be onto something:

In 2013 a group of researchers published a study showing that romantic couples who value the friendship aspect of their relationship seem to have a secret weapon for managing the problems and disruptions that can beset any relationship over time. Additionally, these researchers found that these couples report that loving feelings, mutual sexual pleasure, and romantic commitment to one another have increased over time.

What is it about being friends as well as lovers and romantic partners that impacts a relationship in such a positive way? A recent compilation of 112 studies about romantic relationships suggests that romantic partnerships work better when a couple supports and affirms one another the way friends do.

Friendship Is Not About Who You Spend The Most Time With
How The 7 Rules Of Friendship Can Improve Your Romantic Relationship

Recently, with the pandemic spiking and couples at home and in each other’s hair 24/7, tensions are rising, and relationships are shaky. I have started thinking about this idea of friendship as a necessary component in a romantic relationship and integrating it into some of the work I do with couples I see.

When it feels appropriate, I ask each member of a romantic pair to write down 5-7 rules that they apply to their friendships. Then I ask them to discuss these rules with one another: How did they come up with their particular choices? What happens when a friend fails to live up to their standards? What happens when they do not live up to their own standards with a friend?

Many interesting questions come up during the discussion, including some of the similarities and differences in their friendship expectations. I encourage couples to carefully talk about the ways their lists match and the ways they don’t, without criticizing or negating the other’s choices.

Also read Should We Share Our Relationship Problems With Friends? Here’s What Research Says

I then ask them to apply their lists to one another. It doesn’t matter if they have different expectations, especially in the beginning. Often what differences exist are superficial or a matter of wording.

Sometimes they come from “traditional” male/female differences, in that women sometimes put more emphasis on talking about feelings than men, but I have found that it is often problematic to make the assumption that men do not share feelings with their friends or that women do it “better.” In her fascinating new book on friendship, Lydia Denworth shares research that shows that men’s and women’s friendships have much more in common than not. So I encourage couples not to be judgmental about what’s on the other’s list.

And then I ask them to talk about whether they apply the same rules to their relationship that they do to friendships. Many couples are very much taken aback by the question – and by the realization that they don’t treat their life partner with the same care and concern, they offer their friends.

Is that true for you? If it is, you might take a few minutes to write down your own list of friendship rules and consider whether they could make a difference in your romantic relationship. Here are seven rules from a friendship that I have found to be very useful for couples.

7 Rules From Friendship

1. Friends are honest, but not judgmental or unkind.

2. Friends have each other’s back.

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F. Diane Barth

F. Diane Barth, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University School of Social Work and analytic certification from the Psychoanalytic Institute of the Postgraduate Center. She has been on the faculty and supervisory staff and a training analyst at Postgraduate, NIP, and ICP in NYC. Currently, she teaches private study groups and often runs workshops around the country. Ms. Barth’s articles have been published in the Clinical Social Work Journal, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Psychoanalytic Psychology, and other professional journals, and as chapters in a number of books. Her new book about women's friendships, I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women's Lives ​was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2018.View Author posts