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  • Writer's pictureRyan C. Warner, Ph.D., CRC

Lovers and Friends

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Enhancing friendship within your relationship may lead to increased well-being.

According to experts, best friends are more likely to build our self-esteem, offer a high degree of companionship, and serve as a protective factor against adverse life experiences.

It is quite powerful to combine love and friendship. Research shows that being in a healthy adult relationship may contribute to greater life satisfaction, less loneliness, and enhanced overall happiness. When individuals identify their partner as a best friend, these benefits may further increase. For instance, a study found that the effects of being in a committed relationship are about twice as large for those whose partner is also their best friend.

Additionally, literature indicates that those who have the strongest friendship bonds with their partner also tend to see increases in romantic commitment, love, and sexual satisfaction over time. Most importantly, researchers said that lovers who put the most effort into building a strong friendship with their partner were also less likely to have broken up.

To some, marriage may be viewed as a “super friendship." There is evidence to support that marrying your best friend also has positive implications. For instance, the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that couples who married their best friend have a less than 30 percent divorce rate, which is slightly lower than the U.S. national average.

There is clear evidence that having a strong friendship within a relationship contributes to positive benefits. As previously mentioned, lovers who put effort into building a strong friendship with their partner are more likely to stay together compared to those who don’t. Therefore, for those interested in strengthening the bond within your relationship, here are three valuable tips:

1. Express Gratitude

Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or acknowledgment. There is clear evidence to support that gratitude contributes to more positive emotions. You are better able to relish good experiences, improve your health, and enhance resilience to adversity.

When in a long-term committed relationship, it is important to continue expressing gratitude, even when actions appear routine. For instance, if your significant other frequently takes responsibility for washing the dishes, conveying your thanks—while also acknowledging "why" you appreciate this action—may help your partner feel more valued. Consider telling (or showing) your partner how much they mean to you on a regular basis; it may enhance your friendship and partnership.

2. Be Your Partner's Biggest Cheerleader

As a best friend, you want to understand what drives and motivates your partner. Being your partner’s biggest cheerleader means supporting their goals, dreams, and ambitions, while providing the encouragement needed to support them even through adversity. Supporting them emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually may give them the fuel to keep going even when feeling defeated. Research indicates that when a person’s partner supports his or her goals, that person experiences higher relationship satisfaction. People who receive this type of behavioral affirmation and support generally feel more positive about their connection with their partner.

3. Be Mindful of How You Communicate

Healthy and open communication is a key tenant to strengthening the friendship within relationships. It is important to note that communication is not always verbal. In fact, people communicate primarily by emotional states, not words.

According to research cited in a previous PT blog post, brain imaging shows that we make judgments about what a person is saying based on emotional tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, level of distractedness, and/or tone of voice. Without saying a word, these messages can convey to your partner how you feel about them. Therefore, to maintain meaningful connection within your relationship it is important to be mindful of how you communicate your needs and desires, even when emotions begin to escalate. Learning more about intimate communication can also assist with enhancing the friendship you hold with your significant other.

Bottom Line

In all, being in a romantic relationship with your best friend may contribute to positive benefits. If you are interested in improving the bond with your current or future lover, expressing gratitude, being your partner's biggest cheerleader, and having healthy communication may be beneficial. Ultimately, relationships come with their own unique challenges. However, going through this experience with your best friend may make the journey more manageable and fulfilling.

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Beckmeyer, J. J., & Cromwell, S. (2019). Romantic relationship status and emerging adult well-being: Accounting for romantic relationship interest. Emerging Adulthood, 7(4), 304-308.

Emery, L. F., Gardner, W. L., Finkel, E. J., & Carswell, K. L. (2018). “You’ve changed”: Low self-concept clarity predicts lack of support for partner change. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(3), 318-331.

Gillespie, B. J., Lever, J., Frederick, D., & Royce, T. (2015). Close adult friendships, gender, and the life cycle. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(6), 709–736.

Helliwell, J. F., & Grover, S. (2014). How's Life at Home?: New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Machia, L. V., Proulx, M. L., Ioerger, M., & Lehmiller, J. J. (2020). A longitudinal study of friends with benefits relationships. Personal Relationships, 27(1), 47-60.

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: The benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 7(11), 18.

Originally published on Psychology Today:

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