My wife complains. Does it sound like I’m complaining about that? I’m not. When my wife complains about stresses in her job or life’s frustrations, it gives me an opportunity to listen. Oh yes, I used to be one of those fix-it husbands; I had suggestions for how she could do everything better. Even after getting my doctorate in psychology I was a fix-it husband. Well, my marriage basically died. And resurrecting the marriage meant that I learned to be my wife’s best friend and that meant listening to her and caring about her feelings and just being with her in her pain. What is remarkable is that when I just listen and show caring, she is super-resilient to move ahead through the challenges of her life. And she’s a great listener when what I need is to complain to her about my sucky life (at least it feels that way sometimes).
A recent paper in an economics journal presents its findings that marriage increases life satisfaction and that being married to your best friend gives you about twice as much satisfaction in life as others. Many studies have shown a correlation between marriage and life satisfaction, but it hasn’t been clear whether marriage increases happiness or whether happy people marry more frequently. The authors of this study, John Helliwell and Shawn Grover, controlled for happiness before marriage and found that marriage does, in itself, increase life satisfaction. They also found that marriage is an antidote to the dip in life satisfaction that most people experience during mid-life when life’s demands are most stressful. So being married is great. But, making your spouse your best friend, that is a true road to happiness.
John Gottman, probably the world’s foremost marriage researcher, found very similar results in his research. In fact, he found that three of the top seven keys to a successful marriage were all about friendship. First, you must put in the effort to really know your partner. He calls this developing a Love Map of your partner. Second, you must develop an admiration of your partner and express that frequently. And third, you must frequently move closer to your partner, conversationally, recreationally, sexually, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or in whatever ways you can. Do these three things and you’re going to have a great friendship with your partner. So when you listen to your partner complain, you “kill two birds with one stone”, getting to know your partner and moving closer. You can wrap up your wife’s complaining session with a genuine compliment about how she’s handling life, and now you’ve done all three things to build a marital friendship. OK, now you can go turn on the football game.