How many times have you heard, “He’s my best friend,” in response to the question, “What’s your relationship secret?” Couples who have been married 30, 40, even 50 years report that their lover is also their best friend. And even 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
And this isn’t just anecdotal evidence. It’s also backed up by research. A 2014 working paper from the National Bureau of Economics found that couples who said they were each other’s best friends were happier, and reported higher life satisfaction, than couples who considered someone else to be their best friend.
“Maybe what is really important [in a relationship] is friendship, and to never forget that in the push and pull of daily life,” said John Helliwell, one of the study’s coauthors.
It takes a commitment of time and investment in another person to get to the place where you consider him or her your best friend, and this fact alone goes against what most people think makes a great romantic relationship. (Things like instant chemistry and that can’t-get-my-hands-off-of-you type of passion.)
In many instances, when the romantic passion wanes, so too does the relationship. But according to research, both scientific and anecdotal, it’s beyond the passion where you truly experience the benefits of a happy and healthy relationship.
Can you remember a time when your friends saw red flags in a romantic relationship while you were blinded to them? That’s the passion taking over. Your friends were picking up on compatibility issues that you weren’t able to see because the chemistry you felt didn’t allow you to view your relationship in the same way you’d view a happy, healthy friendship.
The key to being able to see the red flags yourself is to evaluate your partner by whether you could see him or her becoming your best friend. According to Psychology Today there are 13 essential friendship traits. They are:
- Ability to trust others (connected to vulnerability)
- Good listening skills
- Supportive of others in good times
- Supportive of others in bad times
- Fun to be around
- Ability to see humor in life
To really be able to analyze someone based on the above traits requires vulnerability, which often unfolds over time. However, there are some immediate questions you can ask yourself to see if you have real long-term relationship potential with someone or if you’re just blinded in love.
1. Would you go makeup-free around him? Or not shower around her? If not, why? Beyond the first couple of months, this could be an indicator of how you rate your date on their ability to be non-judgmental.
2. Do you enjoy the types of dates he picks? Or do you like her suggestions? The types of dates someone enjoys could be a key indicator into his or her hobbies and interests. Do they mesh with yours? Do they expand your horizons? Or do you find yourself falling asleep at the thought of another dinner and movie night?
3. Does she ask you questions that dig deep into your personal experiences and background or does she only focus on the day-to-day? These types of questions take your relationship beyond a surface connection into a much deeper and more intimate place. When you begin to peel back the layers, you get a sense of who the other person really is and if you have compatible personalities.
4. Do you feel an emotional connection? Especially for women, knowing that your guy “gets you” is an important piece of your relationship. Does your partner make you feel heard, appreciated, and supported?
5. Does he call you when he says he will? If you’ve been dating a month or two, you should have a pretty clear picture of how dependable someone is based on if their actions match what they say they’re going to do.
6. Are you upset when your partner wants to take a night off and hang with his or her friends? That could indicate how strong the trust is between the two of you and how secure you are in the relationship.
The answers to these questions can help you see beyond the intense passion, but don’t forget that you yourself have to be up for the task of also being a great friend to your partner. Ask yourself if you satisfy the friendship requirements of your partner. If the answer is no, what can you do to improve how you show up as a friend? Relationships, no matter romantic or friendly, are a two-way street.
A couple tips:
1. Listen first.
When you listen first, you give the other person a chance to feel heard. This will go a long way in showing support and encouragement.
2. Have positive body language.
Nothing says “I’m not into you” more than crossed arms, fiddling with your phone, or feedback that has nothing to do with the conversation. If you show your partner that you’re into him, he’s more likely to put his guard down and let you in.
3. Make plans and keep them.
At the beginning of a relationship, there’s no basis to know whether you can trust and rely on that other person, so we use cues to help steer us in the right direction. The minute you change plans for the second time that week, it’s a red flag. Triple check your calendar and be there on time.
Real intimacy, the sticky, lasting kind, occurs when two partners become best friends in love. How does your relationship rate on the friendship scale?