Marriage is hard work. It doesn't matter who you are or how long you've been married, it's not easy to navigate life as two imperfect people. But nothing worth having is easy, right? The strongest and happiest marriages have made it through crisis and hardship without letting go. One significant way couples can strengthen their marriage is to form friendships with other couples. I found 7 surprising ways couple friends make your marriage better, and 5 ways to actually form couple friendships if you need some inspiration.
I’ll never forget the evening I saw them dancing in the kitchen. My husband and I were in high school, hanging out and watching tv at his house. I turned around and saw his parents slow dancing in the kitchen. I have no idea what music was playing, what month or year it was...but that sweet moment is forever etched in my memory.
It was a stark contrast to the relationship between my own parents. I’ve written about it before because it shaped me in so many ways. It also gave me a deep admiration and appreciation for women who fight for marriages that bring loneliness and disappointment.
My own marriage was there for a time--I was the one who made it difficult--but we pushed through then and continue to do the hard work of a healthy relationship now.
My husband grew up around a few generations of strong marriages, and was raised in a home that prioritized the relationship between his parents. They genuinely enjoyed spending time together, and it was always a surprise to me that they went out or got together with friends as much as we did! I mean, didn’t most adult couples just stay home or do things separately?
Turns out, the answer was a resounding no! His parents spent time with a lot of different people, but the group that stands out the most to me is the card club. It took me a while to figure out that this group of 4 couples didn’t actually play cards. Ever. But they did buy an Entertainment Book every year that had a card for discounts at great restaurants--did you ever sell that book as a fundraiser?
They tried restaurants all over the place for about 15 years until one couple moved to Florida. That group of couple friends was a solid foundation for unpredictable years as they raised teenagers, sent kids off to college, celebrated weddings and started to welcome grandchildren.
They had a standing New Year’s Eve tradition that was a constant for Ken and me for a long time--my family traditions had mostly disappeared by then, so those get-togethers helped steady things for me.
Do Couple Friendships Really Matter That Much?
I don’t think I’ve ever told my in-laws about how much this impacted me, so it might surprise them. In a good way, I hope, because the lesson of making and keeping couple friends has stuck with me. It’s been especially important because Ken and I have moved a lot. A LOT. Like 12 times in 21 years. When our moms kept address books, it drove them crazy until they finally learned to just use pencil.
We spent a lot of time at football games before kids!
At each of those stops in different cities across two states, we’ve made lasting friendships with couples, nearly all of whom are still married. We don’t keep in close contact with all of them, but I think we could call them up if we were ever in town and jump right back into life together.
We’re actually getting ready to go on a short-term mission trip to serve with a couple’s ministry--we’ve known them since college, but have only seen them a few times in person in the last decade and our contact is mostly limited to Facebook posts and Christmas cards.
I saw firsthand the thriving friendships between Ken’s parents and other couples, and I know how important they’ve been to Ken and me in our own marriage. But I was still surprised to find out that the benefits of healthy couple friendships are REAL. It hasn’t been studied a lot, but the research out there is fascinating and makes a strong argument for finding couple friends and hanging on to them for the sake of your marriage and theirs.
Couples who have happier and more satisfying relationships:
- Have more couple friends and friends in common than individual friends
- Make and keep couple friends who are committed to their own marriage
- Are more likely to have a strong social connection with other people
7 Ways Couple Friends Can Help Your Marriage
Raise your hand if you’d like a happy or happier marriage! Well, here are 7 ways that having couple friends can help you get it!
1. You'll have better conversations
When you spend time with your spouse, chances are pretty good that your conversations revolve around kids, schedules, finances and work. You’re a lot less likely to focus on those topics when you spend time with other adults, especially if they have different hobbies or perspectives--their kids are a little older or younger, they have girls instead of boys, they grew up in another part of the country or the world, they have a different faith background. I learn a lot from other couples and that makes life a whole lot more interesting.
It can also be pretty refreshing to discover things you have in common with other couples. Everybody perks up and joins in the conversation when you realize you grew up in the same area or have mutual friends. When Mary saw a picture on Facebook that tagged my husband and a friend of hers from college, she did a double take. How did those two people end up on the same mission trip to Guatemala? Maybe you find another couple whose family rivals the crazy one you grew up in, or really understands what it’s like to raise a kid with special needs. Those similar experiences--especially the hard ones--can be the start of a long-lasting friendship.
2. You'll try new things and have more fun
Spending time with other couples can encourage you to try things you otherwise wouldn’t. Ken and I went axe throwing with my brother and sister-in-law last summer and loved it! We went on a 40th birthday vacation with two other couples while our parents watched the kids. Our annual trip to the Big 10 championship football game is so much fun because we go with a different couple almost every year. Before kids, we had a couple friend who invited us to the Memorial Golf Tournament for a few hours and it turned into an entire day event.
I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have thought to do any of this or actually made plans to follow through if it weren’t for our friends. (Okay, we’d still probably go to the football game….)
A vacation celebrating the guys (childhood friends) turning 40; in Chicago with my brother and sister-in-law
Doing new and fun activities with other couples is an integral part of a strong marriage: couples report increased happiness which improves the quality of their relationship. The sheer novelty of spending time with other couples is healthy and can lead to a stronger marriage.
3. You won't get bored with your relationship
If you’ve been married for long, you know that it can become routine and you may feel like you’re stuck in a rut. Scientists call this “relational boredom” and it’s important to recognize when you’re there. And then do something about it. Spending time with another couple may be just enough to spark those feelings of closeness again--remember, anything new or fun can help!
Dr. Kathleen Deal, co-author of Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships, explained it this way: “Some couples said, 'When I see my husband or wife with other people, it really makes me appreciate them in a different way. I see how charming or thoughtful they are or what a sparkling conversationalist they are.' It makes them feel very positive about their partner.”
You may also find that you learn something new about your spouse when you’re out with other couples, no matter how long you’ve been married. A few years ago, we were laughing about life as newlyweds with a few other couples and how many adjustments we had to make: how many times you use a towel before you wash it, if you use one cup each day or get a new one every time you want something to drink, if you’re willing to eat leftovers or not, and so on.
During that conversation--over 15 years into our marriage--I discovered Ken hated the way I folded his shirts! He’d been refolding them. For years! I think he just let it go so long that he felt bad saying anything. Without that get-together, he’d still be annoyed and I’d be oblivious.
(Which reminds me of a friend’s story about her grandfather--her grandma lovingly made him the same meal every birthday because it was his favorite. Except it wasn’t. He hated that meal. But he never told her, so it just went on for 60-some years until she was gone and my friend planned to make him that meal on his birthday. Nope. Never eating that again.)
Whether you learn something really interesting or find out something that might frustrate your partner, there’s a chance for increased closeness between you. Be willing to handle things with a sense of humor and a willingness to compromise or forgive.
4. You'll have other people rooting for your marriage
You’re bound to have rough spots in your marriage, whether those are of your own making or crisis just makes its way to your doorstep. Marriage is hard. It requires a lot of us. When you’re navigating those challenges or disappointments or heart-wrenching losses, knowing that other couples are rooting for your marriage can help you keep your head above the waves.
Maybe they’re privy to the details or maybe all they know is that you’re struggling. That’s not important. What matters is their support of the commitment you made. Investing in couple friendships can build a strong foundation that you’re going to need.
Game night with couples in our small group from church
Research shows that when we know more about our couple friends, we’re more committed to the success of their relationship, and we feel like they’re more committed to the success of ours. Dr. Greg Smalley and Erin Smalley wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: 12 Secrets for a Lifelong Romance, a book based on both research and their own experience as marriage counselors.
In a separate article, he wrote, “I've learned that living in community is essential to keeping a marriage strong, particularly when the marriage is being tested…. This community will involve both give and take. Spouses who share a healthy, vibrant relationship rely on their support system, but they also recognize that they have a responsibility to help other couples thrive.”
5. You'll learn how to have a stronger marriage
Have you ever spent time with another couple who have a pretty strong relationship? They genuinely seem to like each other and are clearly committed to their marriage? I hope you’ve had that opportunity and I hope you seek those couples out more often--but you need to focus on what you can learn from them instead of the twinge of jealousy you might feel. Let it spark some conversation that leads to positive changes.
We’re never too old for strong role models, and that includes models of good marriages.
Dr. Geoffrey Greif, co-author of Two Plus Two (mentioned earlier), said couple friendships “provide a mirror on how other couples handle such issues as raising children, balancing work and love lives, and taking care of aging parents…. When the couple relationships are strong, they also fill something like a marriage mentor role for other couples. They offer a window into how loving couples interact. Does he include her in conversations when the four of them are out? … Does she help him tell a story in a supportive way? Couples watch how their friends handle each other [and] their daily struggles, and learn alternative methods of interacting.”
6. You'll feel better about your own marriage
This one feels a little wrong, but it’s reality and we all do it. You know when you spend time with other people’s kids and you think, glad we’re not dealing with THAT every day. Sometimes it’s a healthy dose of perspective or just the realization that everybody is dealing with something, and we all do our best to figure out how to manage it.
Researchers say the same thing can happen with couple friends. Apparently, it’s not unusual to think that your relationship is better than another couples’ relationship, which can make you feel better about your marriage and help you feel closer to your spouse. If this is where you find yourself, I’d like to suggest that you consider being an encouragement and support for that other couple (see #5).
7. You'll have more people to celebrate with
When something wonderful happens to you, you want to share it, right? It’s so much fun to share good news with other people! When a spouse shares a success with us, our ability to share in that success actually improves our own emotional health and satisfaction with our marriage.
I sometimes give Ken a hard time about how long it took him to finish his dissertation (almost a decade--shhhhhh!) because it wasn’t always easy to be the one supporting and pushing him, especially when there was a time that I was accepted to a PhD program and made the decision not to go because we were adopting a baby. But I was genuinely bursting with pride when he walked across the stage, and he acknowledged my part in that degree with a gift to me on his graduation day.
Celebrating Ken's graduation--with those two goofballs behind us
When we expand that celebration to other people, science says we’re a lot happier with our lives overall and our relationships are stronger. Couple friends who get excited about our good news actually help boost our self esteem which gives us more confidence in those relationships.
It was also pretty cool to find out that telling more people about something positive actually increases your memory for that event--you’ll be able to call it to mind more often and remember how you felt.
How To Actually Find Couple Friends
So, what kinds of couple friends are the best? They should check at least some of the boxes in the list above. (It won’t help your marriage to spend a lot of time with couples who can’t stand each other.) It depends on what you’re looking for, especially if you and your spouse have a difference of opinion when it comes to spending time with other people.
The authors of Two by Two grouped couples in three categories: “seekers, extroverts actively searching for new social relationships; keepers, those who feel fulfilled within the confines of their relationship and are happy with an intimate group of confidants; and nesters, introverts who prefer to stick to a party of two. Greif, who identifies as a seeker, and his nester wife often find themselves negotiating to form meaningful friendships with other couples.”
Regardless of the category you find yourself in, I hope you see that it’s worth the time and energy to form at least one other couple friendship.
But what if you’d love to have some couple friends and you have no idea where to start? After all, making individual friends gets harder after age 30, so the same is probably true for couple friends. Do you remember that scene from The King of Queens when Doug and Carrie needed new friends and decided to find some at Home Depot? It didn’t go so well….
Because Ken and I have moved a lot, we’ve had to start over and make new friends pretty frequently. I also started this blog with a story about my in-laws who developed new groups of couple friends when life brought changes to the card club. Between my own experience and advice from a few psychologists, I’ve got some good suggestions!
Church is hands down the easiest place to find couple friends. Plus, you already have your faith in common which gives you a good starting point. Just going to church isn’t enough though--you have to get involved. Some of our strongest friendships were formed through a Sunday School class or a small group. When you spend consistent time with other couples, friendships are bound to grow.
Work is another good place to make couple friends. You never know if your spouses will hit it off with each other if you don’t at least try to get together. Mary and I have a close group of work friends and when we get together, we sometimes invite the husbands and it’s a lot of fun. Those guys may not be good friends outside of those events, but they get along great when it’s all of us. For many couple friendships, that’s all you really need.
One word of advice here: if it’s a smaller gathering and spouses don’t know each other, don’t separate into groups too early--be considerate of potential awkwardness between the guys if you and your friend wander off, deep in conversation.
Ken and I with Jon and Mary at a fundraising event for another coworker's nonprofit
Your kids' activities can help you connect with other couples. This is actually what started my in-laws’ card club. When Ken was about 10, his dad coached his baseball team and a few other dads helped out. Three of the moms got to know each other on the sidelines, and the fourth couple was a work connection. They decided to get together one weekend and from then on, they had a monthly outing to a different restaurant using that Entertainment card.
Don't miss that: they got together every month for 15 years. They would’ve needed a sitter for the first few years, so I’m sure it wasn’t easy to carve out that consistent time, but they did. And all of them--including their kids--benefited.
Ken and I were married for 4 years before that group ended because of a relocation. I called my father-in-law to make sure I got the details right, and he said they all met again just about a month ago--they were missing only one mom who passed away several years ago. They had a ball during their visit, 18 years later.
Ken and I recently made new friends because our boys played on the same team. We’d been told by our kids that too many of our friends had girls and they wanted to spend more time with other boys. (I’m pretty sure the girls weren’t always thrilled with the antics my boys brought along to get-togethers.) But as we rattled off the people we spent the most time with, they were right. Almost all daughters. Well, short of putting an ad in the paper for parents of boys--which I shot back at them as a sarcastic suggestion--I didn’t know what to do. I introduced myself to this other mom at a game and ended up sitting with her for every game thereafter. They have three boys, so it’s been a really fun new friendship for all of us.
Volunteering with local nonprofit organizations can expand your social network as well. Susan Trombetti, a professional matchmaker (okay, I’ve got to interrupt here. That’s really a career. There’s even a Professional Matchmaking Association. Did you know that? The things I learn when I research for these articles…), makes this suggestion to couples looking for friends: “Charities are a great way to meet people who are already of a giving nature and like to extend themselves. Joining the charity circuit will help expose you to other social butterflies while adding a dose of good karma to your life and maybe even your relationship.”
Asking for help from another couple is my last suggestion. This advice from Melissa Giuttari, a psychologist and couples therapist, might push you out of your comfort zone, but it will definitely introduce you to new people: “Plan an interesting dinner party where you and your partner invite one of your coupled friends. Ask them if they can invite a couple or two that you may know or slightly know, or not at all know that they know who might enjoy the company and dinner. Relying upon and trusting your established friends’ suggestions of good company can help widen your social circle of couples friends.” If you don’t want to host anything, meet up at a favorite restaurant so you’re comfortable.
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