Support for couples has often been focused on managing disagreements rather than building positive aspects of the relationship, like friendship. However, it is increasingly recognised that in the long term, relationships falter through a lack of positivity rather than the presence of negativity . When thinking about supporting relationships, working to strengthen the depth of friendship is ‘probably the treatment of choice’ .
Research suggests that friendship can be the foundation of a strong relationship with our partner. This foundation has three parts:
A strong foundation of friendship helps us to see the best in our partner. When we are feeling positive about our partner, it’s much easier to see any inevitable let-downs as being out of character or due to circumstance, making it easier to forgive and move on .
Research shows that married and cohabiting couples who see their partner as their ‘best friend’ are much more satisfied with their lives than those who name someone else as their closest friend . Time to ourselves and a network of support from other friends and family are, of course, also vital to wellbeing.
One study of couples interviewed separately over the first 15 years of their marriage  showed that people who described being great friends with their partner were in some of the most satisfying relationships. Many of the couples had been ‘friends first’ before becoming romantic partners . As one man put it, “You need to have that basic friendship at the base of everything to build up from, and that always gives you something to go back to.”
Couples’ experiences of the pandemic differed substantially depending on a number of factors. However, many couples commented that because they were such good friends, they had not found it difficult to be in lockdown together. Couples in thriving relationships ‘work hard’ to keep their relationship vibrant, but because they enjoy each other’s company, this is not ‘hard work’.
In the good times and the bad, friendship is “The glue that sticks everything together.” Couples who are good friends look out and want the best for each other. They tackle issues as a team, which can strengthen their relationship further. This can even help when things go wrong – in the 15-year study of couples, one man said that he fell back on the “solid friendship” they had enjoyed to get him through the difficult months after finding out about his wife’s affair in the early years of their marriage. Without this basis of friendship, the relationship may not have survived.
In the same study, concerns flagged by the researchers over the strength of the couple’s friendship at the first interview reliably predicted which couples would separate. Without a foundation of friendship, there seemed to be little to fight for when couples hit difficulties, and the relationships broke down . When friendship is weak, the likely outcome is that people leave unhappy marriages . That is why it’s essential to choose a partner we get on well with and then work hard to keep the relationship strong.
It is normal for relationships to go through peaks and troughs. It takes time and effort to keep things vibrant with a partner and there will be times when you feel closer than at others. Making time shows your partner they are your priority, especially when time is at a premium.
Here are some things you can do to keep your relationship strong:
Written by Dr Jan Ewing, University of Exeter
 Frank Fincham, Scott Stanley and Steven Beach, ‘Transformative Processes in Marriage: An Analysis of Emerging Trends’ (2007) 69 Journal of Marriage and Family 275
 John Gottman and others, The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002)
 John Gottman and Julie Gottman, ‘The Natural Principles of Love’ (2017) 9(3) Journal of Family Theory and Review 7
 Anne Barlow and others The Shackleton Relationships Project: Report on Key Findings (University of Exeter, 2018)
 Shawn Grover and John Helliwell, ‘How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness’ (2017) 20(2) Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being 373
 Anne Barlow and Jan Ewing, forthcoming
 See: Danu Stinson, Jessica Cameron and Lisa Hoplock, ‘The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science’ (2022) 13(2) Social Psychological and Personality Science 562
 Denise Prevetti and Paul Amato ‘Why Stay Married? Rewards, Barriers and Marital Stability’ (2003) 65(3) Journal of Marriage and Family 561