Friendship and Mutual Interests

Additional Information for Chapter 2, Page 15

Ideally romantic partners should be excellent friends. Ignoring gender, sexual, or romantic issues for the moment, what sorts of people become good friends?

Typically friends are those with whom you share similar interests and activities. Why are the majority of musicians’ friends other musicians? Artists’ friends tend to be other artists, hunters hang out with other hunters, and hockey fans enjoy the company of other hockey fans. As you explore past or present non-romantic friendships, think carefully: What factors nurtured the friendship?

Friendship is one key ingredient that you look for in a romantic partner—someone who could be a good friend even if there were no romantic component to the relationship. When you marry, you will be spending a lot of time together, so it is good to have many things that you mutually enjoy. In a romantic relationship, infatuation fades after a couple of years. You still enjoy intimacies, but sex no longer dominates your thoughts and time. As has been noted elsewhere, even for the most sexually enthusiastic couple, sexual activity occupies only about 1-2% of their time. If you are good friends with many shared interests, then the other 98-99% of the time can be equally rewarding, but if you share very little in common, then boredom, disaffection and parallel lives are the frequent result.

Types of Friendships to Avoid When Seeking a Marriage Partner

Avoid friendship based on proximity or availability. Many friendships are based on proximity and convenience. In fact social psychological research finds that proximity is the greatest single predictor of friendships. But, if the person moves, the friendship vanishes. For a friendship to survive such a move requires a much deeper grounding in shared values, perspectives, or interests. Friendships based on convenience are not friendships that can stand the test of time. Nor can such a friendship withstand the sheer bulk of time together that occurs in a marriage. If you are considering marrying someone because they are “convenient” or “easily accessed,” beware! This is not a foundation for a successful relationship.

Beware of friendship based on romantic attraction. Couples in love want to be with each other all the time. The activity doesn’t matter as long as they can be doing it together. Washing dishes, doing laundry, watching TV, studying, reading, visiting, eating out, and going to movies are all the more enjoyable because “I am with you.” The problem is that when the in-love phase is over (on average about 2 years) then “just being near him/her” is no longer sufficient motivation for engaging in the activity. The list at the beginning of this paragraph identifies some mundane necessities or passive forms of entertainment. None of wich will form the foundation for a rich friendship whether or not romantic attachment plays a role in the relationship.

Factors Associated with Successful Friendships

Having mutual interests contributes to an excellent marriage. The factors that predict success in romantic relationships are threefold:

  1. How many areas of interest do you share? (The more the better)
  2. How intense is your enjoyment of these shared activities. (The more you enjoy them the stronger the bond)
  3. How active is your level of participation (things you actively DO together provid stronger bonding than things you passively ENJOY together)

Examples of Strong versus Weak Bonds

Below are four examples of activities that might provide a strong bond or a weak bond of friendship.

Activity Weak Bond Potential
Strong Bond Potential
Watching movies Enjoy watching movies together from time to time Mutually fascinated with classic movies, collect classic films, enjoy discussing the strengths and weaknesses of films and actors
Music Enjoy some of the same songs and go to the occasional concert Our family provides an example: I play trombone, Elizabeth plays French horn, Natalie & Eileen both play trumpet. We all take lessons from symphony players, are involved in several music ensemble groups, we have an entire room of the house devoted to music, and frequently attend (and participate) in concerts and tours
Health and fitness Complain to each other that you both need to lose weight and ought to start an exercise program Actively work together to ensure healthy diet, participate together or encourage each other to maintain your exercise schedule, attend and participate in road races several times a year, do the occasional backpacking trip with the whole family
Family Be pleasant when extended family intrudes and try to not make obvious that you will be relieved when they are gone Actively and enthusiastically plan for family events, luxuriate in the presence of extended family and make efforts to make their stay as enjoyable as possible. Actively participate in planned or spontaneous activities with family

There are many thousands of examples we could use, but these four provide an example of active versus passive involvement, of enthusiastic integration versus occasional participation.

Don’t make the mistake of insisting that you share ALL interests. That is neither possible nor desirable. But the more SHARED interests that you are enthusiastic about, the more fun you will have and the stronger will be the bonds of friendship—and, in a romantic context, the stronger the marriage.

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