For decades researchers have explored what is at the core of the best marriages. While studies have found many factors that predict stable, happy marriages, research has converged on an unexpected and rather prosaic, primary factor: friendship, not romance.
World premier marriage scholar John Gottman summarizes more than two decades of research and dozens of studies in stating that “the simple truth [is] that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.” Gottman believes that in good marriages, couples achieve an intimate familiarity with each other’s quirks, desires, fears, aspirations, and habits. They express this knowledge in big and little ways: “When she orders him a salad, she knows to ask for the dressing on the side. If she works late, he’ll tape her favorite TV show because he knows which one it is and when it’s on. . . . Without such a love map, you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?”
Creating and sustaining true marital friendship requires daily action. Effortless relationships are a myth. The principle of entropy operates in our social world as much as in our physical world; things get disorderly and fall apart if we don’t put energy into the system regularly. Regular date nights are a good idea, but even better are daily moments of reconnection in the home and staying in touch with each other’s concerns, worries, and little victories. Marriage educators recommend carving out space each day for friendship, even creating daily rituals that preserve and protect the time that couples need to be best friends.
Of course, different couples will find different ways to create daily time at home. The lesson that we all must learn is that friendship is sustained in slower time, with direct attention, in various ways. Normal time these days is fast and getting faster. If we are casual rather than intentional in our relationships, we are at risk for creating a “time famine” that starves our relationships of the sustaining nourishment of friendship.
Further, friendship most likely sustains a marriage through the rough times. A marriage and a family are rescued not by a passionate love scene and an idealistic dream but by friendship and the prosaic connections formed in the plain, ordinary work of everyday life at home.
By sustaining real friendship from day to day, relationships will have the wherewithal to last a lifetime. This marital friendship also creates a “tranquilizing effect,” a sense of well-being and inner peace which researchers attribute, in part, to the longer lives and better health married couple experience. The prosaic marriage is centered in the home and its normal, everyday routines. Hollywood may not find it alluring. But in Harrisburg, it’s what keeps the home fires burning.
Abstract from “The Prosaic Marriage” by Alan J. Hawkins, Elizabeth B. Fawcett, & Elizabeth VanDenBerghe in Seeing the Everyday no. 4, pp. 106-113. Available by contacting us.
 T. N. Bradbury, F. D. Fincham, and S. R. H. Beach (2000), Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.
 J. M. Gottman and N. Silver (1999), The seven principles for making marriage work (New York: Crown Books), 19–20, 48.
 Gottman and Silver (1999).
 W. J. Doherty (2001), Take back your marriage (New York: Guilford).
 J. Gleick (1999), Faster (New York: Pantheon Books). A. R. Hochschild (1997), The time bind (New York: Metropolitan Books).
 Doherty (2001). K. J. Daly (1996), Families and time (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage).
 J. J. Lynch (1979), The broken heart: The medical consequences of loneliness (New York: Basic).