In his Relationship Alphabet blog series, Zach Brittle explained that “F is for Friendship.” As Zach reminds us, Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory emphasizes the importance of fostering positive regard, exchanging open-ended questions, and sharing stories as the basis for cultivation of deep friendship between partners.

Today, we’d like to dig a little deeper into another critical aspect of friendship. It can be summed up in an excellent quote:

“Commitment is an act, not a word.” – Sartre

Any long-term, deeply-committed relationship (in marriage or otherwise) requires more than positive feeling and a finesse in question-asking or story-telling.

Intimate, committed relationships invariably require a certain level of dedication, loyalty, mutual support, patience, and persistence.

That being said, there are roughly as many meanings of friendship as are there are “fish in the sea,” so as you embark upon your Personal Interpersonal Voyage, it may be helpful to work out an understanding of your own needs and priorities.

In friendship, what matters most to you?

Below, you will find an abbreviated version of an exercise written by Dr. Gottman himself, which appears in full in his celebrated book The Relationship Cure

Exercise: What Does Friendship Mean to You?

The following list of questions will help to clarify the meaning of friendship in your life. When you consider each of these questions, pay particular attention to your relationship with your partner. Let your closest, most fulfilling friendships be your guide:

  • What does it mean to you to be a good friend? Do you feel that each of you is a good friend in this relationship?
  • Is it important to have a balance between giving and taking in this friendship? How are you doing in that regard?
  • How important is it for you to be able to express your true feelings to one another? 
  • Is it okay if you and your friend tell each other when you feel angry, sad, or afraid?
  • What’s the role of acceptance in this friendship? Can you rely on one another to feel affirmed? Supported? Valued? Is that important to you?
  • What’s the role of truthfulness in this friendship? Is it important for you to share honest opinions? Is it okay to disagree?
  • Is it okay to feel jealous or resentful if this friend has close relationships with other people? Is it okay to express those feelings?
  • How important is trust and confidentiality in this friendship? What happens if you or your friend betrays that trust?
  • What’s the role of intimacy in this friendship? How much sharing is enough? How much is too much?
  • How important is it for you to have the same ideas around monogamy or commitment to marriage? Do you have this in common?
  • How dependent should you be on one another? When asking for a favor, how much would be too much?
  • What’s the role of adventure in this friendship? Are you both satisfied with where it stands?
  • What’s the role of entertainment or amusement in this friendship? Are you both satisfied with where it stands?
  • How important is reliability in this friendship? Do you see it the same way? 
  • How important is affection in this friendship? Are both of your needs being met?
  • How important is intellectual stimulation in this friendship? Are you both satisfied in this regard?
  • If one of you acquires a lot of money or status than the other, how would that affect your relationship?
  • How important is it to agree about spiritual matters or religion? Do you agree on those topics?
  • How important is it for you to agree about politics? Do you agree?
  • How important is it for you to pursue the same recreational or leisure time activities? Are you both satisfied with where this stands?
  • How important is it for you to have the same philosophy of family life or parenting? Do you share the same values in this area?

Lots to think about? In the following blog post, you can read about a discussion of these questions in the context of our recent series on self care. Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers, and that understanding your own personal philosophy on friendship is instrumental in deepening your unique bond with your partner.
For now, here’s to Springtime, sunshine, and the beauty of new beginnings.

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What Does Friendship Mean to You?
Ellie Lisitsa

By: Ellie Lisitsa
Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.