On the last track, we discussed dealing with core impasses in couples therapy by using the vulnerability cycle model. We specifically discussed core impasses, the vulnerability cycle, survival positions, and diagramming the vulnerability cycle.
On this track, we will discuss preserving and protecting friendship within marriage. We will specifically discuss five roadblocks to friendship in marriage. These five roadblocks are, there’s no time, "we’re not friends, we’re married", "we don’t talk like friends anymore", the ravages of conflict, and reckless words. I find that once couples understand these roadblocks to friendship, they are better able to implement communication strategies that may help preserve the couple’s friendship.
Chloe and Doug had been married for eleven years. They began couples therapy after Chloe realized she had been contemplating divorce due to feelings of loneliness. Chloe stated, "I just felt so isolated and disconnected in our marriage. I needed a friend! I started to feel like I just couldn’t take the loneliness anymore!" With Chloe and Doug, failure to nurture their friendship had created a situation in which both partners felt unsafe and lonely.
5 Roadblocks to Friendship in Marriage
Roadblock #1: Lack of Time
I explained to Chloe and Doug that married couples often find several roadblocks to maintaining a friendship, and that the first of these roadblocks is the lack of time. Chloe stated, "you know, you’re right. When Doug and I first were married, we’d talk for hours about politics and religion. But after we had our son Tim, we ran so short on time! I mean, when he got to school we were both working, and there’d be soccer practice and PTA meetings and work… when we got home Doug and I would just collapse in front of the TV!"
Roadblock #2: "We’re Not Friends, We’re Married"
I explained to Chloe and Doug that the second reason couples may fail to preserve friendship is the idea that "we’re not friends, we’re married." My colleagues frequently report that they see married couples who state, "Of course I was friends with my spouse when we met. But now we’re just married". As I explained to Chloe and Doug, this point of view can undermine a couple’s attempts to nurture their friendship.
Roadblock #3: Not Talking Like Friends Anymore
In addition to the lack of time and the idea that "we’re not friends, we’re married," a third reason couples may fail to preserve their friendship is not talking like friends anymore. Chloe stated, "With my friends, I talk about things that interest me, and we never argue. But at home, Doug and I always have to talk about Tim’s college expenses, how we’re going to afford to fix the roof, whose turn it is to cook. And then, of course, we end up fighting. It sucks! I don’t remember the last time we talked about anything just for fun."
Roadblock #4: The Ravages of Conflict
A fourth roadblock to preserving friendship in marriage can be the ravages of conflict. Chloe stated, "We went out for a change last week, to the state fair. We’ve both always loved gardening, so we were looking at the prize vegetables. We started chatting about the exhibits, and all of a sudden we were having a huge fight about money, just because I mentioned that we should start thinking about getting things ready for next year’s veggies!" As you can see, Chloe and Doug’s casual conversation hit one of their triggers, money issues.
Are you treating a couple like Chloe and Doug, who become so afraid of conflict erupting during casual conversations, that they avoid talking as much as possible?
Roadblock #5: Reckless Words
In addition to lack of time, the opinion that "we’re not friends, we’re married", not talking like friends any more, and the ravages of conflict, a fifth roadblock to preserving friendship in marriage is reckless words. Chloe stated, "When we were arguing about the garden, and how much money it would cost, Doug said flat out ‘If you wouldn’t waste so much goddamn money on your ugly hair, we might be able to afford to do something nice with the garden’. I was so hurt! I felt like a hag! How am I supposed to talk to Doug about anything if he’s just going to be nasty when he gets upset?!"
Clearly, when couples are upset, they may lash out at each other, which undermines their friendship. Would you agree that this leads to partners feeling that it is unsafe to share deep feelings, if these feelings are going to be used against them later in a fight?
Friendship Talks Technique
I invited Chloe and Doug to try the Friendship Talks technique. I stated, "First, you should plan a time when you can talk interruptedly. You may want to verbally agree beforehand that you will ban conflict issues and problem solving from your talk. Take turns picking out topics that interest each of you. Some topics you could try are current events in sports, a movie you’ve recently seen, or something in your family’s history you’ve been thinking about." Chloe stated, "You know, that’s something that would really interest me. Doug said once he had a relative who fought in the Civil War. I’d love to hear more about him."
I also suggested the Interview technique to Doug and Chloe. In this technique, spouses take turns pretending to be their favorite television interviewer, interviewing their partner about his or her life story. I stated, "this can be really fun! The best interviewers are great at listening, and drawing people out of themselves. This can be a good way to practice listening and sharing as friends, and you can learn something new about each other, too." Are you treating a couple for issues related to infidelity who might benefit from these techniques?
On this track, we have discussed preserving and protecting friendship within marriage. We also discussed five roadblocks to friendship in marriage. These five roadblocks are, there’s no time, "we’re not friends, we’re married", "we don’t talk like friends anymore", the ravages of conflict, and reckless words.
On the next track, we will discuss three barriers to fun that married couples may experience. These three barriers to fun are being busy, the opinion that play is for kids, and that conflict gets in the way. We will also discuss the "Fun Deck" technique that can be used for helping married couples focus on having fun together.
- Feuerman, M. L. (2018). Therapeutic Presence in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 21(3), 22-32.
- Kauffman, C. & Silberman, J. (May 2009) Finding and Fostering the Positive in Relationships: Positive Interventions in Couples Therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 520.
- Symonds, D., PhD, & O Horvath, A., EdD. (Dec 2004) Optimizing the Alliance in Couple Therapy. Family Process, 43(4), 443.
- Tambling, R. B., Wong, A. G. & Anderson, S. R. (Jan/Feb 2014) Expectations About Couple Therapy: A Qualitative Investigation. American Journal of Family Therapy, 42(1), 29-41.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bernstein, R. E., Laurent, S. M., & Laurent, H. K. (Sep 2016). Much ado about your thing: Conflict structure moderates the effect of attachment anxiety on postconflict perceived self-partner overlap. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 5(3), 168-179.
Creasey, G. (May 2014). Conflict-management behavior in dual trauma couples. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(3), 232-239.
Oreg, S., & Sverdlik, N. (Mar 2011). Ambivalence toward imposed change: The conflict between dispositional resistance to change and the orientation toward the change agent. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 337-349.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 11
What are five roadblocks to friendship in marriage?
To select and enter your answer go to .