Updated: Aug 12
You’ve probably seen a piece somewhere out there about how relationships are more likely to last if you’re friends with the other person before you fall in love and all that other gooey stuff. But is that true? And is that important?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. It’s confusing!
So do you immediately head for the divorce courts if you weren’t friends first?
Putting on my research hat, lemme ’splain to you what’s going on here.
“Being friends” isn’t the key to anything in itself. “Being friends” is in fact just a proxy for some really good stuff. Like what? Like these 4 steps:
1. Like knowing the other person well before you jump into a commitment. Sounds like
common sense, except that whenever people jump over the getting-to-know-you
stage due to lust or infatuation, they’re at risk of coming to regret it.
2. Like knowing the other person in more real-life-type situations than if you were lovers.
3. Like starting out with a relationship-based on interests and activities you have in
common besides smooching and sex.
4. Like knowing each other’s families and social worlds.
And so here’s the thing. It’s NOT the case that you need to be friends first. It’s just that you have to beware of how infatuation—if that’s how things start out with you—can be all too tempting. Like paddleboarding. But you wouldn’t start paddleboarding at Marina del Rey here in LA and say, “Wow, this is fun. Lemme paddleboard all the way across the Pacific to China.” But you might succumb to a comparable temptation when you’re infatuated with someone.
It’s really healthy for a relationship to have an infatuation stage, whether it comes right away or out of the clear blue sky after working closely with that person in the accounting department for five years.
It’s just that...let me tell you about the contractor we had back in Boston for years. He did everything for our old house, and he was great. And a great guy too. But it was really helpful that we knew before we took him on board that he was an avid golfer. On any golfable afternoon? He’d be out on the course, not at our house doing whatever job he was supposed to be doing.
But that was okay. Because we knew that going in. It was part of the deal. Glenn is great, but if you get Glenn you get the whole golfing thing.
But imagine if we’d hired him not knowing this and one day he just started not showing up. That would feel like something very different. Like a betrayal.
How much more is that true for committed relationships!
So whether you start out with friendship or with infatuation, please never skip steps 1—4 of the getting—to—know—you process. It’ll give you a chance to identify an infatuation you shouldn’t be committing to and it’ll enable you to start a promising relationship on a much stronger footing.
One of the reasons people have conflicts over unmet needs in their relationship is that they skipped over this process. They can still have a good relationship, but there are a lot of areas where there’s a lot of conflict. And that’s why our book Why Couples Fight is so important: the more unmet needs there are, and the more conflict over those needs, the more the cancer of power eats away at the love that should be at the heart of your relationship. And it doesn’t have to be this way.