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Friendship by the Book – Interview with the authors of ‘Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships’

Published: February 3, 2012 | Last Updated: July 12, 2021 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading

Think it’s hard to find a true friend? Multiply that complexity times two and try finding a couple with whom you and your partner can mesh pretty seamlessly.

Co-authored by Drs. Geoffrey Greif and Kathleen Holtz Deal, Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships breaks new ground focusing on the relationships between couples and their couple friends. The book is a great read for people interested in learning more about these rewarding friendships. You may remember that I interviewed Dr. Geoffrey Greif, here shortly after the publication of his earlier book, Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.

My colleagues, Drs. Greif and Holtz Deal, graciously agreed to answer my questions below for the readers of The Friendship Blog:

Why did you decide to write a book about couple friendships?

We were surprised to find that there had been virtually no research on couples friendships with other couples. There have been numerous studies on female friendships and, of course, Geoff has written a book on male friendships, so we had information about the differences between how men and women relate to their same-sex friends. We became curious whether couple-to-couple friendships more closely resembled women’s or men’s friendships, or were perhaps a kind of hybrid.

What makes these relationships unique?

From our research we found that the answer to our question is that couples differ in what they are looking for in becoming friends with another couple. The majority of couples are looking for another couple to have a good time – they described going out to dinner, “hanging out”, and having an enjoyable time together. We ended up seeing these couples at the “fun sharing” end of a continuum. A smaller number of couples used words like “they’re as close as family”, “we can talk with them about anything”, “we care a lot about them”. This latter group also mentioned that it was important that all four people like each other. We ended up seeing these couples at the “emotion sharing” end of a continuum. The first group described friendships that more closely resembled the shoulder-to-shoulder style of men’s friendships while the second group fit best with women’s face-to-face style of interacting.

What are the demographics of people who have couple friendships?

Couples friendships span the lifespan and cross racial and ethnic lines. We found that such friendships are most important to new, young couples and to older couples. Young couples often look to others to cement their own identity as a couple and having friends like themselves re-enforces their identity. Couples in the middle years tend to have
less free time and are chasing vocational stability. Older couples find themselves with more time and value those connections with others more. While every ethnic/racial group values family, most groups also value friends, whether they are between individuals or couples.

How do these friendships enhance the relationships between spouses or partners?

Other couples serve as models. Couples we interviewed told us how they admired the ways that their couple friends support each other or show affection. But they also take note of things their couple friends do that they don’t want to emulate, for example, on the way home remarking to each other, “Let’s never pick on each other like Jude and Belinda.”

Observing their spouse interacting with other couples allows partners to see attributes of their spouse they really like, such as their thoughtfulness or their ability to engage others in lively conversation. And being with other couples changes the dynamics between a couple by introducing new ideas or interests that can be stimulating and fun and help to enliven some of a couples’ familiar patterns.

Unlike being with individual friends, when couples are with another couple, the friendship is a shared one. As one of the men interviewed for our book says, “I think that couples may feed off each other because you know you’re with your partner, but you’re also with friends and it’s just a way to combine everything.”

What are some of the pitfalls of these relationships?

One common experience is that a couple becomes friends with another couple where they like one, but not the other, member of the couple – the “like him, hate her” phenomenon. In these situations, couples typically see less of that couple, socialize with that couple only in a larger group, decide that the person of the same gender will socialize separately with the “liked” member of the other couple, or do their best to get along with the couple because they like the one member so much. Older couples are more likely to fall into the last category, i.e., try to accommodate.

Although we specifically asked couples about sexual tension in their couple friendships, few couples reported that tension occurred. Even when we interviewed one member of a couple alone, without interviewing their spouse,
few people reported sexual tension.

How can couples best find new friends?

For the majority of couples in our study, their couple friendships began as a friendship between two people. For example, two women became friends through work. The women’s friendship expanded into socializing with their husbands. If that worked well, the couples saw each other as couple friends. However, couples can also look for new friends together. Many couples in our study said that having friends with similar values was important to them, so organizations, such as places of worship or causes they support, would be good places to find friends.

What is the trick, if any, to retain long-time relationships with couples when life takes partners (and individuals) down different roads?

Two Plus Two included interviews with 58 divorced persons. The majority lost some couple friends following their divorce – from a few to all their couple friends. We asked what advice they would offer to other persons going through a divorce who want to keep their couple friendships. Suggestions included: don’t make your friends take sides; rather than withdraw due to feeling awkward, take the initiative to reach out to the couple and let them know how much the friendship means to you.

Why are friendships with couples particularly beneficial as individuals age?

Couples in the middle years of marriage, when many are raising children and trying to succeed in their careers, often have the hardest challenge in balancing time spent with family, friends, work, and outside interests. Once children leave the home, couples typically have more time to devote to friendships.

We have one chapter in the book in which we interviewed two couples in their 60’s who have been friends for 38 years. They describe their friendship from the time when both couples were newlyweds, through having and raising children, into their current status as “empty nesters” thinking of retirement. They have served as “family” to each other and their shared history forms a critical part of each couple’s life story.


About the Authors:

Geoffrey L. Greif, Ph.D. is professor, University of Maryland School of Social Work and the winner of the 2010 University of Maryland Regents Award for Teaching.

Kathleen Holtz Deal, Ph.D. is associate professor, University of Maryland School of Social Work and the winner of the 2011 Founders Day Award for Teaching at the University of Maryland.

“Friendship by the Book” is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship
lessons.

Several prior posts on The Friendship Blog about couples and their friendships:

What has been your experience with couple friendships?

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS, Relationships with ex-friends

Comments (4)

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  1. Irene says:

    As Dr. Greif points out, it often starts out with a friendship between two that expands to four…
    Warm regards, Irene

  2. Anonymous says:

    Now that my friends are starting to emerge from the “middle years of marriage,” where the time emphasis was on their kids, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them. My dream is to find another compatible couple to travel with. It’ll be hard to match up four different people, though…

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