What's really at the core of a healthy, loving marriage that lasts through shifting careers, heartbreaking losses and the craze of bringing up little ones? A new survey finds that, contrary to popular opinion, it actually isn't just sex, or even romance.
Friends first, lovers second: This isn't the first time we've been told friendship trumps sex and love when it comes to long-term connections. But the latest survey, conducted by psychotherapist Abby Rodman, got real answers from over 500 heterosexual married respondents, Rodman told Mic. The survey's aim was to see whether people considered the lack of sex to be a marriage deal-breaker.
Her finding? While many of the respondents cared about sex and wished they were having more, Rodman reports they named "the most important qualities in a marriage" as companionship, intimacy and love, in that order. Nearly 50% of the couples said lack of sex wouldn't be a reason to leave their marriages.
"Most of these folks are committed to their marriages despite their unhappiness with the sexual side of things," Rodman explained on her website. "Many felt 'happy' when their spouses did approach them for sex. Even more respondents felt 'hopeful that things will start to improve.'"
That hopefulness might be because a lot of happy marriages have a foundation outside of the purely physical. Often, the key to a truly successful marriage is friendship.
Keeping sex in the picture: Rodman also found that 76% of the couples had enjoyed an active sex life early on in the marriage, but that sex started waning after having the arrival of a child, a health issue or simply due to the passing of time. (Surprisingly, the individuals surveyed defined their marriages as "sexless" if sex was happening around 12 times a year, or roughly once a month.)
That doesn't mean married couples don't (always) have sex on the brain. There are an average of 21,090 Google searches for "sexless marriage" every month, according to research conducted by New York Times writer Seth Stevens-Davidowitz.
Luckily, a "sexless" marriage doesn't have to remain so. Sex can be reintroduced to the equation, Rodman said, if both partners make real efforts, including "expend[ing] energy making your spouse feel desirable."
But that effort is only going to seem worth it if the relationship overall feels worth saving and improving. That worth can come from having a relationship rooted in friendship.
The value of loving your BFF: A 2014 study from National Bureau of Economic Research found that "well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend." Being married to someone you consider a really close friend is associated with higher life satisfaction, because best friends get us through some of life's toughest stresses, like career trials, family conflicts and even low libidos.
The good news is that so many of our romantic relationships actually begin as friendships. According to a 2,373-person survey Mic conducted earlier this month, 40% of those with significant others were actually "platonic friends first." As for meeting, the most common way of first getting together was via mutual friends.
The many facets of friendship — helping each other through crises, having inside jokes and sharing our deepest vulnerabilities — are the same kinds of traits that drive a truly solid marriage. While sex is great and often essential, it can't maintain a marriage by itself. A deep friendship can — plus, it might even help bring back the sex when it starts to fade.