WEDDINGS
03/02/2012 11:55 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2012

Double Dating Benefits Marriage Greatly, According To New Research

Double-dating could be one of the secrets to a long and happy marriage, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Social Work have found that maintaining healthy friendships with other couples can help to solidify a couple's sense of themselves as a unit and can even increase partners' attraction to one another.

Researchers reviewed findings from a series of studies on couple friendships conducted between 2008 and 2010 and compiled the results in a new book, "Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships".

The studies examined the overall impact of couple-to-couple friendships. Participants were asked questions such as, "How do you define couple friendships?," "How important are they to you as a couple?" and "How do these friendships work or operate?"

HuffPost Weddings spoke to "Two Plus Two" editors Geoffrey L. Greif, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland and Kathleen Holtz Deal, an associate professor at the school to learn more about how couple friendships can enrich a marriage.

HP: How does having couple friends benefit your marriage?

KHD: We found that there was a number of benefits to having couple friends. One of them is people actually use their couple friends as a model to emulate and a model to say, "Let's never do that." In both ways, they would have conversations a lot of times afterwards like, "I like the way they do that," or "It's great that they're so supportive like that," or "Let's never fight like that couple does." Modeling is important. Another benefit of having couple friends is that you get to see your partner at their best (hopefully) when you're with other people. Some aspects of our personalities may come out when we're working with more people or people we're not normally involved with. If you have the opportunity to see your partner being really thoughtful towards other people, that can make you feel warmer toward them and make you feel connected with them.

GLG: One of the things my wife always said made me attractive to her before we got married is the way I interacted with kids. And because she got to see me interact with children, she said she had a chance to see me in a light that she normally would have not been able to if it was just the two of us hanging out together.

HP: Are there any instances in which couple friendships can be detrimental to a relationship?

GLG: Sure. Especially when people begin to have sex with each other, is one easy example. And when you're with another couple and they're doing things that unconsciously or consciously make you and your spouse have a fight -- that's not always good. What might happen is that depending on how the man treats the woman -- I'm speaking from a man's perspective here -- well, that could potentially trigger me treating my wife the same way. And while the other woman may or may not be willing to tolerate that, certainly my wife may not be willing to tolerate that. So it can bring out the best in couples but it can also bring out the worst in couples. If I'm out with another couple and he doesn't open the door for his wife, why should I have to open the door for my wife? That's a mini-example of how you can learn bad habits from other couples, just from watching them.

KHD: We did talk to some people who said that they stopped seeing certain couples because they really didn't like the way that they felt around that couple. That they went into a situation feeling fine, but there was so much negativity and vibes they were getting that made them uncomfortable. They really didn't like it, so they basically scratched those friends off the list.

HP: Based on interviews with more than 426 individuals, you have found that individuals generally fall into three categories when it comes to forming couple friendships: Seekers, Keepers and Nesters. Can you tell us more about that?

GLG: We have what we call Seekers, Keepers and Nesters -- which is the way that people orient themselves to their couple friends. Seekers are people that are always interested in making new friends and tend to be people that are very comfortable socializing and going out with other people; they tend to be extroverts and actively are seeking and open to meeting new friends most of the time. Keepers have a large group of friends already and really have no interest in time for making new friends. Maybe they're involved with family or work or their kids are young, and they're trying to hold onto the friends that they have. They'd be open to meeting new people, but they'e not actively going out and looking for them. And Nesters are the third group. They tend to be the people who are staying at home with one to two couples friends, and they tend to be more towards the introverted side of things. It's important for couples to be able to talk about what orientation that they have, what style they have of friend-making so that they can understand how they approach new friendships or old friendships.

KHD: We also came up with a continuum: with fun-sharing couples at one end and emotion-sharing couples at one end. Fun-sharing couples are couples who gave us responses like "I just want to have a good time, we just like to go out to have dinner, we like to bowl, or hang together" or something like that. People at the other end of the continuum said that they saw couple friends that they felt close to, or that felt like family. They were people that they looked up to -- that they shared values with. [But] all of that can change over time. People can be Seekers or Keepers at another time, and the same thing with fun-seeking and emotion-seeking as well, depending on where they are in their lives, and what they have going on.

HP: What happens when one member of the couple is reluctant to socialize with couple friends?

KHD: That came up frequently in our interviews. When we asked people about where they see themselves, sometimes a couple would agree and a number of times they'd say "Well, she's this and I'm that." They really saw themselves in two distinctive places. The couples who we interviewed about this talked about how they had to learn to accommodate one another. The Seeker might have to calm down a little bit and take it a lot slower if they knew that their Nester husband was just not as interested and would not be able to be as out-there and involved as they were. So it really requires some negotiation and real accommodation, we found.

GLG: Couples, when they first form, have to find out how to manage their time, and that's very difficult for couples these days where both men and women are working outside of the home, or working in the home -- whether it's a stay-at-home mother or father. But where does a couple find time for each other, just the two of them? When does the guy or gal find time to be with their guy or girlfriends? And when do they find time for family and time to be alone without anybody, and then time for other couples? A lot of the research that we've looked at talks about how couples define themselves early on by being around other couples.

HP: Do you have any tips on finding the right couple friends?

KHD: One of the things that couples told us is that they really liked sharing values and interests with the couples that they were friends with. So if you have opportunities to meet people in some type of situation or environment in which you could be sharing similar values or something, that might be good. For some people, it might be a cause or a religious organization of some kind. Meeting people under those circumstances at least indicates that you have something in common, and something that you might be able to build on.

GLG: The other piece of that is what we went back to before, recognizing if you're a fun-sharing or emotional-sharing couple. If I'm one part of a fun-sharing couple, I'm not going to like hanging out with people who are more interested in being emotion-sharing because they're going to take the conversation in a way that may make me feel uncomfortable. And we found that fun-sharing couples may be open to sharing their emotions but they tend to do it more with their individual friends or with each other, we hypothesized -- so we don't know for sure. If you're an emotional-sharing couple and you make friends with people and all they want to do is have fun, that's going to be an insufficient relationship for you.

HP: Are "couple friends" a good idea for all couples?

GLG: No. I'd say that it varies greatly and we tried to capture that in the Seekers, Keepers and Nesters section of the book. There are people who maybe are content with just themselves, or maybe just one or two close couples, or family. We're not saying how many couple friends they should have and we're not saying that they should have couple friends. We think, in general, that friends enrich someone's lives but we can't really say that everybody should have friends. That's not really our position that we can take. Obviously we believe in the benefits of friends, but they are people out there who are very content who have very few friends and have very rich and fulfilling lives.

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