Forget a romantic dinner for two, double dating is the real secret to a long and happy marriage
With more and more break-ups hitting the headlines, many will welcome any advice on how to sustain a long and happy relationship.
And scientists in Maryland think they have found the secret: having another couple to share your happiness with.
The research found that relationships of people who spent time ‘double dating’ – like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, and Beyonce and Jay Z – tended to last much longer.
Close friends: Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin are close
friends with Beyonce and Jay Z. The actress was by Jay Z's side as they
watched his wife at Glastonbury last year
Not only did it increase their attraction for each other but it also appeared to increase their understanding of the opposite sex.
Psychologists say having a ‘mirror couple’ to socialise with allows us to learn from the ways other couples interact and negotiate differences.
The social interaction also allowed each individual to see their partners ‘at their best’, interacting in a warm and positive way with others.
The research may explain part of the appeal of frequently socialising with another couple – a little like the Goods and the Leadbetters in hit TV show The Good Life.
However, the study suggested such friendships are becoming rarer due to the pressures of longer working hours for both men and women.
The new research into ‘couple friendships’ was carried out by psychologists at the University of Maryland.
Lead author Professor Geoffrey Greif said double dating ‘should be encouraged’.
He said: 'Couples with couple friends – and it may be only one couple – seem to have happier relationships.
'When they can include couple friends in their lives, they gain a great deal from being with that couple as well as interacting with each other.
'With a great couple friendship, you get to see your partner at their best, having a good time and that makes them more attractive.
'They are having fun, interacting in a loving and supportive way with another couple as well as with the partner.
'Having close couple friends is often a reflection of a longer and happier marriage.'
Explaining the kind of things we learn from other couples, he added: 'We watch other couples.
Best of friends: New research may explain part of the appeal of frequently socialising with another couple – a little like the Goods and the Leadbetters in hit TV show The Good Life
How do they deal with their children Does he open the car door for her Is she supportive of him Do they hold hands
'Those behaviours are teachable moments for a couple. If you admire your friends, you can learn from their relationship.'
The researchers interviewed 123 couples, 122 individuals in relationships, but who were questioned alone and 58 divorced individuals.
On average, couples had about five ‘couple friends’ they spent time with.
When asked how important these friendships were, 40 per cent of described them as ‘very important’ and 39 per cent as ‘somewhat important’.
For different people, these ‘couple’ relationships had different meanings.
Prof Greif added: 'Couples are looking for different things in their couple friendships – we found there are “fun-sharing” and “emotion-sharing” couples.'
'On some rare occasions it can go
terribly wrong. We interviewed a few people where partners in the two
couples friends ended up having an affair'
Emotion-sharing couples open up about their emotions and troubles with their couple friends, though the researchers found that topics of sex and money are often still taboo.
Fun-sharing couples spend their time together having fun and getting away from the stress of everyday lives.
Many couple friendships seemed to start out as a one-partner friendship that blossomed into a foursome.
For some, though, finding couple friends was difficult, with lives busy with work and family.
Prof Greif said: 'Couple friendships used to be a more prominent part of family life.
'With women moving increasingly into the workforce, both partners are now weighing their time with others as well as time alone with each other.'
Many couples were so keen to find others to go out with and spend time with, that they advertised or joined hiking or book clubs especially for couples.
However, Prof Greif admitted there could be perils involved. He said: 'We had a couple who advertised for friends in a small town and got responses from couples that wanted to swing. They removed their ad.
'On some rare occasions it can go terribly wrong. We interviewed a few people where partners in the two couples friends ended up having an affair.'
The research is published as part of the book 'Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships' by Greif and Kathleen Holtz Deal, also of the University of Maryland.