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Is Your Spouse Really Your Best Friend?

Your mate and your friend are not one and the same, nor should they be.

A finding from a recent government-funded marriage study reported in the Wall Street Journal: “Twice as many unhappy spouses said lack of time for self was their main reason for being unhappy than those who cited an unsatisfying sex life.”

From a study of 1600 seniors published in a recent Archives of Internal Medicine: almost two thirds of seniors who reported feeling lonely were married or living with a partner. Researchers defined loneliness as feeling isolated or lacking companionship.

Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines friend as “a person one likes and chooses to spend time with, usually without sexual or family bonds; a sympathizer, helper, ally.”

The three snippets above simply don’t compute, do they? A spouse who is one’s best friend yet leaves one feeling lonely and/or smothered, or sometimes both?

It is not at all unusual for someone who comes to see me for counseling to begin their story by stating that their partner is their best friend but…there is no sex, no fun, no time for solitary pursuits, or in some major way life is not being enjoyed to its fullest. Often, the problem would have an obvious solution without the profession of best friendship. If the client were single, or even coupled, and life were unfulfilling she or he would know what to do, if not exactly how – take some time for oneself and find some new friends.

With any client’s first visit, usually presenting with some aspect of a relationship concern, I always review other aspects of their life – general health, the work he or she does and feelings about it, other people in their life (family, friends), what recreational activities are pursued, and if the person has enough time for him or herself. Almost always the answer to this last question is “no”. While all the other aspects of a life I ask about may have some bearing on a relationship issue, this last one always does.

Most of us these days lead frantic lives with demands for time coming at us from all directions. Priorities have to be assigned and almost always personal needs beyond the most basic of food and sleep are often swept aside. Even then, many people are not eating well or getting enough sleep so a half hour a day to simply take a deep breath of fresh air is just not there. Time to connect with a partner about how your day went or what’s on your mind in general is left, if it happens at all, to a few groggy moments before sleep takes over.

Let’s say, however, that one does manage to schedule a movie or a meal out. What if your partner prefers a different movie than the one you want to see, or a different type of restaurant food? What if he or she would prefer not to go to a movie at all but to a sports event or an art museum? Do you forego what you want for the sake of couple harmony? If so, no wonder you might be feeling lonely although coupled. You’re living your life via someone else’s choices rather than your own.

An oversimplification perhaps, but I strongly feel that you need to be your own best friend. Your own needs must be given some priority so that, as a fulfilled person, you can then be in a position to be more generous with your partner and others around you. If you’re feeling lonely and not getting the support, sympathy or help from your spouse that is the very definition of friendship, look elsewhere – for a friend, usually same sex, and not place that burden of such expectations entirely on your spouse. If you are feeling too much closeness within the coupled bonds, take what space you need for maximum enjoyment of life….and for maximum enjoyment of your partnership as well. Two people who each have their needs met, who take responsibility of fulfilling their own needs, will make much better and more interesting partners to each other.

Not too close. Not too far apart. Find the best equation for you so that you can enjoy your coupled relationship and not turn it into something it was never meant to be – a confinement in the name of an exclusive friendship.

More from Isadora Alman MFT, CST
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