Does Your Partner Also Need to Be Your Best Friend?
New research offers insight on whether it's the healthiest outlook.
Posted Dec 04, 2016
- “My husband is my best friend. I’d rather spend my time with him than with anyone else.”
- “My wife is wonderful, and I can talk to her about things I can’t talk to my guy friends about. She’s my best friend.”
- “I can talk to my women friends about things my husband would never understand.”
- “My wife is great, but she doesn’t share a lot of my interests. My best buddy and I do ‘guy’ things together.”
- “One of the advantages of being gay is that my wife is also my best friend. We have great sex, and we can talk about anything and everything.”
- “I wouldn’t bring sex into my friendships; and friendship would destroy the passion and romance in my marriage.”
These six people have six different points of view about whether your spouse should be your best friend. And that’s only a small sampling of the responses I got when I asked people whether they thought a spouse should also be a best friend.
A gay married man said, “That’s such a hetero[sexual] question. It depends on what works for a specific couple.”
A woman who is single by choice said, “I don’t think there are any rules about this. I wish people would pay more attention to what they want, and not to what is supposed to be right.”
There isn’t a lot of research on the topic, but one study reports that there is a significant difference in life satisfaction between individuals who report that their spouse is their best friend and those who separate their friendship from their marriage.
John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia studies happiness around the world. In research on the links between marriage and happiness, he and his colleague Shawn Grover found a positive correlation between marriage and life satisfaction in couples that said that their best friend was also their spouse. Working with the National Bureau of Economic Research in Canada, Helliwell and Grover drew their data from the British Household Panel Survey, the United Kingdom’s Annual Population Survey, and the Gallup World Poll. The researchers hypothesize that having a partner with whom you can talk and share life struggles is an important part of feeling satisfied with your life, even in difficult times.
But among the men and women I interviewed, the question was more complex. A young widow told me:
“My husband and I had a wonderful, passionate relationship before he got sick. We were best friends, too. He was the only person I wanted to spend time with, and until the illness hit he was the person I could talk to about anything and everything. But during the time he was so sick, I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about how I felt. I couldn’t tell him everything anymore. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone and lonely in my life.”
A single woman said:
“I love being alone. I also love my friends. And I have a couple of male friends who are also my lovers, but I wouldn’t want to be married to either of them. Well, I don’t want to be married to anyone. I don’t think I could possibly be more satisfied with my life than I am right now.”
Bella DePaulo, a Psychology Today blogger and author of Singled Out, says something similar. As she has written:
“For people like me who are single at heart, getting married may not have the same implications as it does for the kinds of people who want to marry and choose to do so.”
Research shows that close relationships affect our sense of well-being. Psychologist Mathew Lieberman, author of Social, says that our brains are “wired to connect.” Attachment theorists and neuroscientists like Alan Schore and Daniel Siegel agree. But are there, perhaps, different ways of connecting?
For some of us, marriage and friendship go together perfectly. But for others, separation of the two is the better way to go. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, authors of Connected, say it's important to understand that connections to others are key to our emotional and physical well-being.
So it may just be that how you connect, and who you connect to, is less important than that you connect. As Sophia Dembling, a Psychology Today blogger and author of The Introvert’s Way, reminds us, how we connect to others is an individual choice.
For just that reason, each of us may have a different way of connecting to lovers, spouses, and friends. And our approach may change over time. That young widow who had been best friends with her husband chose to expand her platonic friendships:
“My friends could never replace my husband, but they offered me other kinds of connections and support. And when I fall in love the next time, which I believe I will do some day, I will work very hard to keep these other relationships in my life.”
What about you? Where do you stand on this question?
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Helliwell, John F. and Grover, Shawn (2014). How's Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness. NBER Working Paper No. 20794.