Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?
Not only am I my wife's best friend (as far as I know*), but 10 different people have applied to list me as their emergency contact on their doctor intake forms. Why? Because of the great empathy I exude. I'm like a giant maple tree oozing love and goodwill.
* We haven't discussed this specifically, but I'm feeling pretty solid especially if I curtail my douchebaggery around the house.
Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?
Many of us count our spouse as our best pal, but it’s also useful to have an outside confidant
By Clare Ansberry, WSJ
Sept. 17, 2023 5:30 am ET
Being married to your best friend can lead to happier marriages and greater life satisfaction. It can also be a burden.
About half of married people and couples living together say their partner is their best friend, with men more likely to say so than women. Forty-eight percent of married women listed their spouse as their BF compared with 64% of men in a 2017 study.
Couples who are best friends say they work on it. They listen, share feelings, thoughts, affection and laughter, and explore new things together. But relying on one person to be your “everything”—partner, cheerleader, lover, counselor and playmate—can be too much, even for spousal superheroes.
“We’re adding being a best friend to the list of everything else a spouse is supposed to be,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist who specializes in family dynamics.
He often hears from women, who tend to have richer social networks, “I wish my husband had more friends.”
It’s useful to have a different confidant to listen and give objective advice when you are worried about things at home. Likewise, you can be deeply in love and have a healthy relationship, and still want to go shopping, to a baseball game, or out for a beer with a best friend from work or high school.
Bill Gittere, of Ely, Nev., counts himself among the 40% of Americans without best friends. Bill, 59 years old, and his wife, Laurel, knew each other one year before getting married in the Las Vegas drive-through Little White Wedding Chapel 28 years ago. And while Bill says he fell in love at first sight, she wasn’t his best friend.
“We had to prove that to each other,” which for them meant living through military deployments, he says.
Laurel, 67, agrees. Both had been betrayed by former partners, and it took time to build trust and become best friends. One of the best things they did, she says, was talk about everything they wanted out of the relationship.
Now, Bill, a prison warden, says his favorite day is Saturday when he isn’t working. They shop and watch movies.
“It took me a while, both of us, to wrap our heads around the fact that you can be best friends and spouses at the same time,” he says.
Millennial couples often feel pressure to have their partner as their best friend, says Liz Higgins, founder of Millennial Life Counseling and herself a millennial married to her best friend. Some in their late 20s and early 30s saw their own parents divorce or remain in unhappy marriages. They want to avoid that—and think having a best-friend partner will help. If that’s the goal, she says, they need to focus on what it means to be a best friend and work on that with their partner.
One key is remaining curious and exploring new things together.
“You hit a dead end when you think you know everything there is about your partner,” she says.
It is also important to realize that marriage is a journey, and there are times you feel like your partner is your best friend and times you don’t, she says. That doesn’t mean you’re with the wrong person.
John Helliwell, a Canadian economist who researches happiness and co-wrote the 2017 study on marriage and friendship, says being best friends with your spouse increases some of the well-being benefits that come with marriage, such as life satisfaction.
John and Millie Helliwell, smitten when they married, now are best friends. ‘You don’t really know each other when you get started,’ John says. PHOTO: STEVE MULHALL
Helliwell and his wife, Millie, weren’t best friends when they married in 1969.
“We were smitten and deeply attracted to each other,” says John, 86. “You don’t really know each other when you get started.”
Millie, 82, calls John her best friend, yet also works to maintain friendships outside their marriage. This has helped during John’s career and several moves, as well as other times of need.
After losing a grandchild, she and John consoled each other. Still the hurt was so deep that she reached out to other friends who could listen without experiencing the pain. “I needed to get it off my chest and not put it on his chest,” she says.
Maria and Kirsten Palladino married 14 years ago. They run a business from their home, Equally Wed, and have twin boys.
They love each other and talk for hours without running out of things to say. If asked to name best friends, though, they would list other high-school and grade-school friends. “I’m quick to call high-school friends my best friends,” says Maria, 44.
They wouldn’t apply that term to their relationship. Kirsten, 45, notes that gay couples have long been described as just “good friends.” “People would say, ‘That’s Uncle Larry’s very good friend,’ or ‘Dolores and Mary never married but they have each other. Isn’t their friendship special?’” says Kirsten.
“We’re much more than good friends. I’m always hesitant to use language that was once used to disparage our community.”
Rachel Collins, 42, of Bonney Lake, Wash., has two best friends. Her best friendship with Jen Corp was profiled in a 2019 Wall Street Journal article.
Rachel Collins with her husband, Josh, one of her two best friends. PHOTO: KAREN MASON-BLAIR
Her husband, who is Jen’s brother, has become her second best friend, their connection deepening in the course of their 14 years together. Each relationship is different, “but both can be your best friends,” she says.
Rachel’s husband, Josh Collins, 38, says he didn’t have a best friend before Rachel. He has a group of three close friends from church. He trusts them and can ask their advice, yet believes he can have only one best friend in life.
“That would solely be Rachel,” he says.
Write to Clare Ansberry at firstname.lastname@example.org