Should your partner be your best friend too? It works for Michelle Obama, but not for Anna Faris, and experts are split on the issue
Some people relish being married to their BFF, but it doesn’t work for all of us – and some counsellors say it’s unhealthy and that a close friendship is good enough. Problems can arise when couples don’t see eye to eye on the matter
Julia Rohan sits less than a metre away from her husband in their home office – but after the work day is over, she doesn’t want a break from her best friend.
“I worried that working together would affect our friendship – we spend so much time together – but it’s actually strengthened our friendship,” says Rohan, who lives in Chicago and has been married for six years.
She’s far from the only person who relishes marrying her BFF (best friend forever). On their 25th anniversary, Michelle Obama, in an Instagram post, told Barack Obama: “You’re still my best friend.”
And at an iHeartRadio awards show, Justin Timberlake thanked his “best friend” and wife, Jessica Biel.
Yet when actress Anna Faris split from Chris Pratt after eight years of marriage, she said she didn’t consider him to be her best friend.
“The idea of your mate being your best friend – it’s overhyped,” she wrote in a controversial essay for her recently released memoir, Unqualified. “I really believe that your partner serves one purpose and each friend serves another.”
So does the lack of a best friendship with a spouse ultimately lead to a divorce? Or are we putting too much pressure on one person in our lives?
“Never before in history have we expected our spouses to be all things to us: our passionate lover, best friend, therapist, provider, equal partner, co-parenter,” says Dusty Williams, a mental health counsellor in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s not realistic, nor is it healthy.”
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If your spouse is amazing at listening to a problem and giving good advice, then you should go to him for that; but if you have another friend who is a rock star at empathy and can listen for hours, there is nothing wrong with going to that friend first, Williams says.
With that in mind, your spouse should still be one of your closest friends, but he or she shouldn’t be your only friend, she says.
But there’s no hard and fast rule.
“Some people are content having a lover, confidant, cheerleader and buddy all rolled up in one,” says Julie Wadley, a certified relationship coach and owner of a matchmaking and coaching company in Charlotte, in the US state of North Carolina. “Others rely on their spouse for intimacy and partnership while counting on their buddies to satisfy specific interests.”
As long as your spouse is fulfilling the needs of an intimate relationship and is your top priority, then there’s no need to exclude everyone else, Wadley said.
The problem arises when one person wants his or her spouse to be everything, but the spouse wants to be close to others.
“These are the couples whose friends whisper about a controlling or clinging partner, who find themselves in conflict when one wants to go out with other friends and hang out with folks after work,” says Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist, relationship coach and divorce mediator in McLean, in the US state of Virginia. “When two people require something different, this incompatibility is often a deal breaker.”
But if both partners have an understanding of how their relationship will work in terms of outside friendships and dependency, then it won’t be a problem. In fact, Coleman says, many happy couples have close or best friends they brought into the relationship, and it’s not an issue.
“A spouse may feel grateful that their partner has someone else to talk to who can be more objective, and offer them feedback and support,” Coleman says.
Some enjoy their time spent apart with close friends who aren’t their partner, and would feel confined without this outlet and social support system, she says.
At the end of the day, the marriage partner has a unique place and role: they are your physically intimate partner; your person in a way and to a degree that no one else is; the person who has your back and whom you will always give priority to over anyone else, Coleman says.
“There is a specific boundary around the marital relationship that no one else should ever be allowed to cross,” she says, because once you strip marriage of these things, all you’re left with are the bills and the chores. And hopefully a marriage offers more than this.