We call our partner a lot of things. Sweetheart, baby, or, my personal favorite, puddin’ buns. They’re often called our other half. But one of the most common phrases you hear, usually in someone’s vows, is that their partner is their best friend.
It’s a good thing to have a close bond with your partner. But author Bruce Feiler asked an important question when analyzing whether a partner and a best friend should be synonymous for the New York Times. “If your partner is your best friend, then whom do you complain to your spouse about?” While he means it somewhat in jest, it points out a true problem. If your spouse is your best friend, who do you talk to about your spouse?
And it goes so much further than that. Think about the people you turn to in your times of need or when you’re sad. Your spouse is one person. And your best friend is another. Now think about the times your spouse may have, unintentionally caused those times of need. Now who do you turn to? Your best friend.
By making your partner your only best friend, you are ridding yourself of a very important support system. Though we like to think our love with our spouse is very unconditional, romantic relationships can wax and wane. They go through a great deal more trials than a typical friendship does. If your best friend isn’t your partner, then your best friend is not living with you. They are not sharing a bed with you. You likely don’t see them every single day. You’re not raising a child together. The strain of all of this is not on your friendship. Your best friend doesn’t have to be concerned about your finances or your health. Your best friend might be concerned about both, but your lives will not be so deeply impacted by either.
When things are going wrong with your partner, and you’ve cut out, intentionally or not, your support system no longer exists. We don’t like to think about the times in a relationship where things get hard. We like to think about the Instagram-friendly moments, when you’re smiling and appear so deeply in love. But Instagram is filled with the friendly moments and not the deeper issues. We all have relationship issues at some point. And not having a friend to be there to help us can lead to a lot of loneliness, not to mention a fear of ending a relationship because you believe you will be truly alone.
So should you not be friends with your spouse at all? Of course not. You absolutely should be friends, but it should be acknowledged that the word “friend” in a romantic relationship is different from the word in a platonic sense. These relationships have very different needs and fulfill very different parts of our lives.
While you may turn to your best friend for many things, there are other needs only a spouse can fulfill. In this way, a partner can truly be like another half. You don’t expect your best friend to take care of you when you’re sick. You don’t expect them to help you deal with grief or loss. You don’t expect them to hold you or touch you in the way you need. You don’t expect a lot of the things that you do expect from your spouse. Because the life you have with your spouse is intertwined in way that your best friend’s life is just not.
It’s good to want to have a friendly relationship with your spouse, but calling them a friend is just the wrong word. You wouldn’t treat a friend the way you’ve always treated your partner, and vice versa. We need other relationships and other support systems in our lives in order to be happier, be healthier, and to grow.