Turns Out Marrying Your Best Friend Might Not Be So Great After All

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Having a solid friendship is important — but is it the best thing for your relationship?

By Brittany Taylor

On social media, it can feel like the trend is ubiquitous: more women than ever before are marrying the loves of their lives and their best friends—and shouting it from atop the newsfeeds.

We don’t wanna rain on the romance parade, but there is a question or two that crops up in between double-clicks. Is this best-friendship thing the stuff our forever-after marriage dreams should be made of?

We talked to relationship experts to find out the pros and pitfalls.

Where Did It Come From?

Typical fairytale happy endings aren’t based in friendship, and neither are the classic romance flicks of the 20th century. Danielle Steel novels are packed with heaving bosoms and Disney is all about love at first sight. So where did we get the “friends first” idea from?

Marital counselor Leslie Gustafson, LMFT, says she thinks the phenomenon is relatively new.

“We are a generation that has been raised on the fearful myth that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and many have been impacted by divorce,” Gustafson shares. “Men and women are very concerned about becoming a statistic and want more from their relationships.”

But it’s not just a “me generation” state of affairs. Dr. Hillary Goldsher, a clinical psychologist specializing in couples therapy, says that we’ve also gained a lot of emotional insight into what we want from long-term relationships and developed solid communication skills to make those desires known.

“People now acknowledge and discuss that the sexual spark between a couple ebbs and flows over the long run,” Goldsher says. “With that truth in the atmosphere, marriage must be built on other aspects. Friendship is an obvious and solid place to start.”

The Highs: How a BFF Status Drives Relationship Success

You know how when you’ve been friends with someone for awhile, you can cut through their BS without killing your connection? The same holds true for BFF marriages.

Wendy Brown, a couples therapist and author of Why Love Succeeds or Fails, observes that best friend relationships have more longevity and success than traditional ones. She believes the relationship management skills that these partnerships develop early on might be a huge factor.

“I’ve noticed that more and more women are becoming practical about the realities of love and marriage,” Brown says. “If they want to be married and have children, they need to do more than just marry in time to accommodate their biological clocks. They also need men who can share the child care priorities and responsibilities. This requires the couple to be able to talk, discuss and negotiate as friends.”

And that, Goldsher tells us, is a deeply fulfilling—and high-pressure—proposition.

“Assuming the role of best friend means really moving through life with one’s partner,” she shares. “You track them in all ways: their work life, their friendships, their spiritual health, their romantic satisfaction, their emotional well-being. It’s a big job.”

The Lows: How Best Friendship Can Cripple a Long Term Relationship

The full-time job aspect that Goldsher mentions is where many couples go wrong. Brown sees a lot of married best friends defaulting to being just best friends.

“When they get overloaded with the stress and complexity of married or family life, they tend to let the romantic, passionate, and sexual parts of their relationship go,” she explains. “They seem to believe they can just pick up where they left off, whenever they like. However, it’s very possible that one of them will settle into the friendship and kind of like being roommates.”

But it’s not just this comfortable dormancy you have to watch out for.

When you blend a romantic relationship with friendship, Brown explains, “It can be something one or both people rely on heavily. Therefore, it’s important to be there for each other. If one of you checks out for awhile or gets busy with other friends, the other can be left feeling very alone.”

Gustafson says one of the best fixes for this sort of stasis are awareness and action.

“Love is ultimately a verb,” she says. “It takes action, and we need to be good at giving and receiving love, or be in an ongoing process of learning to do so.”

Tend to your partner first, but be sure to maintain your own network outside of your immediate family. You know those couples who have slowly become so co-dependent that they’ve distanced themselves from friends? Remember that a supportive community is key to maintaining a healthy relationship.

How to Add Friendship Into the Marriage Mix

There’s a big difference between liking someone and loving someone. The former is based in friendship; the latter in romance.

When you blend the two, says Wendy Brown, “the intimacy can be amazing.” However, she adds, “If a couple is lacking the closeness of a best friend relationship, they probably need to work on liking each other more.”

Her solution? Do what friends do: Figure out what you have in common, talk about things, and spend more time together.

Gustafson urges couples to focus on building honesty and trust—so that each partner can be what she calls a “safe friend” to the other. This type of friendship allows each person to speak genuinely, without worrying about criticism or a desire to fix what might be seen as flaws.

The Bottom Line: Should You Marry Your Best Friend?

To the question of the day, Gustafson says, “Absolutely! But not just that. Look for a partner who is loving and values commitment and growth—with whom you have strong feelings of admiration, respect, desire—and whose company you thoroughly enjoy, most of the time.”

Goldsher has noticed in her own practice that couples who maintain both the friendly and romantic sides of their marriages are the most successful, long-term.

“The friendship,” she says, “is exceedingly important to get through difficult times and to celebrate magical ones,” while the romantic relationship provides the emotional and sexual satisfaction we crave. Ultimately, “seeking a friend and a lover is the winning formula for long-term success in a partnership.”

This article was originally published at Self. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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