Why Expecting Your Spouse To Be Your Best Friend May Or May Not Be Unrealistic

It's not always necessary — or possible.

husband and wife having fun at a carnival Gutesa / Shutterstock

Many couples started off as friends before they entered a romantic relationship. In fact, a lot of marriage advice talks about the importance of establishing a strong friendship in order to pave the way for a happy marriage.

I was asked to sit on a panel on pre-marital therapy along with three engaged couples. Among the numerous questions on what to discuss before marriage, including questions about trust, financial agreements, and how to get along with in-laws, were these: "Are you one another’s best friend?" and "When did you become each other’s best friend?"


This leads to a larger question.

Should your spouse be your best friend?

Something about this concept gave me pause. It's not that there are many reasons why your spouse should not be your best friend. I’m not convinced it’s all that necessary — or even possible. Sure, friendship elements are common in a healthy and happy marriage, but it seems too good to be true.

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I decided to examine my skepticism a bit further.

What is a best friend? Or a spouse? Or even marriage?

The word "friend" is defined as "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations."

Well, that’s interesting. Yes, my husband and I share a bond of mutual affection, but I certainly don’t wish my marriage to be exclusive to sexual relations. It feels like, over time, we do indeed become family as we adopt pets, have children, and intertwine our families of origin.

So then, I looked up the word spouse, which is defined as "a husband or wife, considered in relation to their partner." So is a husband and wife just a married couple? Can you see how this is becoming frustrating? Perhaps the confusion lies in the vague way in which we define what it means to be a married couple.


What is marriage? The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. That seems true but doesn’t capture everything we expect from our marital relationships.

Of course, marriage is a personal relationship, but so is friendship, motherhood, and, sometimes, our relationship with our hairdresser — no wonder we’re confused.

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Expectations for our relationships are often too high.

In our culture, we are constantly trying to define our still-changing relationships. We have grown to expect marriage to fulfill many of our needs.

Leading therapist, author, and speaker Esther Perel says we want to experience security, adventure, stability, change, dependability, and surprise, all with the same person. We want this same person to be our best friend, trusted confidante, and passionate lover. We have this idea that one person will give us what an entire village used to provide. In other words, we have unprecedented and unrealistic expectations for our romantic relationships. Perel says our marriages have become the new religion.


Marriage is constantly changing.

Until around 1850, we lived in the age of "institutional marriage." The union was based on the need to help each other with food production, shelter, and protection. As we shifted from rural to urban life, American marriages focused more on intimate needs like loving, being loved, and an active sexual life. This was called the age of "companionate marriage."

Today, we seem to be focused on "self-expressive marriage." These higher-level needs, when satisfied, can yield greater happiness but also require more time, energy, and work to get there. Unfortunately, average Americans are stressed, overworked, and financially challenged. We seem to be investing less in our intimate relationships at a time when we expect more. Our divorce rate reflects this.

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Perhaps this is why the question, "Are you one another’s best friend?" bothers me. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to expect that. If we could lower our expectations of the role of this one person in our lives, we might find ourselves more satisfied with who they truly are. We might actually find our marriage more fulfilling.

Men and women often have different ideas of what a best friend is.

Furthermore, when I think about what a "best friend" is to me, I can’t help but notice how different my husband’s definition is. As a woman, my best friend is someone who listens to me sometimes talk ad nauseam about my thoughts and feelings. She never grows bored and never tries to fix my problems. She likes to go for mani-pedis and thinks sitting at Starbucks chatting for two hours is time well spent.

My husband’s best friend is more likely to engage in his favorite activities with him — watching a game on TV or playing sports. They can spend hours together discussing absolutely nothing. If he were to get a promotion in another city, his friend would be happy, encouraging, and supportive. While I, on the other hand, would probably have 100 questions about how that decision would impact me and our lives together.


Don't stress! Talk about it.

By all means — befriend your spouse. Enter into a bond of mutual affection, sexual activity, and friendly behavior. Offer encouragement and support wherever possible. Don’t stress if you secretly don’t consider each other "best friends."

Now would be a good time to sit down with your partner to talk about your friendship. What do you each expect? How are you satisfying each other, and where might you be disappointed?


Remember, the goal is not to be everything to one another. Keep your expectations in check and celebrate the beauty of your connection.

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​Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California.