Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?

Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?

Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend

The phrase has become so ubiquitous that we almost don’t hear it anymore. “You’re still my best friend,” Michelle Obama effused to Barack Obama in an Instagram post celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

It’s common at award shows, as when Justin Timberlake said not long ago, “I want to thank my best friend, my favorite collaborator, my wife, Jessica.” It’s common on how-to sites, where authors write articles on “nurturing a friendship” with your spouse.

Like the living dead, another oxymoron, spouse-friends, are all around us these days. Maybe it’s the heightened attention on friendship in social media; maybe it’s the decline of actual friends in our lives; maybe it’s because we all have access to public declarations of once-private relationships. Whatever the reason, referring to your spouse as your bestie, your bud, or your #BFF has become rampant.

So rampant, in fact, there’s even a backlash. “Why Your Spouse Shouldn’t Be Your Best Friend” one marital advice blog declares.

So which is it? Is considering your spouse your closest friend a sign of hard-earned intimacy, attachment and trust, or is it a sign you’ve become so enmeshed in the day-to-day logistics of managing your lives that you’ve given up sexual attraction, passion and erotic play? Has marriage become little more than benefits with friendship?

There is some research into this question. John Helliwell is a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics and the editor of the World Happiness Report. As he researched social connections a few years ago, he found that everyone derives benefits from online friends and real-life friends, but the only friends that boost our life satisfaction are real friends.

“But while the effects of real friends on your well-being is important for everybody,” he said, “they are less so for married people than for singles. That’s how we got to the idea that marriage is a kind of ‘super-friendship.’”

Dr. Helliwell and a colleague discovered that a long-running study in Britain had data that may illuminate this question. Between 1991 and 2009, the British Household Panel Survey asked 30,000 people to quantify their life satisfaction. In general, married people expressed higher satisfaction, he said, and were better able to manage the dip in well-being that most people experience in middle age, as they face work stress, caring for aging parents and other pressures.

                              Photo

Michelle and Barack Obama earlier this year.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

But an entirely separate part of the study asked people to name their best friend. Those who listed their spouse were twice as likely to have higher life satisfaction. Slightly more men than women made that choice, he said, “which makes sense, because men tend to have fewer friends.”

Is feeling this way about your spouse necessary for a good marriage? I asked.

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Helliwell said. “The benefits of marriage are strong even for those who are littered with outside friends. It’s just bigger for those who consider their spouse their closest friend. It’s a bonus.”

Others are not so sure.

Amir Levine is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, and the co-author of “Attached.” A student of social relations, Dr. Levine explained that everyone has what he calls a hierarchy of attachment, meaning if something bad happens to us, we have a ranking of the people we call. In our early decades, those on the highest rungs are usually our parents or other family members.

“The problem as you grow older is, how do you let somebody close who’s basically a total stranger?” he said. “Nature came up with a trick: It’s called attraction. Sexual attraction brings down all the barriers, lets you get close to a new person in a physical way that you don’t get close to your family.”

Over time, of course, this physical connection wanes. While many bemoan this loss of titillation, Dr. Levine celebrates it. “It’s smart,” he said. “If you’re going to be crazy about the other person all the time, how are you going to raise kids? How are you going to be able to work?”

Instead of complaining, we should view this new phase as an achievement: “O.K., now I have this person I’m attached to. I have the feeling of security. That’s what allows me to be an individual again and self-actualize.”

Pay Attention: Ways to Overcome Courtship Hiccups

It’s this feeling of security, Dr. Levine says, that leads us to describe our spouses as “friends.” But that language is not quite right, he says. First, couples still need what he calls “maintenance sex,” because it re-establishes physical closeness and renews attachment.

Second, the term “friendship” is “an underwhelming representation of what’s going on,” he said. “What people basically mean is, ‘I’m in a secure relationship. Being close to my partner is very rewarding. I trust them. They’re there for me in such a profound way that it allows me to have courage to create, to explore, to imagine.’”

Dr. Levine summarizes this feeling with the (somewhat awkward) acronym Carrp; your partner is consistent, available, responsive, reliable and predictable. But don’t we already have a word, “spouse,” that fits this description? I said. Why are we suddenly using the expression “best friend,” when that doesn’t seem to fit at all?

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/style/


Related posts

Leave a Comment