It seems that most people maintain that their spouse is and should be their best friend. I like the sound of this. I really do. It’s so… well, romantic. It sounds good and I don’t think it’s wrong. But… I’ve also developed some question for which I don’t yet have answers.
Where does this concept come from? I have the impression that many Christians take this as “gospel”. It’s so ingrained in our culture that most of us can’t even imagine it being any other way. In fact, to be close to someone who isn’t your spouse (or romantic partner) is sometimes referred to as “emotional adultery”. But I don’t believe it comes from the bible. And I have the impression that it’s a relatively new concept in history. Does marriage really forbid having a close, intimate friendship with another person? If so, why?
We of course do think of best friends outside of marriage. But it seems like marriage is always though of as something more and better—not just a different relationship. We have parents and sibling and aunts and uncles and cousins and best friends and good friends and acquaintances and roommates and coworkers, etc. But we seem to maintain that marriage is the highest, most important, closest, and most fulfilling relationship.
That doesn’t sound like a problem… until… I recently heard that a majority of the adult population in the U.S. in now unmarried1. So, if marriage is the ultimate relationship, then a majority of the population is missing out in this area. More personally, if spouses must be one’s best friend, it means that I am spending my life with out a best friend so long as I continue to be single. Is this correct? Is this the way it is supposed to be? If you are single you’re just short on luck?
I can hear some people say “If you have a problem with this, why don’t you just get married?” Well this isn’t always as easy as you make it sound, no matter what your experience was. It’s true that you may never get from point A to point B without putting in some work and taking the correct steps. However the big flaw people make is believing that putting in the work and making those steps guarantees the end results. This may be many people’s experience, but it doesn’t always work this way. There are no guarantees. So this answer can be insulting to a single person.
Or what about all of the people who have been married and who are now divorced? Some may be tempted to criticize them for being divorced, but remember, if one partner wants out it, won’t work no matter what the other person does. So in any divorce there is always potentially one person who honestly tried and who did things reasonably “right”. So what will you say to them? They’ve already tried marriage and had it fail. Are you going to simply say, “Sorry about your luck but you lose—try again next time?” Can they not have a close friendship because they are no longer married?
I kind of hate doing anything that would weaken marriage. Maybe it in part because marriage has been so emphasized as I’ve grown up. Conservative evangelicals maintain that marriage is in trouble. They seek to strengthen it by emphasizing it’s importance. But could it be that this is reinforcing the problem? What if the problem of marriage is that we’ve put it up on a pedestal which it can’t live up to? What if we could strengthen marriage by reaching a more realistic understanding of what it is and isn’t.
I don’t think the problem is being best friends with one’s spouse. I think the problem is that we think of marriage as being above every other relationship.
1. Unfortunately I don’t have a reference for this at present.