While some people might believe that being best friends with their romantic partner is the relationship ideal, not everyone agrees. To others, a best friend and a romantic partner are and should be two different relationships. However, according to relationship experts, the answer to this question really depends on how you define a “best friendship.”
Relationship experts agree that a good romantic relationship should also be a good friendship—this is why so many romantic partners are friends before they date. “All of the things that make up a good relationship—trust, mutuality, respect, caring, compassion, vulnerability, effective communication—all of those things should be in your best friendships, your regular friendships, and your romantic relationships,” says Terri Cole, relationship expert, psychotherapist, and author of Boundary Boss.
In fact, the line between romance and friendship really isn’t as hard as it seems. “We often think of our relationships as highly compartmentalized—as in, with a romantic partner, we do this, and with a friend, we do this other thing,” says Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., psychologist and friendship expert. “But in reality, friendship and the sense of support it entails is at the core of any healthy relationship.”
So, should your romantic partner be your best friend or just a friend?
If to you, a best friend is just a really good friend, or someone you can lean on when you’re going through a tough time, then it’s probably a positive thing to be best friends with your partner. According to 2014 data from the British Household Panel Survey, people who see their spouse as their best friend are twice as likely to report higher overall life satisfaction.
“Your partner has a rare opportunity to see the sides of you that most other people don’t, particularly if you cohabitate,” says dating coach and matchmaker Tennesha Wood. “And feeling as though they’re also your best friend can create an environment of openness where you can truly be yourself.” Calling a partner a best friend also sends the message that you like and love each other.
Is there any downside to seeing your partner as your best friend?
If a person believes that the term “best friend” can only be applied to someone who ranks above all others in life, then it could be easy for their partner to be put up on a pedestal. By giving a significant other such a high ranking, it’s more likely that this person is setting themselves up for disappointment. “Expecting to have all your emotional needs fulfilled by your partner could be expecting too much,” Cole explains. “You’re asking them to effectively fill two big roles in your life as a partner and best friend.”
This could lead to this single relationship morphing into enmeshment or codependency. “That’s when your entire sense of self becomes overlapped with your relationship to that person,” says Dr. Franco, “which can decrease resilience and increase stress.”
As long as you’re careful to maintain a sense of self within all relationships, then seeing your partner as your best friend isn’t inherently unhealthy.
Additional sources: National Bureau of Economic Research – How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness