Because I do weddings, I meet a lot of young couples who say their fiancé is their best friend… and I try not to laugh at them. You don’t marry your best friend. Your best friend is the person standing beside you at the altar, the one you go to in order to complain about the person across from you at the altar… not that I’ve ever had to complain about my wife or her about me. If you say your spouse is your best friend by default because you don’t have anyone else close to you, you need to work on that or your partner will eventually resent you for being too dependent and a loner. Maybe I’m cynical (it goes well with my sarcasm), but marriage is different than friendship. When you’re married, your spouse is part of you; you become one whereas a best friend is… not. For instance, when you get married your finances are one. I didn’t realize it, but when I got married, I became really bad at spending money on things I didn’t want like a minivan (a recent purchase) or certain kid toys I said I didn’t want, but still ended up with on the floor of my house. Because you and your spouse become one, saying your spouse is your best friend is like saying, you’re your own best friend – loser! Your spouse is your partner, your helper and helpee through life while your best friend is… not; they’re a bonus, and there’s always a risk they’re temporary. Best friends can come and go because they can move away or follow a different life path. Your spouse is the person who makes a public promise to be with you for life, for better or worse, which is stronger than the commitment you have to your own family… or it should be; some people aren’t so good at keeping their promises. You don’t get to choose the family you grow up with, but you get to choose the person with whom you spend the rest of your life. Logically it should be a better fit. Unfortunately, it is… not. In our culture loyalty and dedication are often second to our own pursuit of so-called happiness.
There are only four main categories for why people get divorced. First, some people make a terrible choice whether it’s because they are blinded by fear, desperation, or foolish optimism of what marriage is or who they are marrying – oops. Second, some people don’t appreciate what they have and think the grass is greener on the other side of being single or with someone else. Third, one or both change in the wrong way like one becomes an alcoholic a soul sucking emotional vampire. Four, the person leaving the marriage sucks at love whether it’s because they’re cheating or simply don’t “feel” in love or happy. The reality is divorce is always 50% your fault. We need to take ownership for our choices, especially because how I act will cause my partner to react a certain way. I’m yet to meet someone who was innocent in a conflict… besides me; I’m never at fault (that’s the sarcasm I mentioned). What’s unfortunate is when people go through a rough time they will sometimes mistakenly wonder “Should I be in this marriage?” when the right question is “How do I make this marriage work?” Often this answer includes stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something to help the situation and/or be nicer because when I’m nice, there’s high chance my wife will be nice back unless there’s another issue that needs to be addressed like she’s tired, hungry, in pain, or emotionally burnt out from the kids.
What’s sad is a lot of people think that divorce is like ripping off the Band-Aid when really it’s more like ripping off your arm. When some couples are in pain, they think ending the marriage will relieve them of their hurt, but most times it intensifies it, which amplifies the conflict as you fight over who gets what. Dividing up chores when you’re happy together can be difficult; dividing up your positions with someone you’re already angry and resentful towards? It can get really nasty and last for years, especially if it comes to sharing the kids. I’ve heard some people say you shouldn’t stay married for the kids, but they’re… what’s a nice word for idiot? Kids are a great motivation; getting to have every Christmas and birthday together is worth working things out if you can. So is staying together because it financially makes sense… or because you gave your word on your wedding day… whatever your motivation is. If you stay together, however, you really need to work on improving what you have and not just feel sorry for yourself while blaming your partner for everything wrong in your life. When the relationship is struggling and you don’t do anything about it, it’s like letting yourself bleed. Not tending to it makes things worse… and ruins your clothes.
What’s interesting is I’ve found a strong difference between men and women: When a relationship is in trouble, guys typically think a new woman is the answer while most women think being single is… and both are very wrong. Life is better when you have someone walking beside you… unless they’re stabbing you with a knife. Some people are dangerous whether physically, emotionally, or financially and divorce is the only option, but I find most marriages end because people aren’t willing to do the work and get over their hurt because it’s easier to hold onto resentment than working on forgiveness. It might be harder to find healing, but in the long run your life will be a lot easier than if you add more grownups to your family and potential step kids – blended families are brutal to maintain.
Part of the reason people change in marriage is your boyfriend or girlfriend are your escape from the people you live with, which gives you a natural bonding agent with them. When you live with your partner, however, you need other things to keep you connected because you can’t complain to your partner about the person you live with when they’re the person you live with: (partner) “Wow, the person you live with, aka me, really sucks. I feel so bonded to you as you share your heart about that.” What’s even more risky is people who grow up complaining too much about their family are in the habit of complaining about the people they live with, which will likely carry over to the new person they live with because no matter how good the partner is, complaining is just something they do. There’s also a high risk that the people who complain about their families the most cause a lot of their own problems. If you’re a complainer, you need to remember there’s a high chance others are complaining about you because in their eyes, you suck.
Living with people is hard because most people are nicer to those they don’t live since we have more social filters when we’re out. There’s a new energy with new people, which helps us be more fun (this is why I recommend double dates instead of date night). At home our brain goes into exhaustion mode and we tend to be grumpier, mopier, or jabby. Add in kids and the exhaustion intensifies.
This leads to another major reason why your spouse isn’t your best friend – our best friend is the person with whom we are often at our best whereas our spouse sees us at our worst. Our spouse sees us with our bed head and after work when we have no patience left. They’re the person who has to deal with our little annoyances like my wife who treats water like it’s free – turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth until after spitting and don’t use a sink full of water to wash four things! Meanwhile, my wife is like “Why are you so cheap?” Because I’m a man and I get grumpy about wasting water! See? That’s not how I talk to my best friend. He can waste his water; I don’t pay for it. My wife… costs me money, and as she said, I’m cheap. Unlike our best friend, we treat our spouse (or the person we live with) the way we treat ourselves, which can get rough. This is one of the reasons we want to be working on being nicer to ourselves, so we can be nicer to our partners.
Your best friend is typically someone who brings the best out of you. You’re funnier, kinder, more patient, and a lot of that has to do with not having to share a living space and you can be as clean or messy as you want and then go back to your own place. This is why for some couples it can be helpful to have your own bedroom. The key to having a successful marriage with separate rooms, however, is making sure you take 15 minutes or so to cuddle and say good night before going to your own space.
The person I would describe as my best friend right now is someone who used to be best friends with my brother. My former best friend used to date my sister… I guess I steal my friends… or they trade up. But what helps someone get into the best friend category?
- LIMITED TIME with regular interaction: The best way to ruin a friendship is to spend too much time together. As they say in theater, “Always leave them wanting more,” which is something you can’t do in marriage: (wife) “Oh good, you’re still beside me… always beside me.”
- Money, sex, & responsibilities are separate: The second best way to ruin a friendship is to bring money into the mix or complicate it with other things that are faced in marriage.
- Safe to share: With a best friend there’s trust. They’ll keep a secret and you can vent, complain, and laugh at things without the fear of offending the other person.
- Good listeners: Best friends affirm you and add to what you say (i.e. you “Yes and” each other like they teach in improve and I’ve written about) and ask questions to help conversation flow and help you feel cared about, which is what you do for them. This is a lot harder in marriage when you’re exhausted from the day.
- There’s a balance of helping each other
- History & Familiarity with people in each other’s lives
- Easy go-to topics including common enemies
This week may you consider how you are with your best friend and consider how you can be more like that with your partner.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)