In my previous post, All Men Need “Helpers”, I wrote that men must recognize when they need help. I unpacked a biblical truth that God determined that man should not be alone (Genesis 2:18) and created Eve as Ezer kenegdô” (Hebrew for “a helper suitable for him”). God then gave the couple the commandment to be fruitful and multiply in a relationship that helps and serves each other.
But does a relationship of mutual servanthood also mean your wife (or any woman if you are single) should become your “best friend”?
Who is Your Best Friend?
Answering this question is always tricky for men, especially if you are married. The rules of society today often cause men to answer it with, “Of course, my spouse is my best friend”. To answer otherwise, could imply some unhappiness with the quality of your marriage.
But is that the proper answer?
It seems like only in the last generation or so have you heard people start talking about their spouses as their “best friends.” Until the late 20th century, best friends were mostly of the same gender.
So what happened?
The result of the ‘I married my best friend’ phenomenon comes from the fact that many people– especially guys have no strong friendships with whom they can discuss important matters outside of their marriage.
A 2018 survey by the health insurance company, Cigna found almost half of Americans reported they have fewer close pals than they did a generation ago. This research compared studies from 1985 and 2004 which showed, on average, each person reported only 2.08 close friends in 2004, which is down from 2.94 people in 1985. So when men (and women for that matter) don’t have strong friendships outside of their marriage, their spouse becomes the default.
Men Need Diversified Relationships
Some experts suggest the lack of male friendship can be disastrous for marriages, especially since men need friends who know them well enough to know when we’re in trouble or still acting like young boys.
In his 2014 book The-All-Or-Nothing Marriage, psychological researcher Eli J. Finkel argued that expectations for a spouse have inched ever higher over the past few decades. He says we seek not just basic compatibility now but a relationship that spurs self-actualization. In his view, Jack Nicholson’s famous line from the movie, As Good As It Gets — “You make me want to be a better man” actually hinders the happiness and self-growth of both husband and wife.
In a 2017 interview with The Atlantic, Finkel pointed to a study that found that individuals who “diversified their emotional-regulation needs across multiple specialized relationships.” thrived in their marriage. In other words, in order to be a “better man”, you need a slate of different people to rely on for personal growth, including a non-spousal best friend.
It’s my belief that this condition comes from more than socialized gender roles and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus differences. A friendship with your spouse should be different than your friendship with your closest guy friend because it is different.
Spouses are Different than Best Friends
Dr. John Gottman, a marriage expert and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and Why Marriages Succeed or Fail says that it’s natural to think of your spouse as your friend. He also feels a deep friendship is the foundation of a happy marriage. Gottman explains what a marriage friendship should look like:
“…mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. They tend to know each other intimately—they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out.” –Dr. John Gottman
To use Dr. Gottman’s definition, your spouse should be the person you regard the most, meaning they are the one you consult with first, depend on most, and whose well-being you think about before your own. She should be the one who knows you the best.
But in some cases, she is still different than your best guy friend,
Notice that Dr. Gottman doesn’t say anything about sharing all of the same passions and interests or even having the same point of view as you would with many of your guy friends. Guys need to share other common interests to add a diversity of opinions in order to solidify their views on many topics.
She is “Sui generis”
How does a man compare his wife with his male friends? To me, it’s like stating which is your favorite child. There is no right answer. Your wife belongs to a category entirely her own which goes beyond friendship.
Sui generis (/ˌsuːi ˈdʒɛnərɪs/ SOO-ee JEN-ər-iss, Latin: [ˈsʊ.iː ˈɡɛnɛrɪs]) is a Latin phrase that means “of its/his/her/their own kind, in a class by itself”, therefore “unique”.
The husband-wife relationship should not be compared to any other human relationship. Biblical proof comes from Proverbs 31:10-12: ‘An excellent wife who can find?” and Proverbs 3:15-18 “She is far more precious than jewels.’
To speak of your wife in the same categories that apply to other relationships is to denigrate both her and other friendships. The perfect model for any husband and wife relationship comes from Ephesians 5:22-33.
Problems for Your Guy Friends
There are certain things that a guy should probably not share initially or exclusively with his wife which includes his manly insecurities, ongoing problems at work, a secret gambling or drug problem, and an attractive new coworker or close encounter with an emotional affair (see more below).
While we should definitely not keep any of these secrets, initial discussions with your God Buddy can help “talk you away from the ledge” before you leave your job prematurely, spend money that could hurt your family financially, or slip into a physical affair.
While not exhaustive, here is a bit more on these topics:
Problems at work – Certainly, it’s OK to do some initial complaining. But spouses typically look to their husbands for a sense of security and protection. Repeatedly complaining about your boss or the job you hate without doing anything about it, may leave her feeling uncertain about the stability or direction of your family.
Attraction to another woman – Men are wired to be visual so it’s very likely that you will immediately notice the good-looking new, female employee or neighbor. You may even become attracted to her over time. Billy Crystal’s character in the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” famously said, “Men and women can’t be friends … the sex part always gets in the way.” This is validated by a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology estimated that an opposite-sex friendship can result in an affair as often as 15 percent of the time. Before you teeter toward an emotional or even a physical affair, let your God Buddy know about the attraction first and have him hold you accountable to keep your heart and mind pure. Also, check out Brady Boyd’s talk about the 12 stages toward an affair for the potential warning signs or watch the movie, Fatal Attraction!
Money – Men are generally more risk-takers when it comes to investments and financial matters. So you may want to bounce a crazy investment idea or purchase off your God Buddy before you present it to your spouse and certainly before spending that money.
The Same But Different
Many wives don’t quite get why we talk and how we act like guys. We tend to pick on each other, which – for many men is actually a show of respect. We also sometimes act like immature kids, laughing our heads off about things she doesn’t understand or things where she doesn’t see any humor.
She isn’t supposed to fully understand the nature and dynamics of your male friendships. She may also not appreciate that guys give each something that she can’t. We’re just being men and God designed us that way!
Here is my main point: Calling the person you’re married to your best friend may be shorthand for saying that you actually like your spouse and that you have a shared history, shared lives, and shared dreams. But the expression doesn’t do justice to the full meaning of marriage nor to the full meaning of friendship.
This is not to diminish a friendship with your wife. It’s just that you should rely on her to be your only “best” friend.