Does Your Partner Need to Be Your Best Friend, Too?
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
My Instagram feed is filled with posts of friends and acquaintances declaring they are marrying their “best friend.” I am in love with my boyfriend. I rely on him, confide in him, and we have a great sex life... but I consider my sister to be my “best friend.” Is there something wrong with me? Is my relationship doomed? Please help me make sense of this partner as best friend thing. —Got a Bestie Already
DEAR GOT A BESTIE,
The answer all depends on how you define a best friend — and if you believe you are limited to one. More and more, people expect for their partner to categorically meet all of their needs. This is not humanly possible. We would not expect our platonic best friend to meet every single one of our needs either.
Sure, there are couples that do everything together and share all of the same hobbies. You’ve seen them on Instagram. They go hiking together. They play tennis together. They collect stamps together. They love the same foods. They seem perfectly compatible. While there are some couples like that, most are not. And not everybody is looking for that in a partner.
How much you want to share with your partner, what your expectations are in your relationship, and how much emotional intimacy you want are all very personal preferences. Ultimately, what matters most is that you are both on the same page. Problems occur when one partner is pissed off at the other because she does not want to play tennis and the partner demands it. Again, if something is really important to your partner you want at least give it a try — but you do not owe them 10 hours a week of tennis games if you really hate tennis.
At the end of the day, you and your SO aren't doomed if you don't call him your “best friend,” but the relationship should meet the six core elements below if you want to make it for the long haul.
1. Morals and Values
It is important that you and your partner have similar morals and values. You don’t have to agree on every single thing, vote the same way, or practice the same religion, but on a core level it makes a relationship a lot more satisfying and peaceful when you have the same ethical guidelines. Furthermore, you cannot teach someone ethics and character. That is something that is pretty innate and necessary for couples to share.
2. Emotional Connection
Having a strong emotional bond is the glue that keeps a relationship together. While sexual connection is important, feeling seen, loved, and understood all help create connection, which is crucial for a relationship that stands the test of time. When we are old and gray and sitting in rocking chairs on the porch holding hands and talking, it is that connection (rather than a wild sex life) that sees us through.
3. Mutual Respect
Respect breeds love and trust (more on that next), which are crucial elements of a successful relationship. In addition, when you respect your partner you are less likely to do things that will hurt them or damage the relationship. Respecting their opinion and thoughts make it more likely that you will share about your life and want their feedback. In fact, one long-term study of newlyweds found that men who do not "accept the influence" of their wives — a key sign that they respect their opinion and are willing to compromise — are 81 percent more likely to get a divorce.
4. Trust and Safety
To gain all of the benefits of a connected relationship, you must establish an environment of trust and safety. Trust is the admission ticket to connection. When I talk about trust, I am not just talking about fidelity, which tends to be the first thing that most people think of when the word comes up. Trust is also about keeping secrets, knowing your partner has your back, knowing they will not make fun of you or hurt you, feeling safe enough to make a weird noise in the bedroom, and knowing they will show up for you when push comes to shove.
5. Shared Sense of Humor
Laughter bonds people. Research has shown that it is one of the most sought after traits in a partner. While you don't have to be naturally hilarious, being able to at least find the same things funny helps to create a spark and a bond between two people. In my opinion, simultaneous laughter is the next best thing to a simultaneous orgasm. Which brings me to my final point...
6. Sexual Connection
Sex is something that makes us feel loved, appreciated, and desired by our partner. It is intimate, vulnerable, and allows us to share a private part of ourselves that we don’t share with everyone (at least in a monogamous relationship). And, beyond what happens in the bedroom, sexual activity has been linked to affection in general, which adds warmth and love to a relationship.
Bottom line: Comparison is the thief of happiness. Don’t waste your time comparing your relationship to your friends who are saying they have married their best friend. What matters most is that you feel fulfilled and connected in your relationship — whether you refer to your sister or your boyfriend as your “best friend”.