If you were to remove the word "best" from the equation and think about friendship more generally, the answer among relationship experts rings crystal-clear: Yes, a good romantic relationship is also a good friendship, and that’s the main reason why so many romantic partners are friends before they date (or become friends while dating). “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 relationship expert and psychotherapist Terri Cole, author of Boundary Boss.
"In reality, friendship and the sense of support it entails is at the core of any healthy relationship." —psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, PhD
In fact, that conceptualized line between romance and friendship isn’t nearly as sharp as mainstream discourse makes it out to be. “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 psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, PhD. “But in reality, friendship and the sense of support it entails is at the core of any healthy relationship.”
So, should your partner be someone you see as your best friend or just a friend?
Narrowing the focus to best friendship is where the partner-friend dynamic gets a bit more nuanced. If you view a best friend as simply a really good friend, or someone whom you can always count on when the going gets tough, then it’s generally a positive thing to be best friends with a partner.
“Thinking of a partner in this way can bake an additional layer of respect into the relationship and your communication patterns with that person,” says psychiatrist and neurologist Donald Raden, MD. And according to 2014 data from the British Household Panel Survey polling 30,000 people on elements of life satisfaction, those who view their spouse as their best friend are twice as likely to report higher overall satisfaction.
It’s possible that this well-being boost comes from feeling seen, heard, and accepted from all angles, both platonically and romantically. “Your partner has a rare opportunity to see the sides of you that most other people don't, particularly if you cohabitate,” says matchmaker and dating coach Tennesha Wood. “And feeling as though they’re also your best friend can create an environment of openness where you can truly be yourself.” In other words, calling a partner a best friend could just be shorthand for the idea that you like and love each other—which is certainly a good thing.
Is there any downside to viewing a significant other as a best friend?
Superlatives tend to get us into tricky territory when they’re taken to their literal extremes, and the “best” in “best friend” is no exception. It’s possible that if you take the term "best friend" to mean a friend who is truly ranked above all others in your life, you could wind up putting your partner on a pedestal, and in doing so, set them up to inevitably disappoint you. “Expecting to have all your emotional needs fulfilled by your partner could be expecting too much,” says Cole. “You’re asking them to effectively fill two big roles in your life as partner and best friend.”
Holding them in this kind of all-encompassing light also means you run the risk of becoming insular, or what Dr. Franco calls acting like an island. “In this type of framework, you’re saying that each of you is all that the other one needs,” she says. “But we know from research on what’s called emotionships that relying on different people in your life to help you work through different emotions, like anger or sadness, is related to better well-being.” And, in turn, maintaining other friends—and even other really good or “best” friends—outside of your partnership is essential to keeping the partnership itself thriving.
Given that a romantic partnership is also bound to face certain stressors that a friendship likely won’t (including family and financial obligations), the “best friend” label can occasionally be a slippery slope to conflict avoidance, too. After all, you likely wouldn’t confront a best friend about the behaviors of their parents or the fact that they have a low credit score, but often with a romantic partner, big life decisions and situations require buy-in or even permission from both people, says Wood.
Even without those shared logistics in the picture, though, it’s possible that attempting to satisfy all your romantic needs and all your platonic friendship needs with one relationship could lead to 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.”
But, of course, that’s not inherent to a best-friend partnership so long as there’s enough distance in the relationship for each person to maintain their sense of self—which is something that Dr. Franco recommends in any relationship, whether it's strongly platonic, deeply romantic, or both.
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.
- Cheung, Elaine O., et al. “Emotionships: Examining People’S Emotion-regulation Relationships and Their Consequences for Well-being.” Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550614564223.
Loading More Posts...