Historically, when I've gotten serious about a partner, we've become really good friends on top of being lovers. But this is not the way it is for everyone. So I asked why it's OK if your partner isn't your best friend of Janet Zinn, a New York City–based couples therapist. For me, the idea of keeping your relationship separate from a best-friendship seems super foreign. This is not to say that I rely on my partner for everything: I've always had tons of friends, mostly women, and I am pretty good at years-long friendships.
From the start, she's very clear about her preferences: "My experience leads me to advocate strongly for partners not being best friends," Zinn tells Bustle. Well, boom. No misconstruing that one. "It allows each partner to manage expectations in their relationship," she says. "They can appreciate each other for who they are, rather than trying to satisfy some unfulfilled need."
It's not just about interpersonal communication, though: "Another advantage is the couple’s sex life," Zinn adds. "There are more creative and full sex lives when one is not having sex with a friend." Though that hasn't been my personal experience, I can totally understand why this could be the case. The last reason she gives for staying away from BFF-ship with your lover? "There can be less resentment with the partner’s independence," she says. If I want to go out with friends or my partner does, it's cool because there's’ no jealousy, she says, or assumptions that you should be doing everything as a couple. Here's what Zinn had to say about not becoming BFF with your partner.
How To Avoid Becoming Best Friends With Your Partner
"Rather than avoiding becoming best friends, I see it as knowing what you want in a partner," Zinn says. "Yes, it’s important to have similar values, but the partners wouldn’t share every secret. They keep some intrigue in their relationship." Instead of divulging every last thing that has ever happened to you, "let there be an aura of mystery," she says. "This way, there’s something they can always learn about one another."
Unless you're very young when you meet your partner, it's likely that you both will have already have your own best friends, she says. "These are the people to turn to when you need a best friend. Your partner is someone you can turn to when you want a date or company at an event." Zinn isn't advocating that you keep your distance from your partner or anything like that: "Not that you don’t have lively discussions with your partner if you aren’t best friends," she adds. "You just don’t rely on them to have deep discussions about your experiences. You have topical discussions about experiences.
How To Rework Your Relationship If You're Already Best Friends
"If a couple is already best friends, they have to work hard to reestablish their relationship," says Zinn. "They may have to redefine how they communicate, how they spend time together, and how they spend time apart." But it is possible, she asserts. It just takes some real work.
And it might change your sexual relationship. "It’s important to bring romance or sensuality into the relationship if the couple were best friends. That adds a dimension to the relationship, changing it from pals to sensual partners. Lust and playfulness take the place of familiarity and routine," Zinn says. Of course, if it ain't broke, don't fix it: If you're already BFF with your partner and also having mad hot sex, that's rad. But for a partnership that needs some overhauling, this might be the perfect plan.
How Expectations Differ If Your Partner Isn't Your BFF
"There are certain expectations friends have with one another," says Zinn. For example, she says, close friends have the "I’ll be there for you if you’re there for me" mentality. This balance can work in friendships, but in relationships where you're not BFF both partners "can negotiate what kind of relationship works for both of them."
"It may look less balanced, but in actuality each partner know what they are getting from the other," Zinn says. "It’s not tit for tat, but 'I would like you to accompany me on business functions, but otherwise feel free to make your own plans in the evening, I’ll be working late,'" that kind of thing.
In other words, in a true partnership, both partners are amenable to doing what the other needs. The same could be said for a friendship-partnership, but I suppose this type of arrangement takes the expectations out of the equation, at least in part. "They can make arrangements with less emphasis on feeling as if one is being taken advantage of," Zinn says. In this type of situation, "They may fight less about not being appreciated," she says. "There can be less unconscious ways that a partner gives to get from the other. Not being best friends leaves less room for assumptions."
They Accept Each Other For Who They Are
"Sometimes couples have an emptiness that they unconsciously believe the partner will fill," she says. "For instance, one person wants to be accepted even with flaws. So when a best friend partner doesn’t like something he or she does, that can feel emotionally crushing." This isn't so if you're just regular partners, she says. "When couples are not best friends, they can likely discuss the behavior and it can be viewed as constructive criticism, not painful rejection."
With the type of partnership Zinn speaks of, "there are two whole people in the relationship, rather than one complete couple." I definitely sign off on that. "No one has to complete the other, thus allowing more freedom for mutual respect and personal growth not dependent on the other person growing along side you."
How Not Being BFF Affects Your Sex Life
Does friendship mean better sex? Not necessarily. Couples who aren't best friends actually have an advantage in the bedroom. "There can be more lust in the sexual encounters," Zinn says, "Often friend relationships get routine in the sex and there’s less passion. Not being friends means passion can be cultivated when together."
What Couples Who Aren't BFF Have In Common
I heard Zinn saying that a couple who are not best friends are more independent. I think this is the crux of the whole idea. "When couples aren’t best friends, they have very independent lives," Zinn says. "They find life outside the relationship fulfilling." If that's not the case for you, then you might not just be best friends with your partner — you might be in an unhealthy relationship.
"They are not waiting to have the other person determine what they are going to do," she says. This translates to a nice power dynamic: "Neither partner has more power," she says. "With independence, they both bring something important and new to the relationship." As a result, this "allows for ongoing intellectual and social stimulation," she says. Both partners are fulfilled, but neither feels left behind.
Zinn is speaking of a healthy, happy, committed, honest, non-codependent relationship. That's what she means when she says that people who are not best friends with their partners are better off. And I agree, though I'd say that it is possible to count your partner as one of your best friends — not your only best friend, because that would be unhealthy. If you're happy with your partner and you're able to claim the characteristics of the kind of relationship Zinn speaks of — independence, great sex, good communication — then don't worry: You're doing great.
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