Should your spouse be your best friend? Prominent pastor says “NO!”

1015g4“There was a time in my life when I nursed two irresponsible thoughts: I saw [my wife] as my best friend, and I concluded that my life was too busy for close friendships.”

The quote comes from Gordon MacDonald, a once prominent pastor and current chancellor of Denver Seminary. He has also served as a counselor to former President Bill Clinton and editor-at-large with Leadership Journal (connected to Christianity Today). In other words, this is one smart dude.

He makes his point explicit by saying “a spouse and a best friend are likely to be two different people.”

I find his words jarring. Especially when I consider the Christian subculture of marriage.

How often have I heard of a fiancé exclaiming, “I’m so excited to marry my best friend”?

It begs the question, what does MacDonald believe a best friend should be and do? And how does that compare to what he believes a spouse should be and do?

MacDonald clarifies that a best friend should challenge him in “such things as the quality my marriage, the state of my soul, the quality of my speech, the style of my financial life, and the depth of my relationships.” He says relieving his wife of some (emphasis mine) of that responsibility has increased their intimacy and connection.

After hearing him out, I bristle less than I did at first. He would use the term “best friend” in a manner differently than me.

I do believe that my marriage can benefit from having a dude speak into my life. And I believe I have this with several men.

In the end, I’m still likely to call Jill my “best friend.” No one knows me better than she does. There’s no one I spend more time with. And many of the the things MacDonald calls for in a best friend, I see in Jill.

I just sent her a note asking her if I’m her bestie. I’ll let you know which box she checks.

QUESTION:

1. What was your initial response to MacDonald’s quote? Did you bristle like I did or not?

2. Do you find the marriage/best friend mantra to be a part of your Christian subculture?

3. Do you think a spouse and best friend should be two different people? Do you find any benefit in MacDonald’s distinction?

Posted on by Cor in Sex and Relationships

12 Responses to Should your spouse be your best friend? Prominent pastor says “NO!”

  1. Mark Williams

    1. I did bristle.
    2. Yes.
    3. No. No. I say this because bros aren’t always going to be there. Life gives and takes friends away like the rain falling and then evaporating. Friends get busy with their spouses and children. I personally have not had a bro friend in years that regularly asks how I’m doing let alone “we”. With that, my wife has been the constant in my life. I have a hard time counting on anyone else to care because the status-quo is: “As we get older, making friends that are as-close-as a brother/sister becomes more and more improbable because people are too busy with their own lives and affairs to dedicate time and effort into others.”

    • Sarah Mischke

      1. No
      2. Yes
      3. I disagree with the extremity and manner with which MacDonald communicated his belief, but to be fair, it is very hard to be well understood when communicating an idea through so short a quote. I agree with some, but not all of the sentiment. What he said was inflammatory, but I believe that the “best friend” notion in our Christian subculture can verge on creating the idea that your spouse is all you need in life, which doesn’t jive with my understanding of what the Bible teaches us about community, relationship with Christ, etc.. So while I don’t think that your spouse can’t be your best friend, I do think that, we as sinful people can take anything good, like a best friend as a spouse, and turn it into something idolatrous. I agree that how prominent this notion is in our culture is likely a bad thing because it can create false ideas in us, but not the practice itself of having a spouse be your best friend.

  2. Dave Nelson

    Well, I didn’t really bristle at his comment, I just thought it was silly. All the things that he thinks a “best friend” should do (speaking truth) are things your wife can and should do. And is way, way more likely to do, too, by the way. Certainly we should encourage strong Christian friendships, but I don’t think you’re ever going to get close to the level of friendship you (should) have with your wife. This is a person that you see 7 days a week, usually 6-8 hours awake together (and 6-8 hours sleeping next to). How often do you a see a really good other friend? A couple times a week? More I suppose if you work with them, but even then you might not be able to talk every day.

    There are a few areas of your life that another man (or woman, for wives) may be more likely to confront you on, or may be more effective at confronting you on. For those reasons, and for many other benefits, it’s great to have good close friends. But I think using the term “best friend” implies the closest person to you – and I think that if that person isn’t your wife, you probably aren’t close enough to your wife.

  3. Katie D.

    1. I did bristle.
    2. Yes
    3. I do think it is important to have both. Your best friend should be your spouse, and it is very valuable to have a same sex best friend as well. The sad truth is that even your spouse will not be with you forever, they won’t always be a constant. This is another reason why fellowship is important for support, encouragement, and accountability. I know that my husband and I have briefly experienced being off on our own little secluded best friend/lover island and though we are best friends and it had it’s fun moments, it was in no way “healthy” or edifying for us. We do get busy, and it does get more challenging to give a quality effort towards friendships, but I believe it is crucial to do so.

  4. Drew H.

    1. No
    2. Yes
    3. I am currently engaged and believe that having a same-gender “best friend” is critical. Having an advocate and accountability partner (really a Spirit-led “extra set of eyes”) praying for me, encouraging and rebuking me has really helped me serve and move towards my fiance in more Godly, meaningful ways. I also see him as indirectly serving my fiance in this process.

    While I do believe in complete transparency and honesty between husband and wife, I do not think it would be helpful for my wife to serve the role as my accountability partner. Although she has a right to know any breach in trust (whether in deed or in thought), I think discussing the day-in, day-out fight against temptation is one better suited to an accountability partner.

    Additionally, simply because men and women are wired so differently, my same-gender “best friend” can come along side me in an entirely different way than my fiance can. My fiance also feels an added measure of security that I have another guy asking me intentional questions in each of the areas MacDonald refers to above.

    While I am convinced no one will know me more fully than my fiance, thus her being my “Best friend”, my same-gender “best friend” still has a critical role to play.

    Even if you do not subscribe to having another “Best friend” apart from your spouse, I believe having a same-gender mentor/coach fulfill a similar accountability/advocate role is still essential, regardless of what label you attached to it.

  5. Valerie Swenson

    1. I didn’t bristle. I rolled my eyes. In this culture we seem to be big on the big draw. Throwing in something that sounds shocking and using that to draw readers in and then redefining it so that it in general agrees with what most people actually believe.
    2. yes.
    3. No and yes. Why not both? My hubby is my best friend. No one has been there for me as long (aside from parents and my sister) and no one knows me better. There is literally no one I feel more confident and beautiful around, who I can tell my deepest fears and insecurities and not feel judged. Which is what makes our marriage healthy.
    But on the flip side, marriage is much MORE than a best friend. It is more intimate, both physically and emotionally and spiritually…and thus often requires much more work to maintain. Unlike best friends you cannot just allow yourselves to drift apart. Which, again, makes it more work.
    It also should not serve to replace close friends of the same sex. We need those to offer fresh perspective, call us on things our spouse might not seek and to talk you through the heated moments with your spouse that you and your spouse may not be seeing clearly.
    So I think all in all that his take, while I may not agree 100% with it, was thought provoking with is never a bad thing when it comes to marriage.

  6. Steven Macks

    Cor, I know you largely dislike my moderate views on stuff. I’m sorry to offer more (but I’ll add a controversial statement just for you).
    A) It’s bad form to overgeneralize about how relationships “should” work. Some people marry their best friends. Others have clear best friends outside of their marriages. Both sides have successes and failures. I know that I have never thought of a woman as being a best friend to me or even “best friend eligible” since a man understands the heart of another man how few, if any, women, actually can. And I think the same goes for women.
    B) Is it desirable for your spouse to be your best friend? Again, this seems to be purely a preference and personality thing. I’d want to know my wife that well, and her, me. But I don’t think either way predicts marital success.
    C) What DOES make me bristle is when I see a newly engaged person say they are marrying their best friend. More often than not, I think they are kidding themselves or, worse, just saying what they think they’re supposed to say. I scoff almost every time I see that posted.

    (This was originally posted on Facebook. I thought I should add it here, too.)

  7. David Pitchford

    Steven, you said it better than I could; the statement “I’m marrying/married to my best friend!” has reached meme status in the Christian subculture, so it often seems like they’re “just saying what they think they’re supposed to say.” It makes me want to respond with something like, “Darn, I can’t marry my best friend because I’m not gay.” It seems like the role of a “best friend” is getting folded into the role of a spouse, so the former becomes just a different way of saying the latter rather than something else.

    Drew also makes a great point, that a same-sex best friend can “come alongside” you in quite a different way than your spouse. You need both kinds of relationships. I think when MacDonald says he’s relieved his wife of some responsibility, he means that his marriage to her is no longer having to do double duty like this.

  8. Mark Hintz

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. a)Yes and b)Yes (in a way)

    The most beneficial aspect of MacDonald’s distinction, for me, is as a reminder that your spouse is not a God-replacement. Very true and very important to remember.

    However, in his own words, I think we have a fundamental difference in the definition of a friend:

    “MacDonald clarifies that a best friend should challenge him in “such things as the quality my marriage, the state of my soul, the quality of my speech, the style of my financial life, and the depth of my relationships.” He says relieving his wife of some (emphasis mine) of that responsibility has increased their intimacy and connection.”

    I read that for MacDonald, the qualified “best” friend is someone for which you receive certain and important things (“my marriage…my soul…my relationships”).

    Whereas, I’d define a friend as someone for which I would do certain things for that person (“their marriage…their soul…their relationships”). My wife is the “best” of this definition in that I happily give to her all that I have and all I can do. There is no other person on this earth that I could or would give to in that total way.

    I’m sure MacDonald would agree that his devotion to his wife is no less but when our starting points for the definition of “friend” (receiving vs. giving), then, of course we end up with different definitions of the “best” example of that term.

  9. Ben Messerli

    1. Meh. It was edgy enough to make me want to understand what his perspective was.

    2. Yes, but I’m more interested in understanding how the Christian subculture came to embrace “marrying your best friend”. I feel like it came about so you don’t marry based solely on temporary emotion or for selfish reasons. It also encourages married people to invest in their marriage: get to know each other more deeply, pursue common goals and interests, and develop a deeper, more satisfying love. Good things.
    We can swing the pendulum too far where we focus on only one relationship and neglect all your single or same-sex friends. I think this is MacDonald’s main point, and I think it is important to think about. Even if you don’t idolize marriage above God, somehow we’ve believed that a marriage is the pinnacle and all-satisfying of human relationships to the point where we needn’t develop or invest in relationships with those people we won’t live with until death.

    3. No. I can’t absolutely say that your marriage does not honor God most fully if your spouse is your best friend, but I can’t say the opposite is absolutely true either.
    MacDonald’s assertion is that it is irresponsible, and here his distinction is needed. His definition of “best” friend actually aligns closer to my view of a “gospel” friend (which just so happen to be the best kind of friends), so I guess my conclusion is that “best” is a title that can be applied to multiple people-one of whom should be your spouse. It would be irresponsible for your spouse to be your only gospel friend, so in that sense, I would agree with his quote.

  10. Leah Thomas

    My boyfriend and I just talked about this on Saturday. I think you can have it both ways. It is important in a relationship to have an external, unbiased sounding board sometimes. Not to the exclusion of talking things over with your spouse but someone who challenge your perspective. I have had the same best friend for 17 years. Even before being immersed in the Christian culture I always knew that I wanted to marry a male version of her. She is someone who I can be completely myself with, we laugh at the same things, and have very similar values. I see nothing wrong with looking for those same qualities in a spouse.

  11. Cor

    The summary of comments from here and on social media seems to be:

    1. There is questionable benefit to a label of “best friend” without further clarifying what is meant by that.

    2. A spouse ought to know you better and more intimately than anyone else.

    3. Even so, there are just some things that a member of the opposite sex, including your spouse, is going to have a harder time connecting with you on than a person of the same gender.

    4. As such, there is tremendous value in having friendships beyond your spouse.

    5. There’s a particular disdain (too strong? irritation, maybe) toward those who’ve know their fiancé only a short time before making the exclamation, “I marrying my best friend!”

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