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Is it OK to expect your spouse to be your friend?

There are three relationships inside your singular marriage. Sometimes you’re in sync, and everything just flows. These flow times happen when each of you is occupying the same role at the same time. But what happens when you’re not in sync? And how can you get in sync with your spouse?

This article will:

  • Help you recognize the three relationships inside your singular marriage
  • Take a deep dive into the friend-relationship

Before We Dive Deep: An Overview of the Three Relationships

Friends want to relax together. Partners want to achieve together. Lovers want to explore together. A friend feels intimacy when you share stories. A partner feels intimacy when you share a project. A lover feels intimacy when you share a new experience.

When you’re both playing the same role— friend, partner, or lover—life feels easy and you connect. But lots of times, the reason you’re not in sync is simply because you’re each playing a different role in your marriage. The different roles create different expectations, and these differing expectations cause you to struggle.

partner lover friend three relationships of your marriage

There are three relationships inside your singular marriage. When you and your spouse are aligned, you’re in sync with each other.

Take a look at this graphic. Notice how when you’re both in friend-mode life is full of hearts and connection. But when one of you is in friend-mode while the other is in partner-mode, you’re at cross purposes: wanting different things from your marriage.

Let’s take a deep dive into the role of friend. Being a good friend will improve your marriage because you’ll understand each other. Understanding each other deepens trust and this will anchor you as companions. (To take a deep dive into the lover-relationship click here. To take a deep dive into the partner-relationship click here.)

How to feel in sync with the friend inside your marriage

You’ll feel loved by the friend in your marriage when:

  • You need a day to decompress. A friend will keep you company and help you relax.
  • You want to vent about your bad day. A friend is understanding and patient.
  • You want to enjoy your vacation. A friend embraces the fun in any situation.

A friend feels like they’re playing when:

  • They are relaxing. Friends love the feeling of just hanging out.
  • There’s a need for understanding. Friends love asking questions and their curiosity helps bring clarity.
  • There’s time to let the day unfold without agenda. Friends feel life’s value when the moment at hand has time to breathe.

You’ll want a friend in your marriage when:

  • You feel confused about your next step. A good friend will listen actively as you sort out your confusion.
  • You feel embarrassed about things big or small. A good friend will help you laugh at yourself and wash away the embarrassment.
  • You want to relax. A good friend will be there beside you, going with the flow.

Try this:

Look for signs your spouse is in friend-mode. When you learn to recognize friend-mode, you’ll remember how valuable this role is in your marriage and you’ll be grateful for your spouse.

  • When your spouse plops down on the couch and cracks open a sparkling beverage, smile at your friend who keeps your life relaxed and full of ease.
  • When your spouse asks regularly about your day, appreciate how your friend values knowing about the specifics of who you are.
  • When your spouse says, “There’s plenty of time for that later,” appreciate how your friend keeps you enjoying the present moment.

It’s easy to feel in sync with your friend because you feel so understood. But understanding is the sunny side of a demand-to-know. Your friend hates—HATES—to be left in the dark. Their attempts to know about your life may feel like a suckerfish.

In the boxes above where you see that the partner-role isn’t connecting with the friend-role in your marriage, it’s often because friends don’t like to be told how to fix their problems. Partners like to fix things. But a friend just wants to be understood.

Likewise, you’ll see in the boxes that sometimes a lover and a friend are at cross purposes. Friends like to understand things, but a lover doesn’t want to be constantly explaining themselves. A lover wants to be free to explore without keeping you up to speed. This can sometimes make the friend in your marriage feel left out.

Let’s look at some of the shadow qualities that explain why it’s tough to connect when your spouse is in friend-mode.


Why you feel out of sync with your friend inside your marriage

You’ll feel frustrated by your friend-spouse when:

  • They are just hanging out. Friends want to be included, but sometimes their desire to be near you can feel more like lurking or spying.
  • They lack motivation. Friends don’t live on a tight agenda, so it can be frustrating that you’re always the one to motivate a project or an adventure.
  • They don’t seem to care. Friends are laid back and take life as it comes. Sometimes this can feel apathetic.

Your friend-spouse might leave you feeling:

  • Lonely or jealous. All your acquaintances tell their secrets to your friend-spouse. Their ease with people might make you feel lonely or jealous by comparison.
  • Embarrassed or like a burden. Spouses in friend-mode linger and take forever to leave a party or a phone call. This can cause you to feel self-conscious about staying too long or hugging too much. You don’t want to become a burden.
  • Does your spouse-friend point out your need to apologize? Friends take precious care of their relationships and they quickly notice times when an apology matters. A friend might make an apology look easy when you struggle with your pride.

Try this:

Look for signs your spouse is in friend-mode. When you learn to recognize friend-mode, you’ll need to set some boundaries so you can stay happy in your larger marriage.

  • When your spouse needs to rehash the misunderstanding you had yesterday for the third time, assure your friend things are OK between you and go about your business.
  • When your spouse is moving slow while you’re scurrying around getting the house clean before company arrives, come to a full stop. Then make a clear ask of your friend like this: For the next hour could you get the bathroom clean while I do this cooking?
  • When your spouse refuses to go on an adventure with you (again!) sit down next to your friend and hold their hand while you say something like this: I have a hunch that this adventure makes you nervous. What can I do to make it more comfortable so you’ll want to come with me?

It’s important to love your spouse even when they are in the shadowy parts of friend-mode. Afterall this person reminds you to enjoy the present moment and cultivates the peace and tenderness in your marriage. It’s also important to set boundaries with your friend-spouse.

Boundaries are important so your friend doesn’t aggravate or bore you, but it’s also important for your spouse. Likely they need the balance in life that you provide. Let the partner inside of you be aware of time so that you can offer your friend a signal when it’s time to move along. Let the lover inside you provide motivation to keep both of you living outside your comfort zones so your shared life feels vital.

If you’d like to read a story about a time in my marriage that I messed up when it comes to being a good friend, click here.

When is your spouse likely to be in friend-mode? How does your friend-spouse make your life more tender? When does your friend-spouse annoy you?

Want to stop arguing and start connecting with your spouse? This FREE e-course will offer you habits to improve your marriage communication so you can smile more and fight less. Sign up to improve marriage communication.

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