When Neal and I were engaged, we were told to read and discuss certain books to “get us ready” for our pre-marital counseling with Neal’s minister. (Since I lived in Illinois, it was difficult to find someone who would take the time we had to do it with is, so we are eternally grateful for him for doing it with us in one long session in person along with a couple online “sessions”. I know, technically we didn’t have to have pre-marital counseling, since Misty married us and not at a church, but we wanted to make sure we had asked ourselves all the “big” questions and had answers that we could both live with for the rest of our lives.) While we were in a bookstore looking for one of these books, I picked up another one in the same section (“Relationships,” I think) and started browsing through it. It was also for couples who were engaged and were trying to discuss things that could cause issues in their relationships before they came up, but one section made me pause.
“Neal, look at this. What do you think about it?”
He read the paragraph I pointed to over my shoulder. After we both finished the section in the book, we rolled our eyes at each other and then I put the book back on the shelf. We later talked about it and agreed that we didn’t agree with it.
What did it say?
I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist was that you cannot let your spouse be your best friend. Neal and I discussed it in more depth and agreed that your spouse should not be your only friend, but there is no harm in your spouse being your best friend.
Why shouldn’t he be? After all, he was my best friend before we got married, before we started dating. He was the one who had my back when I felt abandoned by so many others (and while I was going through a weird identity crisis). Even after all that, he asked me to date him and then to marry him. The dating part was a hard decision for both of us. Could we give up our best friend if it didn’t work out? We decided to chance it, and I’m glad we did.
But he’s also still my best friend. He’s the one that when I am hurt or angry or sad, I immediately want to call him or find him and get a hug or talk it out. He is the one that I look for first for advice or discussion on things that are weighing on my mind. He is the one who I know will always be available when I truly need him (and I for him). These things are obvious to us, but not to every married couple.
I was talking to a coworker about having affairs (not with each other) in light of recent pop-culture events, and she said she couldn’t even imagine cheating on her partner. I told her I couldn’t either, but I knew people who had. I have a hard time reconciling the person I know with the person who could do that to another person, especially since I’ve been on the harshest end of that relationship in the past. I read this blog post, and it reminded me of all the things Neal and I have in place to secure our relationship. In addition to discussing almost everything with each other, we also have relationship rules we put in place before we even got married. We don’t encourage close relationships with the opposite sex, for obvious reasons (I feel like I need to disclaim that we are both heterosexual, after reading the comments on the blog post linked above.) We don’t flirt with other people (and try to avoid situations that can be misconstrued as flirting with someone else). We are careful in our online presence and who we “let in” to our non-online lives via the internet. (After all, Neal and I met through just blogging, remember?) We have other, non-online things in place that just kind of discourage cheating as well (although they aren’t that way for that specific reason, necessarily).
Neal and I have two phones, but at any time either could have one or the other phone. We live in a secure building, so one is designated our “home” phone and the other is designated our “cell” phone. (The home phone is hooked up to the call box outside our building for visitors to ring us if they need buzzed in.) It creates some confusion for friends and family, I think, most of whom have “my phone” and “my spouse’s phone” instead of the way we have it set. This works well for us on multiple levels, but it also keeps us accountable. We often see advice columns about how “my husband/wife wants my voicemail/email/login-for-whatever password, but I think it’s an invasion of my privacy!” I scoff at those, because they are just ridiculous to hear.
What about the “old days” when whoever got to the mailbox first got all the mail? Or the one who got home first got all the answering machine messages (or, before that, the one who got to the phone first answered the call, not even knowing who it was)? Sure, people still cheated, but most of the times I see these queries in advice columns, they are lamenting the fact that their spouse found out something unsavory about them. “How could he/she break my trust like that?” they often cry out, although they have also broken their spouse’s trust and often in worse ways.
Neal and I share an email address. I don’t usually open his mail, and he doesn’t usually open mine, but there aren’t very many secrets contained therein either. We both also have junk mail/online email addresses (separate ones for commenting, filling out online forms, etc.) We both know the login information for each other’s spam addresses as well. Sometimes I’ll let Neal know of something in my junk mailbox and have him jump on to look at it and vice versa. We know there’s nothing scary hiding in there.
We have other ways to “check and balance” each other out in the face of the temptations that are/might be out there, of course, but I think the main one is that we discuss things regularly and make sure we’re still on the same page about important things. Another important one is that we don’t talk about the other person to outside people. I gripe about small things (Neal’s tendency to be late and probably my tendency to go from silly to cranky in 0.2 seconds when I’m sick or tired) in passing, but I have never and will never badmouth my husband to anyone. Not my friends, not my coworkers, and not my parents (or his). That’s an important ground rule. If I’m disappointed with Neal, I let Neal know, not everyone else. I don’t blog things about him (or about me, if I think it might be personal or sensitive to him as well as myself) without asking him if it will bother him (and usually asking his advice on making sure it sounds right, anyway. That’s kind of what happens when both halves of a couple have English education degrees, I think.) Knowing this basic rule makes it easy to put a hold on a fight or heated discussion and go back to it when we’re both cooled off. We don’t run off and call our moms or friends to complain about each other, but use the time to think about what we really want the outcome to be.
I think the fact that Neal is my best friend makes it even less likely that infidelity will occur on either of our sides. I don’t have big, scary secrets from him, and neither does he from me. We know the past and present of each other and each consider the other to be our only possible future. We have an openness in many ways that we don’t take advantage of (and don’t feel we need to), because we know the trust is there. I could read Neal’s emails, but I don’t have to. He could read mine, too, but he doesn’t have to. (I hope that makes sense.)
I know not all couples do the same things that we do, and we obviously don’t expect everyone to. We know what works for us, and that includes being best friends and being open and honest with each other. Hearing all the couples who are burned by hiding secrets and having everything separate from their spouse has led us to being as open as we are, especially knowing the dangers the internet itself can present to a couple. Our culture prizes independence for self within a couple at the expense of trust and openness. “My cell phone, my email address(es), my facebook account, my mail, my bank account statement, my credit card bill…how dare he/she ask for information relating to any of that! It’s all mine!” We just don’t happen to believe all of that mineness is as important as being able to trust the other completely and to ensure that this bond, this life-bond, actually lasts without tearing or breaking. This is our way of doing that, and it works for us.