Can a Marriage Work With Best Friends That Love Each Other But Aren’t In Love?

Can a Marriage Work With Best Friends That Love Each Other But Aren’t In Love

I recently read that someone was with their best friend because he can provide for them and I have a similar question but a bit different.

My question is could a marriage or a LTR work under the circumstances where I have a best guy friend and we’re close but neither of us have feelings for each other. We both have similar lifestyle goals and financial ambitions, etc. and we think that if we were to entwine our lives we could make these goals come true. Do you think that the marriage or LTR could work/last based on our close friendship and shared goals?

It has been discussed that we both have needs like sex and we are both fine with the idea that there would be other people we would seek for that. Obviously, if we move forward with this arrangement, we would have separate rooms. We also acknowledge that potentially down the road we could fall for other people but can cross that bridge if and when it happens. So my question is, do you think a marriage or a relationship/friendship like that could work if both are open and upfront about the terms and boundaries of the relationship, and both are content to cohabitate in an arrangement like this because we make each other happy and we love each other in our own way, but we’re not in love with each other? If not, what aspects do you think would present problems?

Thank you, -Katie

I thought this was the perfect follow up to last week’s letter from the woman who was best friends with her husband but had no chemistry or sex life to speak of.

She felt trapped. She felt neglected. She missed having affection. But she loved her family and wanted to preserve the unit without causing great pain to her children. I advised her that if her husband wouldn’t fulfill his sexual duties to her, she needed to make him part of the solution, and let her know the best way she could get her needs met without blowing up the marriage.

It’s much easier to get your sexual needs met from within the marriage than to have a marriage whose very premise is based on infidelity.

Now, the reason that your situation is different, and slightly more appealing, is that you don’t have the same set of expectations about having sex within your marriage. The previous letter writer was disappointed that she never had sex with her husband; you are actually taking it off the table. That would be a point in your favor…but I think it would be just about the only one.

In other words, there is a reason that marriage has a sexual component. Not merely because attraction is generally what brings two people together, but because people have sexual needs. And it’s much easier to get your sexual needs met from within the marriage than to have a marriage whose very premise is based on infidelity.

Now I know you’re not calling it infidelity, since looking elsewhere for sex is officially sanctioned within your best-friend-marriage. But let’s consider how this policy would play out in reality.

You start a family under the guise that you’re best friends/business partners.
You both keep dating, seeing other people, having sex with strangers, friends-with-benefits.

Like communism, it may sound nice in theory, but in practice, it’s a surefire ticket to hurt feelings, neglectful parenting, constant temptation and a surefire breakup in the future.

That means that each of you is either going to have to leave the house (and your little kids) in order to pull off these sexual shenanigans, OR bring your various sex partners to your house (and your little kids). How’s that for a normal, healthy, stable family environment?

Finally, if it’s not just random sex partners, but you actually find someone you care about, you will then be torn between spending time with your lover and your family. Either way, you’re neglecting the other, while both of them deserve a full-time commitment from you.

All of this is to say that, like communism, it may sound nice in theory, but in practice, it’s a surefire ticket to hurt feelings, neglectful parenting, constant temptation and a surefire breakup in the future.

So how about you do what everybody else does and marry for love?

Join our conversation (25 Comments).
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  1. 1

    Isn’t the whole premise of marriage (just listen to the vows) about forsaking all others, loving each other till death do us part yada yada yada? So, in my opinion, these types of arrangements cheapen the institution. You basically want  a marriage  without any of the commitments (unless financial which I could only assume)?   So, I think arrangements like this are inherently contradictory and it can just be a mess fess.

  2. 2

    It’s not just your sexual needs that your best friend wouldn’t be able to provide for. It’s your emotional intimacy needs as well. So you look for that outside of the marriage – how is this other person going to feel about the fact that you can never legitimize your relationship with them because you are married to someone else? How are these other people supposed to feel about the fact that they can never be more to you than a casual means to get your needs met?
    You are seriously cheating yourself of the chance to have an  emotionally and physically fulfilling relationship with someone where you get to know them intimately over the long haul.

  3. 3

    For the live of Mike, don’t bring kids in on an arrangement like that.

  4. 4

    I suggest she look into co-parenting(not after divorce kind). Basically a union to raise children together. I know a few older women contemplating the same thing. Everything kept separate and both parents will have equal custody. No sneaking around etc since you’re not together. Kids two weeks with you and then two weeks with other parent. Probably works better than divorced partners.

  5. 5
    Vicki Larson

    Actually, Katie, that kind of marriage can and does work (sorry to disagree, Evan). It’s called a companionship marriage, one of the alt marriages that some couples are already practicing, and one highlighted in the book I cowrote, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. While the traditional marriage we know puts a lot of emphasis on romantic love (an unsteady emotion for sure), we also marry for many other reasons. Love shouldn’t be the No. 1 reason to marry, and many couples practice consensual non-monogamy. If we stop thinking about what a marriage “should” look like, and focus on what we want out of a marriage (and find someone who has the same needs, as it sounds like you have), we’d all have happier marriages.

    1. 5.1

      Vicki two questions:
      1. But how are children affected by this type of marriage? How in-depth was your research about the long term effect on children of those type of marriages?
      2. You said love isn’t the only reason to marry, so besides children, and financial security, what reasons would a two financially successful people with  at least one partner already having children choose this type of marriage?
      I honestly can’t find anything to disagree with Evan on, but you do. But you failed to address his reasons for discouraging the writer of the letter. So I’ll list them for you again, could you explain how these marriages you wrote about worked in spite of these obstacles
      > One partner falling in love with someone outside the marriage
      > The effects on the children being raised in a home with parents who sleep with others people
      > The effects on the outside partner who may want to move-in with/marry this person

      1. 5.1.1
        Vicki Larson

        Adrian, thank you for your thoughtful questions. First, companionship is the No. 3 reason couples say they get married for, right after love and commitment, according to a recent Pew study. Read anything written about what love becomes in a long-term marriage and it’s less about sex and passion and more about comfort and companionship. Since that’s what it becomes anyway, why not make that the No. 1 reason to wed? Couples that consider themselves good friends tend to be quite harmonious, handle conflict in a healthy and respectful way, and share similar goals and values on the big-picture stuff, like raising kids and religion, sociologist Paul Amato has found.
        Most couples who are childfree (as opposed to childless, meaning they want kids but can’t have them) have companionship marriages, according to our research and others. And, we believe that couples that want kids would create a much healthier environment for those kids if they chose a parenting marriage (a model in our book). But, to address the three sticking points:
        1. I hate to break this to you but there are no guarantees that one person may fall in love with someone outside of a marriage. In fact, it happens all the time … in monogamous marriages! The infidelity rate is somewhere between 20% and 70% (impossible to know an exact rate as it’s all self-reported and, you know, people lie). So, having a consensually non-mongamous marriage does not increase or decrease the fact that one spouse may fall in love with someone else. It actually creates an environment of honest discussions of such things. And, studies indicate those who are in consensually non-mongamous arrangements practice safe sex; spouses who cheat do not.  
        2. There aren’t many studies on open marriages. Why? There’s so much shame and judgment about them that most people who practice it tend to be quiet about it. That said, there have been studies about children raised in polyamorous arrangements. We include the results of those studies in our chapter on open marriages. Without giving the book away, there are few negatives and many positives. While I haven’t read any studies on children with adulterous parents, I will tell you from personal observations and experiences – children who have a parent who cheated on the other parent and/or moved in with an affair partner are not OK with it. Why don’t people worry about that because it happens a lot!
        3. A couple entering a consensually non-mongamous arrangement is free to set up what that is going to look like for them, and we encourage that in the book – prenups that go beyond financial concerns, with mutually agreed-upon ways to handle it if one person wants to break the agreement or wants to change it. Life situations change all the time, for those who practice monogamy and those who choose consensual non-mongamy; we believe people can address those issues with honesty, openness and respect, especially if that’s how they start their partnership from the beginning. And, honestly, I would hope no one marries another person with whom he or she could not do that with!
        Hope I answered your questions. I invite you to read the book; I’d be happy to answer your questions anytime. Happy new year.

        1. Evan Marc Katz


          You’re trying too hard to make your case because it’s what you want to believe.

          Yes, long term relationships are more about companionship than sex, but that doesn’t mean that marrying for companionship without sex is a great idea or a proven model. Your studies about polyamorous marriages are surely not statistically significant. I’m reading Sex at Dawn right now; it similarly talks about how monogamy isn’t “natural”. But so what? This is the society we live in. Most people – for better or worse – are extremely uncomfortable having a platonic life partner (when there are no shortage of romantic potentials out there) AND uncomfortable with creating a family with someone and then bringing others around for sex. You want to sweep this under the rug or pretend that this isn’t true, but it’s right there, staring you in the face. Both of these issues make your proposed arrangement less desirable than our current arrangement.

          And this? “The infidelity rate is somewhere between 20% and 70% (impossible to know an exact rate as it’s all self-reported and, you know, people lie).” Again, this is what you want to believe to justify your theory. The same way people tout a 50% divorce rate to indicate how bad marriage is, when, in fact, there’s closer to a 20% divorce rate for college educated people who get married over the age of 30. These are scare tactics. I’m no social scientist, but I find it just as likely to believe that this is true – and that in a given year 6% of people cheat, and 25% over the lifetime of a marriage.

          I get it. This is your thing. You believe in it wholeheartedly. You want to sell your book. But if you’re going to write about your theories on my blog, you have to be open to the idea that your theories can be challenged when they don’t make sense. Like communism, your idea sounds nice; it just doesn’t work here in reality for most people – which is why we don’t see it very often. This isn’t a matter of people being brainwashed; this is a matter of people preferring to have sex with their spouses.

        2. JennLee

          I agree Evan, and furthermore, I believe it is selfish.   How is that a recipe for success when the root of things such as cheating in monogamous relationships is selfishness.   She might ask how it is selfish if both people agree to it.   Well, it’s simple.   Take this as an example.   A very attractive women enters into a platonic marriage like this with a man who is very well off, or at a minimum much better off than she is.   She gets all the perks of marriage to this man of means, but does nit have to sleep with him.   She can however, guilt free, sleep with any other man she wants to.   WOW, what a deal!   I would be very certain that the man was simply stupid and desperate.   You see guys like this hanging around many beautiful women.   We use guys like this all the time.   They hang around being the nice, dependable guy while she goes out with other guys, in hopes of us one day waking up to the fact that he is the perfect guy for us.   I think some of those guys would see a marriage like this as a way to get closer to her.   In his mind, she will one day realize he is her perfect guy, and will stop seeing other people, and want a normal family with just him.
          Similarly, an even better arrangement for a guy like this would be a woman who will have sex with him, even if she is also wanting to sleep with other men.   But he may still be hoping that in the end, she will only want him.
          I only see two types of men wanting a relationship like this.   Desperate Betas (not all Betas), and Alphas who have no ability to truly connect with a person on an emotional level (not all Alphas).   To both I say, “Yuck!”

        3. shaukat

          We don’t know much about the studies on polyamorous marriages, but if they’re not statistically significant it’s likely because they represent a very small sample of the larger population of family households, and hence are not representative. It doesn’t necessarily mean that polyamorous marriages are an inherently flawed model for raising kids, and to simply dismiss the findings as not being statistically significant without knowing more about the studies also strikes me as indicative of a view that “someone wants to believe to justify [a] theory.”

          I think marriage and nuclear families can be wonderful things, but there is zero evidence that they are intrinsically the most stable and efficient model for raising kids. The studies cited by the promarriage, pro nuclear household folks to corroborate their position are generally exercises in spurious correlations. An interesting article on single motherhood by Katie Roiphe, a journalism professor at NYU, was published in The New York Times a couple years ago and reviews the studies on this very topic. I’ve posted the link below in case you, or anyone is interested, but part of the article is worth quoting at length:

          “The structure of my household is messy, bohemian, warm. If there is anything that currently oppresses the children, it is the idea of the way families are “supposed to be,” an idea pushed – in picture books and classrooms and in adults’ casual conversation – on American children at a very early age and with surprising aggressiveness. Studies like those done by the Princeton sociologist Sara S. McLanahan, who is one of the foremost authorities on single motherhood and its impact on children, show that conditions like poverty and instability, which frequently accompany single-mother households, increase the chances that the children involved will experience alcoholism, mental illness, academic failure and other troubles. But there is no conclusive evidence that, absent those conditions, the pure, pared-down state of single motherhood is itself dangerous to children.”
          In Defense of Single Motherhood

        4. Vicki Larson

          Shaukat, thank you! The finger-pointing at alt families needs to end, as there are fewer kids being raised in nuclear families than ever before. Studies of children raised in lesbian families indicate the kids are doing well. Kids do well when they have stability, safety, conflict-free homes, equal access to their parents and love – regardless if the have one, two, four or multiple parents; whether their parents are married, living together or living apart; gay, hetero or trans; whether they’re raised by biological parents, adoptive parents or grandparents.
          JennLee, you miss a crucial point; when couples’ expectations are aligned about what their partnership is about, they have a successful union by their defintion of success. Why is longevity the only marker we have of a successful marriage, especially when we’ve all seen couples that stay together in unhappy, loveless, sexless, and conflict-ridden unions? It’s up to each couple to define what makes a successful union; Katie and her friend are both seeking the same thing – companionship, shared finances, commitment, shared sexual desires – and they are willing to set up boundaries and make agreements on what will be OK and what won’t. You bet that union would work – it’s honest and mutually desired, which is much better than a couple that weds because of family/societal pressure, or fear of being alone, or because the woman secretly is watching her biological clock (and that happens more than society would like to admit), or because someone wants to be financially supported, or any other reason that is less than honest.

        5. JennLee

          You miss the point Vicki.   You, and many others have tried to sell this notion of some sort of Utopian alternative.   The truth is that it is no more Utopian than traditional relationships.   That is my problem with this.   You and those like you are always quick to talk about flawed traditional marriages, and then speak as if alt relationship are without those flaws, and superior.
          You talk about providing structure for kids, but then whine about the structure of society.   In your words, everyone gets to make up the rules for themselves.   What if I said that everyone should be able to make up the laws for themselves?   That’s not structure, it’s anarchy.
          You said, “when couples’ expectations are aligned about what their partnership is about, they have a successful union by their defintion of success.”   I pointed out that just because they are entering into this kind of relationship, doesn’t actually have mutually aligned expectations.
          I was actually in one relationship like this, and it did not give me a feeling of structure, stability and warmth.   Why did I try it?   Because of all of the modern messages like yours that attack traditional relationships and sell alt relationships as being better.
          “Why is longevity the only marker we have of a successful marriage, especially when we’ve all seen couples that stay together in unhappy, loveless, sexless, and conflict-ridden unions?”   Longevity is not the only marker for a successful marriage, but it is an intrinsic element of stability.     When a relationship ends, it ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.

        6. Vicki Larson

          JennLee, no one is claiming alt relationships are “without those flaws, and superior.” They are alternatives, period, and thus just as worthy of exploration as “traditional” marriage. It is not anarchy if two mature people agree to have an open marriage or live apart or have a companionship marriage. The key is that they agree to do that together because they both identify that is their preference. Also, I just can’t agree that “When a relationship ends, it  ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t  end.”   You’d have to define what “bad” means; sometimes, two people agree a relationship isn’t working anymore and split amicably (or uncouple consciously) — why is that “bad”? Maybe they learned something about themselves or the world. Most of us are not with the first person we fell in love with, and many are are now happily partnered with the right person for us, meaning we had numerous relationships that ended; are you suggesting that all those temporary and loving, at the time, partnerships were “bad”?

      2. 5.1.2
        Vicki Larson

        Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Evan. I’m not here to sell my book, so I will not mention it again. With all due respect, what I am here and elsewhere for is to challenge people to question their beliefs about love, marriage and relationships — rather than accept what a marriage or relationship “should” look like, shouldn’t they ask themselves what they want it to look like? In truth, people can create an individualized marriage and if more people knew that and embraced it, we’d see happier marriages. Monogamy is a choice, not a given (and I am monogamous by choice, BTW). But we have no models of healthy consensual non-monogamy; everything about non-monogamy is about deception (infidelity) or promiscuity (sluts/players). Regardless of the infidelity rate, there is a certain amount of cheating; regardless of the divorce rate, there is a certain amount of serial monogamy (4 out of 10 newlyweds have been married before, according to a recent Pew study) – shouldn’t we acknowledge the reality rather than pretend it doesn’t matter?
        As for the polyamory studies, you bet they are statistically significant given the percentage of couples that identify that way. (researchers who pay attention to such things estimate 1.2 to 2.4 million people are exploring consensual non-monogamy, and about 9.8 million allow “satellite” lovers – like Dan Savage’s monogamish arrangements; that’s not a small number! Again, people are quiet about it because they’d rather not deal with the judgment).
        I am 100% accepting of challenges to the research I put forth (these are not my “theories,” as we interviewed people who actually live these lifestyles, and used peer-reviewed studies by people much smarter than I am, as well as our own; we are not making up these marital models. These marital models exist, and existed way before we began to write the book (and exist in other cultures around the world; marriage looks different elsewhere and those marriages are just as valid as the U.S.’s). And websites like, geared for people just like Katie, already exist, matching people to create babies but not romantic partnerships. In truth, no one really knows if these models would work for more people because they aren’t openly presented or discussed. They need to be.As always, thanks, Evan, for letting be part of the always lively discussions here.

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          A very fair answer, Vicki. I think that if you’re happy and aren’t hurting anyone, I have no objection. I also think that even if we are wired for non-monogamy, to challenge our socialization and agree to have an open relationship opens up too many emotional doors for most people. I’m about the least jealous guy I know and I would have a hard time accepting my wife having sex with another guy…even if I knew it was “just sex”. I think I’m in the majority on that one, not the minority. So I don’t mean to be dismissive; I’m only pointing out that most of my advice is intended for the majority of people. There will always be happy dissenters who create their own rules and live happily by them.

  6. 6
    Maggie K

    The OP doesn’t say how old she and her friend are, nor does she mention that they would want to bring children into this situation. Because of that, I assumed that there would not be children. Though it’s not clear what the other “lifestyle goals and financial ambitions” might be, it sounds like she’s simply proposing a cohabitation/roommate situation.  

    If that’s the case, it doesn’t seem like a problem to play it out. They could have some commingled finances to support the household. Marriage doesn’t seem like it would be necessary as it would only complicate things when and if they decided to pursue romantic relationships, move out, etc. But as roommates, they can enjoy the companionship of one another, have someone to come home to, go out with, travel with, and so forth.  

    The big issue to me is the outside relationships, which she indicates they will need to seek out in order to get their physical needs met. There is potential danger of not being emotionally available, not being fair to the outside parties, etc. Keeping lines/boundaries clear could get very tricky.

  7. 7

    Katie, you’re just trying to have something meaningful until something better comes along. That is so human.

    What you describe in your letter is what a cherished friendship is all about … you have common interests, common goals for the future, you adore each other, but your not in love. Why do anything to screw that up? How wonderful to have that in your life. If you said you didn’t need more than that, then I would say go for it; have the marriage and the kids. But you admit that you both want more than that. Don’t jeopardize that awesome friendship just to create something until something better comes along. It’s not worth it. You can still grow the friendship, travel together, do all those great things, but to enter into a marriage-like relationship knowing that it’s just a placeholder until the real thing comes along is just not a good thing. You already have a great relationship with him. I envy that.

  8. 8

    Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you that two people in a strictly business arrangement (or even with the affection of a strong friendship) can’t weather while keeping the relationship intact. People fail and sometimes disappoint us in ways that make us dig down deep into a place of profound love and commitment. I was in a live-in LTR with my best friend of 13 years. I knew I loved him but wasn’t in love with him. I felt like we could get through anything together. But he lost his job and just laid down and died on me. Watching him rot into the couch playing video games over the course of a few months took its toll on me and I resented him in a way I probably wouldn’t have if I had stronger feelings for him. If he were in love with me, he wouldn’t have abandoned me; if I were in love with him, I would have forgiven him. I’m not saying that sex would have fixed anything, but the additional emotional bond that people in healthy loving relationships have probably would have gotten us through that dark time. Our friendship, however, didn’t.

    If you decide to proceed and marry your best friend, remember that he’s your guy when stocks are high, but beware when they start to descend…

    1. 8.1

      Do you really mean he literally died?

  9. 9

    Nice in theory, in practice not so much. You forget, women emotionally attach after sex. So what happens when you fall in love with a sexual partner and you have this other lil issue at home?. What sexual partner is going to be OK with such an arrangement? Someone desperate, lacking in boundaries, or a user. Howz about keeping your friend as a housemate, or a friend, period, and pursue your goals alone till you meet someone that works for you in all respects?

  10. 10


    Find a man who is your best friend, lover and partner. Life is complex and messy as it is. Don’t ask for trouble. And kids, I will not even go there. Nic~

  11. 11

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t read anything in the o.p. about kids.

  12. 12

    It sounds like you just need to be business partners.   You relationship would be like a contract anyway.

  13. 13
    Susan Pease Gadoua

    Another point I’d like to make in support of Vicki’s comments is that I think it’s time we get away from me thinking I know what’s right for you and vice versa. If something works for one couple, who am I to say it’s wrong? I think it’s good as a couple, especially if you are interested in saving your marriage, to open your minds and hearts to trying different agreements out. The current paradigm we have in this country is a one-size-fits-all that too many people have outgrown. It would be nice to see different “flavors” of marriage and to get away from the shame-based model we have in place now.

  14. 14
    jenny ravelo

    People would be surprised at the different kinds of marriage that work for some and I don’t doubt that a sexless one is the best option for some people. The problem that those who accept to be part of this sort of unions don’t ask for a third opinion. Katie, if you feel the need to write to someone about your situation, it’s because deep down you’re not cool about it.  

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