Friendship Marriage: Would you do it?

4 min read
27 June 2024
Friendship Marriage: Would you do it?

Amid Japan's declining marriage rates, a new relationship trend called ‘friendship marriage’ is gaining popularity. Intrigued by this trend, I decided to explore its meaning. Unlike happy marriages based on high-quality friendship, deep emotional connection and romance, friendship marriages focus on companionship without traditional expectations of love or sex. Facing the challenge of a declining population, many young people in Japan are opting for this unique type of marital relationship. According to a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report, this trend is becoming an appealing alternative to traditional marriages.

What is Friendship Marriage?

The SCMP report defines friendship marriage as “a cohabitating relationship based on shared interests and values.” It recognises human beings' diverse needs and backgrounds, allowing for a more personalised approach to marriage. Unlike traditional marriages, where love and romantic bonds are the foundation, friendship marriages lack traditional romantic and physical intimacy, focusing instead on compatibility regarding values and interests. This approach allows individuals to enter a legal marriage and live together as husband and wife without the conventional expectations of romantic love.

Values and interests can be more important than sex in this type of arrangement for several reasons. Firstly, shared values and interests create a strong foundation for mutual respect and understanding. This common ground can foster deep emotional connections and a sense of partnership that can be just as fulfilling as romantic love. In friendship marriages, couples often prioritise companionship and mutual support, finding joy in shared activities and goals.

Additionally, as society evolves, the definition of marriage is becoming more inclusive and adaptable. Friendship marriages reflect this shift, acknowledging that not everyone seeks or prioritises sexual and romantic connections. For some, the stability and comfort of a relationship built on shared values and interests are more appealing and sustainable in the long term.

This approach also allows individuals to form meaningful partnerships without the pressure of conforming to traditional expectations of marriage. It embraces the idea that emotional and intellectual compatibility can provide a rich and fulfilling life together, even without physical intimacy. In this way, friendship marriages can offer an alternative path to happiness and fulfilment, demonstrating that there are many ways to build a successful and loving relationship.


Key Features of Friendship Marriage: Emotional Intimacy

  • Shared Values and Interests: Aligning values and interests between partners is the cornerstone of friendship marriages. This creates a solid foundation for a harmonious and mutually supportive relationship, fostering a deep friendship that enhances shared life experiences. Spending time together and enjoying each other's company is essential for fostering a deep friendship.

  • Flexibility in Relationships: Partners in a friendship marriage can agree to have relationships with others. This flexibility is based on mutual agreement and understanding, allowing for a more personalised approach to their partnership.

  • Legal Marriage with Cohabitation: Despite the absence of romantic love, partners in a friendship marriage enter into a legal marriage. They cohabit as husband and wife, sharing responsibilities and living arrangements, but often prioritise companionship over physical and emotional intimacy.

  • Family Planning Options: Friendship marriages also offer family planning options. Couples can decide to have children through artificial insemination if they wish to start a family.

The Appeal of Friendship Marriage: A New Relationship Trend

The rising popularity of friendship marriage in Japan can be attributed to several factors:

  • Declining Interest in Traditional Marriage: According to Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the marriage rate in Japan has been steadily declining, with only 4.8 marriages per 1,000 people in 2019, down from 10.0 in 1970. Friendship marriage offers a viable alternative that aligns with the preferences and lifestyles of many young people. 

  • Addressing Social and Personal Needs: Dr Matthew Lieberman, a leading expert in social neuroscience, emphasises that the human brain is inherently a social organ. Our brains are wired to seek companionship and social connections, which are crucial for mental and emotional well-being. Friendship marriages cater to this fundamental need by fostering companionship and shared experiences, emphasising the importance of an emotional connection without the pressures of romantic love.

Statistical Insights

Declining Birth Rates:

Japan’s birth rate has also been a significant concern, with only 8.4 births per 1,000 people in 2019, one of the lowest in the world. With their flexible family planning options, friendship marriages could offer new ways to address this issue. This trend also has broader implications for social development, as changing family structures and birth rates can impact social behaviour, decision-making and the overall social fabric.

Marriage Preferences:

A 2021 Japan Family Planning Association survey found that 42% of unmarried men and 44% of unmarried women aged 18-34 were not interested in having a romantic partner, indicating a shift in traditional relationship dynamics. This shift can influence social development by altering how individuals form social connections and interpret nonverbal social information.

Leadership Lessons from Friendship Marriages

The concept of friendship marriage led me to think about how some of these findings can offer valuable insights into effective leadership:

  • Building on Shared Values: Like friendship, marriages thrive on shared values and interests. Effective leadership involves aligning team members around common goals and values. 

  • Emphasising Emotional Connection: Recognizing the brain's need for social connections, leaders should prioritise building strong, supportive relationships within their teams. 

  • Flexibility and Adaptability: The flexibility seen in friendship marriages, such as allowing partners to have relationships with others, can translate to leadership by encouraging flexibility and adaptability in the workplace. Leaders who are open to new ideas and different working styles can create a more dynamic and innovative team.


  1. Cozolino, L. (2014). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. W.W. Norton & Company.
  2. Japan Family Planning Association. (2021). Survey on Marriage Preferences Among Young People.
  3. Japan National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. (2019). Marriage and Birth Rate Statistics.
  4. Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Crown Publishers.
  5. South China Morning Post. (2024). Friendship Marriage in Japan: A New Relationship Trend.

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