What thoughts and images does the word "Partner" bring to mind? As children we are given study partners in class. Perhaps you hit the courts with a tennis partner, or have deadline to meet at work with your project partner. Maybe you want to start a company with your business partner, or dance a waltz with your dance partner. And let's not forget all those infamous partners in crime! According to the Oxford Dictionary, the primary definition of the word partner is: "a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits".
In recent years we have seen a broadening of the definition of "partner" to refer to one's spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, and/or significant other. In a recent conversation with a friend regarding this topic it seems that with the growing popularity of this particular use of the word partner is also an increase of people who are confused, and even slightly offended by it.
Is a marriage or dating relationship a partnership? Yes, of course it is, but that is not all that it is. Drawing from the Oxford definition above, being in a long term committed relationship is definitely a huge undertaking that offers shared "risks" and "profits", but that is just the tip of the iceberg! Being in a relationship is about sharing your whole life with someone on much deeper level than what is expected in a partnership. Relationships are filled with emotions, intimacy, and a security that is much more personal than that of a partnership. Being in a committed relationship with a significant other, or spouse is definitely more profound than having just a partner. Why then are we seeing a growth in the use of the word partner to refer to significant others?
I think the answer is in the question itself. Our society doesn't see our significant others as being very significant. In fact, our culture has such low expectations for personal relationships that the word "partner" is now more appropriate than "spouse". It is the degradation of our society that has removed the high importance of a life long marriage to one person, a relationship that comes with comes with risks, profits, intimacy, and commitment, and replaced it with a business like partnership that can be terminated at any time either partner see's fit. It has removed the covenant of marriage and replaced it with the legal contract. It has reduced expectations of relationships to the point that one simply looks to find a person to who makes them happy in the moment but can be released when the moment is gone, instead of looking for that person who will bring them a lifetime of joy amongst the sorrows and struggles that are inevitable in life.
My husband is my partner in that we are in this life to work together in all things. More importantly he is my spouse, significant other, best friend, confidant, lover, and the man who brings me joy, comfort, and security on a level no other person can. To introduce my husband as my "Partner" would be an insult to the man he is, and to our marriage. Why would anyone want to use this word to describe someone so important to them?
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you introduce your spouse or significant other as your partner?