In a world where relationships seem less structured than ever, traditional committed relationships still rule. Divorce may be common, breakups rampant, and polyamory here to stay, but traditional relationships aren't going anywhere.
No matter how you feel about marriage, monogamy, and sticking together through thick and thin, the idea of commitment has a powerful pull, and influences how many of us live our lives. Let's take a closer look at traditional relationships, their benefits and drawbacks, and why they're still the norm the world over.
What Are Traditional Relationships?
Traditional romantic relationships aren't necessarily limited to married couples, but marriage is often the ultimate goal. Once the exclusive domain of straight couples, marriage and traditional relationships are now common among gay and non-binary couples in the Western world. In the Middle East and more repressive societies, heterosexual relationships are still the norm — and in many cases, the law of the land.
Types of traditional relationships can include:
- Exclusive unmarried relationships. Think a committed dating couple who don't see other people.
- Marriage. What lots of people in their 20s and 30s is doing for the first time, and over 40 for the second time.
- Exclusive cohabiting partners. Unmarried but living together, sometimes with pets and/or children.
- Exclusive long-distance relationships. Distance doesn't mean you can't be monogamous and committed. Committed long-distance relationships are on the rise thanks to dating apps and other ways of meeting people all over the world.
What ties all these different types of traditional relationships together? If you guessed monogamy and commitment, you're right. These are the two most essential features of traditional relationships in the majority of modern cultures, and have been for hundreds of years.
Commitment means that you and a partner agree to certain ground rules designed to keep your relationship strong. Examples of commitment in a traditional relationship can include:
- Deciding to stay together long-term
- Working through disagreements and challenges, including financial, family, and health problems
- Spending time with each other
- Having sex with each other and no one else
- Prioritizing the relationship
Modern Traditional Relationships
Traditional relationships were once defined by strict roles for men and women. Modern traditional relationships keep essentials like exclusivity and commitment, while loosening the structure that once defined these relationships.
How are modern traditional relationships different from those in years past?
- Gender roles are less rigid. While traditional relationships of old often funneled women into housekeeping and childcare duties while men earned the money, couples in modern relationships are more likely to work outside the home and share household duties. But despite these gains, women still do the lion's share of domestic work -- 2 more hours per day than most men. Call it the housework gender gap.
- Couples share decision-making. Whereas men once ruled the household and enjoyed the final word, both men and women have a voice in modern traditional relationships. While this obviously isn't the case in all trad rels (and there is a small but vocal movement of folks who want to revive the patriarchy and male-led relationships), the majority of couples share decision-making, or at least try to.
- They may have kids, or not. Children were once part and parcel of traditional relationships, but no longer. Many couples in modern relationships delay having children, or don't have them at all. Finances, careers, global warming, and social instability can all be factors, and studies show that the more educated women are, the fewer kids they have.
- Different backgrounds are common. Modern relationships no longer require two people from like cultures, religions, and backgrounds. These days, couples in traditional relationships may appear to share little in common, but bond over similar values, education, career goals, or lifestyle.
Signs You're In a Committed Relationship
Not sure if your relationship has the makings of a traditional connection that can go the distance? Here are some of the top signs you're in a committed relationship
- Your partner makes you part of their life. One of the hallmarks of a commitment is the desire to include your partner in important aspects of your life, including family gatherings, favorite hobbies, work-related events, travel, and just spending time together at home.
- They're themselves with you. A committed partner is more likely to let you know who they truly are. That means they allow you to see them at their most honest and vulnerable, and want to see you at yours.
- They want to meet the people in your life, and vice versa. A committed relationship usually means getting to know each other's family and friends. These are the social worlds you each inhabit, and are an indication of who you are and what you value.
- They want to experience life with you. Part of commitment is going through life together. This can mean experiencing milestones such as births, deaths, and major life changes together, or simply enjoying travel and day to day life as a supportive, loving couple.
Alternatives To Traditional Relationships
Not all of us are ready for, or cut out for, traditional committed relationships. We may want to explore different types of connections, or avoid traditional relationships after divorce or a breakup.
Here are some alternative relationships that may work better for some of us, or at certain stages of our lives.
- Relationship anarchy. Relationship anarchists apply the concept of anarchy to their relationships. Anarchic concepts include a lack of hierarchy and centralized control, complete autonomy of all individuals, and an anti-normative outlook, meaning that normalizing certain behavior and choices is avoided. What does this mean for relationships? In essence, that there are no hard and fast rules between partners, and that closeness and autonomy can co-exist in the same relationship.
- Ethical non-monogamy. In ethical non-monogamous relationships, one or all partners are allowed to have sex with others outside the relationship. There are certain ground rules, however, thus the "ethical" part of the term. Rules can include restricting who each partner sees and when, the process of meeting other people, and introducing other partners before a sexual relationship begins. Ethical non-monogamy can include polyamory, swinging, polygamy, triads and "throuples," and casual sex.