What Is A Significant Other

Women's Dating

Breaking Down What a Significant Other (S.O.) Is

Ashayla Blakely

Written by: Ashayla Blakely

Ashayla Blakely

Ashayla Blakely is an experienced storyteller who has fun writing authentic and relatable content for DatingAdvice.com. As a hopeless romantic, Ashayla has always enjoyed sharing good conversation and advice about dating. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Telecommunications from the University of Florida. She is currently enrolled in the graduate program at Florida State University's film school. You can often catch her with a script in her hand, calling out the shots in her many directorial roles on set.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com.

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a significant other is someone who has an established romantic or sexual relationship. This gender-neutral term has established equality in relationships and helped couples identify their connection without gender expectations.

In this guide, we’ll dive into the true meaning of significant others and the benefits of having one. 

Definition | Must-Haves | Healthy Relationship Tips | Challenges & Solutions

The Roles and Responsibilities of Being a Significant Other

A significant other is more than a friend or lover. Certain characteristics separate a S.O. from a more casual dating partner. 

Learning these signs can help you determine who should be titled as your S.O.

Companion

Let’s be honest — not everyone you know is a joy to spend time with and talk to. It takes a special someone to enter your bubble and stay by your side day in and day out. 

Companion illustration

When you find someone who enjoys spending time with you just as much as you enjoy spending time with them, that’s a good indication you’ve found your significant other. 

Spending quality time together is imperative. Without time together, a relationship will suffer.

It’s through quality time that people grow their bond. 

Caregiver

Everyone appreciates (or should at least) when someone looks out for them.

Caregiver illustration

Whether you’ve caught the flu or have a chronic condition, significant others typically put in the effort to support and care for you. 

Taking care of a partner physically, mentally, and emotionally is part of the work of being in a healthy relationship. It’s how you show your S.O. that you care for them. 

It’s a different level of love to care for someone when they’re not feeling their best. Relationship coaches often say that relationships progress during these low moments when couples lean on each other. 

Confidant

Your significant other can also be considered your best friend.

Confidant illustration

From work gossip to what’s happening with your next-door neighbor, some secrets are too juicy not to share with them. 

Significant others are able to open up and share idle gossip or secret feelings. 

People should create a safe space for their S.O. to feel comfortable expressing themselves. This entails keeping confidence by not exposing each other’s secrets and private matters. 

Must-Haves for an Emotional Connection

Regardless of the length of their relationship, emotional connection is where a lot of couples find themselves struggling. 

Finding new ways to build your emotional connection with your partner is key and is an ongoing task.

Empathy

People go through different challenges in life. Whether it’s a high moment or a low one, your significant other can share and understand your feelings because of how much time you spend together. 

“Empathy is a powerful force that helps maintain social order and cooperation, which is what makes it such a powerful force in relationships.” — Derrick Carpenter from Verywell Mind

Extending empathy in your relationship will allow you to step into your partner’s shoes and respond to their needs in the moment

Trust

According to Lyra Health, trust allows you and your partner to feel safe, supported, and connected in your relationship. Without trust, you can create barriers in your relationship that can hinder you from going to the next level. 

After all, it’s pretty hard to build emotionally with someone who is unreliable or untrustworthy. 

Different exercises can build trust – such as giving your partner privacy when needed, having open conversation without any interruptions, or blindfolding your partner and guiding them through an obstacle course. 

Admiration

Deep emotional intimacy requires admiration. Relationships deteriorate the moment you no longer have respect or liking toward your partner. But as time changes, so do people. 

To keep the admiration in your relationship alive, you can practice sharing what you appreciate about one another

Always express your gratitude when your S.O. does something for you. High praises and compliments can go a long way in showing your S.O. that you admire them. 

Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship

A healthy relationship is created by two people who are committed enough to make things work. Here are a few tips that can help you stay afloat in your relationship. 

1. Maintain Honest Communication

Honesty builds trust within a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been dating two weeks or two years, you need to have honest communication about how you feel and where you stand.

Honest communication illustration

Without it, couples will find themselves walking on eggshells and living in anxiety. Couples who keep honest communication at the forefront often have a deeper connection and higher levels of trust.

A lot of people stray away from being honest because they’re afraid of being mean or overcritical with their partner – but it’s possible to be truthful without cruelty. 

Even though it’s hard, being honest with your significant other is how you communicate your needs and dislikes. This includes your whereabouts, your reservations, and what meals you liked that your partner cooked for you. 

2. Pay Attention to Each Other’s Needs

People have different needs in a relationship, and unmet needs can quickly undermine a romance.

Helping/paying attention to needs illustration

Some may need date nights every week, while others may prefer compliments throughout the day. Whatever your significant other’s needs are, it is your job to understand and fulfill them. 

You don’t always have to ask your partner what they need — even though that’s the best way to find out. 

Surprising your S.O. with a gift can make the moment more special. The best way to do this is by knowing your S.O.’s love language or noticing what they like when they’re treating themselves.

3. Active Listening

By practicing active listening, people can deepen the communication in their relationships.

Active listening illustration

There’s a big difference between listening and hearing someone. Hearing someone is a natural and involuntary act that doesn’t require much from you, while active listening is a conscious decision to pay attention to what someone is saying. 

According to Holding Hope Marriage and Family Therapy, active listening in a romantic relationship can increase intimacy and result in a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship. 

Active listening helps you work through misunderstandings and cultivate a fuller appreciation for your significant other. 

4. Compromise

Relationships require you to compromise in certain areas.

Compromise illustration

Unfortunately, having the mindset of “my way or no way” isn’t going to cut it if you want your relationship to last. You and your S.O. will have to work through differences and come to a mutual agreement when conflict arises. 

Some people misinterpret compromise as a weakness but it’s the complete opposite. Compromise is a way you show respect to your S.O. It means you’re a team player in a relationship rather than a dictator. 

“When we compromise, we validate our partner’s feelings, needs, desires, and aspirations. We are showing them that we respect them, their needs matter, and that their point of view is valuable — even though it’s different from our own,” said a licensed marriage and family therapist Claudia de Llano.

Challenges and Solutions

Every relationship will go through ups and downs. That’s inevitable. What makes a difference is how they handle obstacles that come their way. 

Luckily, therapeutic resources can help couples find a solution that will be beneficial. 

Trust Issues

Trust is necessary in any healthy relationship. Without it, couples will find themselves in a toxic situation. Trust issues are the ultimate barrier that blocks people from reaching new heights in their relationships. 

“Trust most often develops over some time. With guidance, a person can identify where trust was compromised in the past. In fact, the therapy process itself helps many people learn to trust again.”

GoodTherapy

As challenging as it sounds, it is a couple’s responsibility to build, strengthen, and regain trust so that they can move forward. 

Some people develop trust issues due to their upbringing or relationship history. With the help of therapists, couples can discover what’s blocking them from truly trusting one another. 

Incompatibility & Dealbreakers

Not everyone will check off all your boxes for the perfect significant other – and that’s OK! Some dealbreakers can make two people incompatible, and that shouldn’t be ignored. 

Does a difference in opinion mean you have to break up? No, not necessarily, but it’s certainly something that would need to be discussed.  

Table displaying dealbreakers among surveyed men and women
According to Psychology Today, men and women tend to agree that bad hygiene is a dealbreaker.

A lot of relationship coaches and therapists encourage people to start their relationships by discussing dealbreakers and boundaries. That way, you avoid any surprises later on. 

Overcoming incompatibility in a relationship isn’t easy, but it can be done. You can celebrate the differences between the two of you while finding common ground along the way. 

Couples Counseling

Sometimes, a couple cannot fix certain issues on their own. If this is the case, seeking professional help from a couples counselor or therapist is a wise decision. 

Couples counseling provides couples with personalized lessons on how to improve their relationship and talk things out.  

It’s Important to Have Somebody By Your Side

I like to think that having a significant other is the cherry on top of life. Through the good and the bad moments, it’s important to have someone in your corner in life. 

Significant others offer companionship, love, and laughter that any hopeless romantic (like myself) will find worthwhile.