Significant other

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Significant other is a term that has increased in popularity over the last thirty years. We will examine the meaning of the term significant other, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Significant other is a psychological term originally coined to describe a person who is greatly important to a person’s life, or has a major influence on the quality of a person’s life. A significant other is also identified by the psychological term “relevant other”. This early definition of significant other usually referred to a parent, mentor, or other loving, authority figure who shaped the person’s development. The expression significant other has been adopted into everyday language to mean one’s life partner. In this sense, one’s significant other may be a spouse of either gender, a fiancé, or a life partner who has not entered into a legal commitment. A significant other is presumed to be in an intimate relationship with the subject, and therefore, one may have only one significant other at a time. This does not necessarily mean that the couple are in a sexual relationship. The term significant other was coined in 1953 by psychiatrist  Harry Stack Sullivan in his work The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. In the psychological sense, a person may have many significant others, or people who are important to that person and have a major influence on the quality of his life. The expression significant other came into its casual, everyday use to mean someone’s partner by the 1970s. The use of the term has grown over the last few decades as language has evolved to become more inclusive of all genders, mores and living arrangements. The term significant other does not carry any connotation, negative or otherwise. It is a handy phrase to use when one is not sure of a couple’s marital status. The plural form is significant others.


The participants, all of whom were in committed romantic relationships, either had their significant other sitting quietly in the room with them during the task or they were instructed to think about their romantic partner as a source of support during the task.  (The Economic Times)

SJC says spouses are entitled to part of significant other’s estate when they are left out of will (The Boston Globe)

A stressful situation, such as the death of a significant other or the loss of a job, triggers the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids. (Harvard Health Publishing)

If you’re still recovering from the insane amount of money you spent on your significant other during the holidays, Valentine’s Day might be your least favorite day of the year. (The Business Insider)

“Nothing says ‘I love you’ like giving your significant other the chance to have a ray slurp a piece of fish out of his or her hand,” aquarium spokesman Dave Sigworth was quoted as saying. (The Connecticut Post)

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