Significant Other – Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The phrase significant other has worked its way into our language, earning a spot in our daily vocabulary. But have we ever taken a second to think about the depth of this phrase? Anyone who’s important to you is significant somehow, but are they a significant other? Let’s jump on this term and learn its nuances and its significance in our society regarding relationships.

Significant Other Meaning Explained

Significant Other Meaning Origin

Basically, a significant other is just a person who holds a certain importance in your life. But it can’t be just anyone. It should be a spouse, a partner or even a sweetheart.

It’s like a gentle and inclusive way of referring to your lover or partner without disclosing the specifics of your relationship or even the gender of the person as you would with terms like wife or husband.

What Is a Life Partner vs. Significant Other?

Actually, both life partner and significant other are terms you can use to describe a close personal relationship, but they carry slightly different connotations.

Saying life partner usually implies a long-term, committed relationship with a level of permanence often associated with marriage or long-term cohabitation. It suggests that both parties plan to navigate life together, facing all its ups and downs as a team.

But the idea of a significant other carries fewer associations with long-term commitment. It’s more of a blanket term that you can apply to a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or any other romantic partner whose role in your life is significant but not necessarily permanent yet.

A great example is my own relationship. My husband and I aren’t legally married. We’ve been together for almost twenty years but never officially tied the knot. I usually call him my husband or hubby, but I also refer to him as my partner or life partner. In the earlier years of our relationship, I could have referred to him as my significant other.

Origin and Etymology of Significant Other

The phrase actually originated in social psychology and was popularized by a psychiatrist named Harry Stack Sullivan in the 1940s and 1960s. Sullivan studied mental disorders and the behavior of relationships.

He used it as a neutral term to describe someone who holds substantial importance in someone’s life that might be suffering from mental disorders. The term has since broadened in everyday language to refer to one’s romantic partner. I guess love really does make us crazy!

Synonyms for Significant Other

If you want some other ways to refer to your beloved, consider these synonyms for significant other.

  • Partner
  • Better half
  • Hubby
  • Wifey
  • Spouse
  • Companion
  • Sweetheart
  • Beau
  • Girlfriend/boyfriend

Significant Other Examples in a Sentence

Significant Other Meaning Origin 1
  • My significant other and I are planning a weekend mountain getaway, and it’s a big step in our relationship.
  • Every New Year’s Eve, I love toasting the future with my significant other as we enjoy the homemade wine we make together.
  • I’ve been with my significant other for nearly twenty years and hope to get another twenty more!
  • Mary introduced her female significant other to her family at the annual reunion.

Important People

Whether you’re looking for a way to describe someone or just curious about the term’s origin, understanding the meaning of significant other broadens your vocab, so add it to your arsenal!

It encapsulates the importance of a romantic partner without the societal or cultural baggage of other terms. So, whether you’re referring to your significant other, your life partner or your sweetheart, remember the value and significance of these words in our shared language.

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