Life Relationships When should boyfriend or girlfriend become a ‘partner’?
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When should boyfriend or girlfriend become a ‘partner’?

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“Oh, is this your partner?”

The party is going well until your friend pops the question you hadn’t considered — or have been dreading.

How do you respond? You’ll probably correct them, an expert predicts.

“Yes, this is my boyfriend, Mark.”

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You prefer this descriptor because it sounds less serious. Maybe you aren’t ready for more commitment. Or maybe you just prefer its breeziness. ‘Friend’ sounds fun, youthful, passionate.

“We tend to have more relationships nowadays, rather than the one relationship that’s going to turn into marriage that’s going to turn into this 40 year-long relationship,” Curtin University relationship expert Amanda Lambros says.

“We want to be able to test our relationships out. Getting into a ‘partner’ mentality, it kind of seems a little more serious than boyfriend, girlfriend.”

So what’s the cut off point?

young couple yacht
‘Boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ implies … Photo: Shutterstock

Ashleigh McInnes, 30, from Melbourne knows just how awkward the word change can be. For the first two years, she much preferred to call her other half ‘boyfriend’, but that has slowly changed.

“It started as ‘boyfriend’ and then as we got older and older the social acceptance of the word fell out of favour,” Ms McInnes tells The New Daily.

“At work functions and family visits and chats to colleagues, ‘boyfriend’ didn’t quite communicate the seriousness of the relationship.

“I started calling him my ‘partner’ in work conversations, and we’d often chat in the car on the way there as to whether he’d be boyfriend or partner that night.”

After eight years, with seven in the same house, Ms McInnes has almost entirely switched to ‘partner’. Almost.

“He is now permanently ‘partner’ and just ‘boyfriend’ when I want to feel young again.”

There are no written rules, but the issue probably starts to arise six months into a relationship, according to Curtin University’s Ms Lambros. But she admits it varies by age.

“I think anyone over the 30-35 age range would be much more inclined to use the word ‘partner’, whereas those who are 25 and under, no.”

The word change really does mean something

adult couple holding hands
‘Partner’ suggests stability. Photo: Shutterstock

After six years of trying it on, Ms McInnes says she has grown accustomed to ‘partner’, even switching it to ‘life partner’ as a joke amongst friends.

“I actually quite like ‘partner’ because it sounds more stable than boyfriend,” she says.

“A boyfriend you could have met at a nightclub or on a night out. It could be a fleeting romance. But partner sounds more secure and stable.”

Richard Phu, founder of dating advice website Romanic Missions, agrees that a more serious descriptor reflects a change in the nature of the relationship.

“Just like a business partnership, the two people will reach a point where they feel like they have invested into each other’s lives,” Mr Phu says.

“They have essentially created what I call the ‘safe-zone’ where they can be open, honest and vulnerable with each other in a safe environment.”

Whatever you do, talk it through first. That’s the relationship expert’s advice.

“My biggest piece of advice for couples, regardless of whether they’ve been together for a week or 10 years, is to have open, honest and genuine communication,” Mrs Lambros says.

“The more open, honest and genuine you are with your partner, the better your relationship is going to be and then you won’t have those awkward conversations.”

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