Disclaimer: This blog reflects a value toward monogamy in relationships.
Hello, my name is Tara and I have had otherships throughout my life. I start this blog with my own admission because I think it’s important to normalize the occurrence of otherships and create a safe and compassionate place to discuss why they occur. An othership is a relationship that can begin as a friendship but evolves into something more. They take several presentations from an old boyfriend or girlfriend who you casually maintain contact with to an ongoing exchange with a co-worker, friend or neighbor. At their core, otherships are an emotional, intimate or romantic connection to another person that detracts from the relationship you have with your partner. To better explain the presentation of otherships, I’ve listed a few common examples:
- Maintaining contact with former lovers for validation of your worth, attractiveness or value. This is more likely to be the case if you have an on-and-off again relationship with someone who you connect with in periods of loneliness.
- Developing a significant relationship with someone outside of your relationship and sharing things with this person that you do not share with your partner (i.e. your feelings, dreams, hopes and desires)
- Having romantic feelings toward someone outside of your relationship that you cultivate by ongoing contact, interactions and meetings
- Having a relationship outside of your partner that meets the emotional needs you long for your partner to meet
While the benefits to otherships are many (i.e. connection, companionship, approval, acceptance, etc.), they offer the opportunity to have your emotional needs met outside of your primary relationship. Some of you may be thinking, “are you saying that my partner is supposed to meet all of my emotional needs?” No, of course not. If that was the case, there would just be the two of you on Earth: people need people plain and simple. For those of us who value monogamy, there are certain needs we usually expect to be meet within the context of our relationships. Sex is likely an easy one to identify, but what about emotional vulnerability, safety, security, and trust. Do you expect to be one of the people your partner shares these needs with? What would it be like to learn that your partner does not share his need for vulnerability with you because he does not think he can communicate with you without conflict, so he turns to a co-worker? For some of you, this could feel threatening and uncomfortable.
In my expereince, otherships can act as a diversion to developmental stages in a relationship. Every relationship, yes, even yours, goes through developmental stages. Most of us come together with stars in our eyes (see Is it Love or Lust? for more information). When the new begins to fade, it is replaced with a typically conflictual period of learning to be together. If the couple can survive the stage of “Exactly how many water bottles do you need?” and “Why are your clothes all over the house?”, then they move into creating a life together. There is an awareness of one another’s triggers and preferences that aid in avoiding the conflicts that have gone before. The fourth stage of a relationship involves the creation and survival of a routine. While routines create safety and comfort, they also usher in boredom, which is a challenge in many relationships. There is more to be said about the life cycle of a relationship, but for the purposes of this blog I will only address these four. It is important to note that an othership can occur at any of the four stages.
If you are reading this and believe that you are in an othership, I offer a few suggestions on how to navigate this path:
- Tell your partner about your othership.
- Some otherships have evolved into flirting or other sexual exchanges. If this is you, your othership cannot continue. You have changed the rules of engagement and this relationship will likely need to be ended to protect your primary relationship.
- Identify what is missing, if anything, from your relationship. Share this with your partner to allow for the development of the relationship.
- Identify what is attractive about maintaining an othership for you. Does your othership offer you validation of your worth that you don’t feel you give yourself? Does your othership provide a space to talk that isn’t threatening because you don’t intend to be close to this person?
- Identify what makes you vulnerable to otherships. Do you turn toward others when you and your partner have an argument? Do you seek affection when you partner is out of town? Are you bored in your relationship and enjoy the excitement?
To summarize, I want to quickly delineate the difference between an othership and a friendship. Friendships typically support your primary relationship, are known to both members of the couple and are not used to meet significant emotional needs your partner does not. Otherships may be secretive, minimized, and rationalized. Most notably, otherships act as a diversion for one or both partners to working through a period of adjustment. If you are in an othership, know that you are normal, loveable and human. We all have needs for companionship and belonging that, at times, may be hard to get met through our primary relationship. Relationships require significant work and commitment to the process and even then, they can fail. I applaud anyone who has the courage to love wholeheartedly in the face of uncertainty.