The purpose of a relationship

It’s not about our partner making us happy

Alex asked,

“What are some appropriate reasons to actually want to be in a relationship?” “What should be the purpose of a relationship? What should be its end goal?”

The short answer: it really depends on who you ask, and what your overall “life” mindset is.

The conservative approach

“The purpose of a relationship is to live within and maintain the social structures, i.e., get married and have kids.”

People with this purpose in mind are the ones who get very anxious about “defining” the relationship so that they know “what this is” and “where we’re going.”

The codependent approach

“The purpose of a relationship is to find your better half; the person that ‘completes’ you; your ‘everything.’”

These are the people with a “scarcity” mindset regarding themselves and their lives, looking for external things — and people — to fill the void. This is often pawned off as “romantic,” but it isn’t healthy.

The self-centered approach

“The purpose of a relationship is to be happy” or “grow as an individual” or “to get my needs met.”

Because what better way to make ourselves better than “using” — or “through the lens of” — someone else?

The fear-loaded approach

“I just don’t want to be lonely” or “I’m terrified of dying alone.”

Treating other human beings like living and breathing security blankets.

The nihilist approach

“There is no purpose.”


The healthy approach

The big problem with a lot of these reasons — happiness, status and security, commitment, sex, children, and to avoid being lonely or dying alone — is that they all leave your life and emotional wellbeing in the hands of people other than yourself; i.e., something outside of our control.

With the above reasons:

Your happiness depends on someone else.
Your security depends on someone else.
Your sexual satisfaction depends on someone else.
Your “life purpose” depends on someone else.
Your “completeness” as a person depends on someone else. 
Your lack of loneliness depends on someone else.

And what happens when shit goes down? Because other people are outside of our control, and dumping a huge chunk of our emotional wellbeing into external things — like another human being’s decisions and behavior — is reckless at best. The only person you have full control over is yourself.

Dependency is not love.

Agency & Love

What if the purpose of your relationship was something unconditional and something that you could take responsibility for? Such as:

  • Practicing love — of self and others
  • Enjoying the big adventure called life together, ups and downs alike

Both of these are within a framework of personal accountability for our own emotional needs — never dumping them on others, or trying to pull them from them. They emphasize our own ownership and responsibility in both good times and bad times.

And it’s really about focusing on:

  1. Your efforts and responsibilities
  2. Your partner’s benefits

Rather than the other way around. Way too many people focus on what they “get” from what they expect their partner to do.

It’s taking agency for our happiness — and then, theirs. It’s being there for ourselves — and then, them. It’s making sure that we’re taking responsibility for our emotional needs and wellbeing — and then, investing in theirs.

Is this enough of a purpose? I’m not sure.

But practicing love of self and others certainly makes life a little richer, and that’s probably reason enough to give it an earnest go.