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Platonic Life Partnerships - an alternate happy ever after

Platonic life partnerships and romantic relationships share many similarities, such as sharing living arrangements and life experiences together, emotional intimacy, close and frequent communication and mutual emotional and practical support. Traditionally, only romantic relationships will also have sexual intimacy and physical affection. Most platonic partnerships do not have shared sexual intimacy, but some have physical affection, like spooning in bed and cuddles. The challenge to this definition, is that many romantic partnerships are lacking in the bedroom and some couples can’t or don’t have sex, so the lines become hard to draw at times.

We know that having healthy and positive relationships, platonic or romantic generates a myriad of benefits for mental health, wellbeing and even longevity. Are PLPs just as potent as romantic relationships for long term benefits? The difference between the two types of relationships is a fascinating and yet relatively unexplored area of research.

With the growing cost of living, we know that collaborating in a pair or a group provides great financial benefit. What we are seeing is an increase in platonic life partnerships for people as they age. The option to grow old with a friend or sibling, sharing financial benefits and supports has become a viable and rewarding option - the Golden Girls lifestyle yes please! Plus, the financial and emotional cost of divorce is entirely out of the equation.

Balancing a primary platonic partnership and any sidebar romantic relationship can be tough. It’s not easy for a romantic partner to play second fiddle, and this can cause tension, and restrict the options for a PLP to find romance. But the market for no-strings-attached loving, and open sexual relationships is expanding, and it can work when all parties are consenting, communicating and if they set clear boundaries. There’s a lot that PLPs can learn from the polyamory community on balancing primary and secondary partnerships, which is complex, but not impossible.

Much like the challenge that many same-sex relationships experienced, up until the recent changes, platonic life partnerships are not currently recognised in many legal contexts. This creates challenges for partners to receive government and insurance benefits, or to obtain joint financial products, share a family, and in some cases receive next-of-kin recognition. The law may need to catch up to the community to adjust for new forms of relationship recognition.

One of the benefits of being in a platonic life partnership, is that the boundaries and shape of the relationship is entirely up to you and your partner. This type of relationship has no current cultural or social expectation. You can decide what constitutes your ongoing partnership, and what works for you. Many PLPs share living expenses, homes, holidays, finances and investments. Many PLPs have a shared and clear agreement of how to manage external romantic relationships.

Because PLPs aren’t recognised in the same way as married and defacto partnerships, getting statistics on how many PLPs exist in Australia is difficult. Anecdotally, we see growing numbers of PLPs coming in for support to maintain their relationships and we estimate that about 5% of our clientele are in a PLP. Our clients represent only PLPs struggling in their relationship, so the number out their living happily without challenges may be even higher. We would love to see some research to explore growing trends and also comparing PLPs and romantic relationships on wellbeing scales.

Finding love is difficult, finding life-long love with one person is incredibly challenging. People have the option now to take the pressure off finding long-term monogamy, and their fairy-tale happily ever after, to explore new and often more sustainable kinds of relationships that are similarly satisfying. We are seeing changes in what constitutes a ‘traditional’ romantic relationship, and this has paved the way for people to explore more non-traditional forms of living that may suit their lifestyle, or often as the case is, luck at life, better.

If you are lucky enough to find both a romantic and platonic life partner – that’s incredible and you must be an expert at juggling competing needs. With any great relationship, it starts with positive communication. We need to be actively and honestly communicating with both the platonic and romantic partner. We also need to set clear boundaries for what constitutes each relationship, and any hard lines that may exist particularly around sexual and emotional intimacy. All parties need to be informed and consent to be part of the equation, and it should be appropriate to each person’s needs.

If you’re thinking about spending the rest of your life with a platonic partner, there’s a high chance you are already on your way to a shared life. We suggest doing a deep dive into your values and life goals with the person. Explore what you both want out of life, how you would like to live, and your views on where romantic partnerships sit within the dynamic. If you need support to have this discussion, we are more than happy to help.


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