Throughout human history, bonds and connections have been the bedrock of societies. These ties, which span from fleeting acquaintances to life-long commitments, shape our experiences, decisions, and narratives.

Among the various bonds we encounter, partnerships and relationships are particularly significant. Though they often intertwine and overlap, each holds unique attributes and purposes. Frequently mistaken as synonymous, understanding the nuances between them can enhance the quality of our interactions and associations. While relationships celebrate emotional connections and shared histories, partnerships are a testament to combined objectives and mutual growth.

“A partnership is a type of relationship; however, every relationship is not a partnership,” said Jasmynn Abernathy, LMFT. “A partnership is intentional, requiring both parties to agree on the parameters of the relationship.”

“Every partnership is different, but each partner would bring a specific set of qualities that are supportive of the overall health of the relationship dynamic,” she added.

Abernathy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and relationship coach based in California. She is the owner and a psychotherapist at Willow Therapy and Counseling. Abernathy spoke with 21Ninety to take a closer look at partnership versus relationships — the key differences and how to achieve a partnership.

A Partnership is the Goal

Dating, at its essence, seeks more than just emotional connection; it aims for a partnership. While attraction and feelings lay the groundwork, a successful long-term bond often hinges on mutual growth and shared aspirations. It’s about finding someone to navigate life’s challenges, celebrate successes, and build a shared future.

“A relationship can definitely evolve into a partnership when both parties deliberately establish this specific dynamic. I don’t believe you unintentionally slide into a partnership. You’ll know your relationship is more of a partnership when you begin discussing your relationship expectations on both sides and how each of you contributes to the long-term goals of the relationship,” the psychotherapist said.

“You may also recognize a steady pattern of give-and-take, which reassures that each of you is fairly contributing to the relationship,” she continued.

Abernathy revealed that just because a couple is in a partnership doesn’t mean they possess a “deeper connection [all the time].”

“I would venture to say that those involved in a partnership may have a greater sense of commitment to the relationship. A major factor here is intentionality. Making a sound-minded decision to partner with someone is very different from being connected to someone simply based on an emotional experience,” Abernathy shared.

Transition to a Partnership

Transitioning a relationship into a partnership requires intention and strategy. As emotions run deep in relationships, introducing purpose can be challenging. Both parties must align on shared goals, articulate roles clearly, and maintain open communication. This shift, while demanding, can deepen the bond and pave the way for combined achievements.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate! Your partner is not a mind reader. Maybe you started off less intentional about your relationship. If that’s shifted for you, talk about it. Talk about what partnership looks like to you and what it means to you,” explained Abernathy.

Abernathy added that an individual should not be afraid to walk away from the relationship if their partner isn’t in agreeance for a partnership and the relationship isn’t a good fit.

“Having similar goals is essential when it comes to establishing partnerships. Folks can be in a relationship, have entirely different outlooks on life, and have very different long-term goals,” she expressed. “Some relationships don’t evolve beyond the talking or dating stage to the partnership stage because there isn’t substantial communication about each person’s desires and aspirations.”

 A couple’s intentions is what will prompt a commitment.  

“If you want a partnership, don’t settle for a relationship incomplete with parameters and a mutual understanding of expectations. Maybe you’re in a space where you don’t desire partnership, and that’s okay. However, if you prefer partnership and desire a lasting, fulfilling connection, ensure your actions align with that goal and communicate this as you’re dating.”