Erin Mallory Long
May 28, 2014 7:00 am

Romantic relationships can be a tricky thing to navigate. When you’re dating someone, how do you refer to them? When is it time to use the girlfriend/boyfriend titles? What if you’re older and don’t want to use boyfriend/girlfriend? Is “partner” appropriate? Before my husband and I got engaged, we registered as domestic partners so I could go on his health insurance.

Ultimately, like so many things in life, it comes down to what you want and what you are comfortable with. I have no problem referring to my husband as such but “hubby” makes my skin crawl. I definitely understand the argument that the word “husband” basically means “householder” etymologically speaking and no, I’m not super comfortable with that but what are our other options? (Besides, of course, resorting to old-timey terms like fere, leman, yoke-fellow, half-marrow, paragon, helpmeet.” 

Let’s explore!


In my personal experience, I mostly hear “partner” from couples who are over 30 and not necessarily planning on getting married. I think it makes sense and, of course, it’s kind of nice it’s the same term for both people in a relationship. It’s not based on gender or anything, it’s just “we are partners” which should be the heart of any romantic relationship anyway.

Could also use “life partner” or, as mentioned “domestic partner.”


Spouse, like partner, is an interchangeable term not based on gender so I do understand the appeal. The problem is using it in conversation. “Ah yes, my spouse Jimmy works there” sounds a bit stilted to me.


I guess this isn’t a real term but it IS a way people to refer to each other so I’m including it. I don’t personally care for this but that’s fine. It just feels too goofy for me. Also, I think the weirdest thing is – at least with people I know – “wifey” seems to mostly be used for by girls for their BFFs.

Significant Other

Significant other is again, just a mouthful. (“You sir, are a mouthful.” – Tobias) It’s so clunky to have to actually say in conversation and then do you just say SO? Which also sounds so much life Gaby Hoffman in Sleepless in Seattle with her MFEO. Too much.


I guess the biggest problem with this is it’s just female based. Do you call your husband mister then? And it’s weird because do you refer to him directly as that or just in conversation?

Everything about this is hard. I guess at least we have lots of options to choose from so everyone can do what feels right for them. Just like weddings and, well, life, the most important thing is what you’re comfortable with. So like, if you’d rather “boo thang” I’ll respect that too.

What are your preferred terms for husband/wife/significant other/partner?

(Main image via Shutterstock)