How does intimacy change a relationship?

Relationship models - then and now

From the "continuity biography" to the "serial relationship pattern"

A wonderful dream - at a time when the divorce rate of around 200,000 couples annually is higher than ever. Our demands on a relationship have increased and with it the willingness to end it if things don't go well.

The same old-fashioned relationship biography still haunts our heads. We all dream of love for life, of the person with whom we share our life "until death do us part".

But despite these wishes, times have changed tremendously. The so-called "continuity biography" of relationships has turned into a "serial relationship pattern".

This was also shown by the figures from a study by the University of Hamburg in 2006: "Late modern worlds of relationships: Report on partnership and sexuality in three generations". According to this, today's 30-year-olds already had significantly more relationships - and accordingly more separations - than 60-year-olds, although the latter are of course twice as old.

Relationships have changed

But also the separations among couples who have been living together for 25 years and more are increasing dramatically, knows the Aachen sex therapist Dr. Ulrike Brandenburg. Apparently it's harder to maintain a long-term relationship these days. The trends of blended families, companions in life and single societies are well described.

Incidentally, scientists no longer speak of "singles" but of "searchers" when the people are in the partner-free phase. Because young people in particular do not experience being single as a preferred lifestyle, but rather as a time to wait for the next relationship.

What happened? Have we become tired of relationships or are we even less capable of relationships than previous generations? Is it true that we "throw in the towel too quickly", as the younger generation is often accused of?

Definitely not, says the sex researcher, psychotherapist and social psychologist Prof. Gunter Schmidt. The high level of relationship mobility that we experience today has nothing to do with the loss of the ability to relate and excessive individualization.

Relationships just got different. The models have changed, as has our social environment.

Dependency through the traditional division of roles

In traditional marriages in particular, you needed less commitment to be able to have a lasting relationship, as the institution of marriage, which was powerful at the time, was considered indissoluble anyway. Their symbolic-religious power guaranteed cohesion, a divorce was almost unthinkable in the social community.

In addition, the spouses were an economic unit that could hardly be dissolved because husband and wife were dependent on each other. The traditional division of roles also meant dependency for a couple - one could not cook or manage the household with children, the other did not know how to earn the money and had no professional training.

All of these outer anchors have disappeared. There was the sexual revolution, emancipation, the breaking of the traditional distribution of roles and with it a strong social change. Today the relationship is primarily about the two partners themselves.

Therefore, in order to be able to maintain a relationship, people today need a lot more relationship work and ability than in the past. Of course, this also leads to significant changes within the partnership.

Maintaining a partnership means a lot of work

The traditional continuous relationship biography is becoming increasingly rare. People used to have a main biography with a partner: marry early, have children and stay together until old age. Today we have a strong tendency towards the so-called chain biographies. People have three or more relevant relationships in their life.

In addition to the value concept of the long duration of a relationship, which still plays an important role, we have now opted for a higher quality in relationships.

Relationships are not based on material things, but rather on emotions and intimacy. You want to trust a partner, rely on him, be understood, experience closeness, security and also sexuality.

That is positive, but also complicated, because the quality of the relationship today has to compete with the duration of the relationship. If the quality is no longer right, then the duration of a relationship has also lost its value.

Every change brings a new quality to the relationship

But this also means that we need a lot of bonding ability in relationships today, because a lot of work is necessary to maintain the partnership. We need personal growth in a relationship, which also makes the bond with the partner mobile in the long term and allows changes.

Every change always means a new quality for the relationship - but also the possibility of realizing that it may no longer work.