Marriage & Divorce
May 27, 2022

What Is A Companionate Marriage?

Seeing each other as equals is key to this type of marriage.
Written by
Emily A. Klein
Published on
May 27, 2022
Updated on
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Companionate marriage is a type of relationship where companionship, rather than financial benefits, social acceptance, or raising children, is the primary goal. It can also describe a marriage in which friendship and emotional support are more important than romantic or sexual connection. While some people want sex to be a big part of their marriage, for others, companionate marriage can be rewarding and meaningful.

Companionate marriage isn’t a new concept

When people talk about companionate marriage today, it often has to do with the concept of “companionate love,” a kind of love that includes intimacy and commitment, but not passion and, sometimes, not sex. Historically, though, companionate marriage has meant a relationship where spouses choose to be together, treat each other as equals, respect each other’s contributions, and appreciate one another’s company. From the eighteenth century until fairly recently, companionate marriage was seen as an alternative to “traditional” marriage, in which raising children was the primary goal, love wasn’t seen as important, and women were subordinate to their husbands. In other words, many marriages in the United States would count as companionate marriages by eighteenth-century standards.

A companionate marriage may be chosen or happen over time

There are a variety of reasons a person might actively seek a companionate marriage: Some people are asexual or aromantic and want to experience the closeness and stability provided by marriage, but aren’t interested in the sexual or romantic components. For those in long-term relationships, sexuality may simply become less important over time. Even if one or both partners would still prefer to be sexual, the good parts of the relationship — companionship, mutual support, emotional connection, family stability, and financial security — can mean that transitioning from romantic to companionate marriage makes sense. 

For some, this type of arrangement may feel necessary

Some people feel social, cultural, or religious pressure to get married, and may end up married to someone with whom they don’t feel a sexual or romantic connection. If someone is gay, for example, but doesn’t feel able to express their true identity, they might end up married to someone of the opposite sex. Some people might not desire marriage but feel that they need to be married to fit in with their community, or to get the social and financial benefits that often come with making a lifetime commitment to a spouse. 

Can a companionate marriage be good? 

In order for companionate marriage to work, both partners must agree that it’s the right choice. If one person desires sexual and/or romantic connection with their spouse while the other doesn’t, a companionate marriage probably isn’t a good fit.

If both spouses are on the same page, however, companionate marriage can provide a deep level of fulfillment. Research has shown that marriage provides a range of physical and mental health benefits. For people who want to enjoy the benefits of marriage, but don’t want to or can’t participate in a sexual or romantic relationship with their spouse, companionate marriage can be a great way to experience closeness, intimacy, and partnership without the expectation of sex. 

The bottom line 

Some couples find that companionate marriage lets them fulfill their need for a deep, committed relationship, even when sex isn’t part of the picture. Remember that there’s no one right way to be married: Finding fulfillment in a marriage that prioritizes friendship and mutual care over physical connection and romance is a valid choice that works well for many long-term couples. If you’re interested in exploring other relationship structures, learn about alternate relationship types.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Emily A. Klein is a freelance writer with deep interests in science, culture, and health. As a student of cultural anthropology, she researched and wrote about kink, reproductive rights, cross-cultural medicine, and humans’ relationship with technology. She has designed and implemented a sexual health curriculum for adolescent girls, worked with foster youth and people experiencing housing insecurity, and volunteered as an emergency first responder. Her writing has appeared in The Establishment, Edible magazine, The Seattle Lesbian, Slog, and elsewhere.

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