POSITIVE CHANGE: Relationships like that of Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart are now no longer considered taboo.
POSITIVE CHANGE: Relationships like that of Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart are now no longer considered taboo. Frazer Harrison

RELATIONSHIPS: How to live and love your way

WHEN IT comes to relationships, old school rules may still apply, but so do a range of new ones.

It used to be that relationships had certain rules: male and female relationships were the norm, the male made the first move, you were engaged for a certain amount of time, marriage and children followed.

Pretty soon you were celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary.

But times have changed says social commentator Bernard Salt.

"Back in the '60s it was mum, dad and the kids and that was pretty much it," he said.

"Over the past 20 years we've seen the emergence of a range of different relationships and lifestyle options, for example the gay culture is now celebrated."

Relationships that were once taboo - older women and younger men, gay and lesbian partnerships, living together and not making it official, and even choosing not to have a relationship - are now more commonplace.

Increasing awareness of other people's lifestyles or preferences, perhaps through greater connection on social media, is behind our change of attitude, believes psychotherapist and relationship counsellor Shirley Hughes of Life Makeovers.

Feminism, as well as the Age of Aquarius, also saw a loosening up of old rules, she said.

Then there were television shows like Sex and the City, where sex before marriage and sexual freedom of women was considered completely acceptable.

Men, too, can "play the field" without it being thought immoral, except in strict religious terms.

The frenzy that surrounded Demi Moore's marriage to Ashton Kutcher, not forgetting the widely reported liaisons of stars such as Madonna, Mariah Carey and Sandra Bullock with men younger than themselves, also changed attitudes.

Recognition that loneliness is not tied to relationship status means more people also feel comfortable with living alone.

Says Eric Klinenberg, the author of Going Solo, a book about living alone: "People who live alone do get lonely.

"But so do people in marriages."

Where relationships once were bound by a strict set of rules, these days we are exposed to and mostly open to a whole range of relationships.

The old adage "each to their own" is the rule of thumb today.


Having a good relationship

  • Remember that, even though you are a couple, it's healthy to have different interests or even opinions. You don't have to agree on everything, even if you agree to disagree.
  • It doesn't hurt anyone to say sorry, or to be the person who ends an argument by making a compromise.
  • That said, it's important to know what needs you consider "essential" in a partnership and expect your significant other to honour those needs. You also need to maintain healthy boundaries.
  • It's never too late to begin discussing old issues that are still bothering you, as well as the new ones that will inevitably come up.
  • It's true that you should never go to bed angry with your partner. Ask yourself, will this matter in five years' time?

Marriage over the years

  • According to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines - and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world.
  • The first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dates to 4000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, where marriage served as a means of preserving power. In ancient Rome, marriage was a civil affair governed by imperial law.
  • In 1215, marriage was declared one of the church's seven sacraments, but it was only in the 16th century that the church decreed that weddings be performed in public, by a priest.
  • Thanks to feminism, marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy by the 1970s. At the same time, the rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage. Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce.
  • Marriage is now seen to be more about love and that has opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too.

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