What is the Bare Minimum in a Relationship?

How can you tell if you're getting the bare minimum in a relationship?
on June 20, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Laura Caruso LMHC

People write fairytales about grand gestures, declarations of love, or passionate displays of affection. No one writes love stories about the bare minimum in a relationship, as this is the non-negotiable kind of requirement that every couple needs to stay afloat. 

While it doesn’t sound that romantic, meeting these bare minimum requirements is fundamental to making a relationship work. After all, without these foundations, a couple can’t hope to build the kind of future worth writing novels about!

“Meeting the bare minimum ensures that both partners feel valued and understood, but exceeding these basics is key to fostering a deeper, more fulfilling connection,” says Laura Caruso, a licensed therapist and relationship expert.   

“Understanding and addressing these core expectations can help couples build a solid foundation to grow and enhance their relationship.”

So, are you getting the bare minimum in your relationship? And if you are, is it enough for you to feel fulfilled? With our expert guide, we dive into the meaning behind the bare minimum in a relationship and discover when to walk away if it’s not working out. 

What is the bare minimum in a relationship?

In all relationships, there is a certain standard that has to be set and met to foster a healthy, functional, and mutually satisfying dynamic. These elements create a foundation upon which a stronger, more complex relationship can be built.

These are known as the bare minimum standards that all romantic relationships need to make things work. 

“The 'bare minimum' in a relationship refers to the basic, essential behaviors and actions that partners should expect from one another to maintain a healthy and functioning relationship,” says Caruso. 

“This includes fundamental elements like respect, honesty, communication, and mutual support. While these basics are critical, they represent the starting point rather than the goal of a thriving relationship.”

These relationship standards are fundamental, forming the building blocks for a healthy dynamic to thrive. However, the bare minimum likely won’t fulfill your emotional needs and your partner has to make that extra effort to make the relationship work. 

Therefore, these bare minimum requirements should be the starting point, with all those other little things and actions adding up to form your perfect partner. 

What are some bare minimum relationship examples?

Bare minimum requirements can also be known as non-negotiables, with these core values being of utmost importance before you start to build a relationship. For example, the bare minimum includes mutual respect, trust, honesty, and open communication. 

“Some bare minimum elements of a relationship include treating each other with kindness and consideration, communicating regularly about issues in the relationship, providing emotional support, and honoring your commitment to one another through fidelity,” says Caruso.  

“These basic expectations contribute to trust and reliability in a relationship, allowing for deeper emotional connection and growth.”

What is considered the bare minimum in a relationship?

Everyone has their own needs in a relationship, with different couples ranking certain behaviors as more important than others. 

However, these bare minimum standards are essential to make your partner feel valued, appreciated, and understood in a relationship. Without these key requirements, there is no foundation for you both to grow. 

  1. Clarity: When you’re in a healthy relationship, you both should be completely clear on where you stand with one another. You should be in tune with each other’s needs and understand what stage of the relationship you’re at. If your partner is pulling away from defining ‘what you are’ or refuses to give you clarity on your future, this could be a red flag for your future. 

  2. Attraction: Mutual attraction is certainly a bare minimum in any relationship! Both partners should feel attracted to each other, and should never make their partner feel less than or unattractive. 

  3. Respect: This is one of the most vital requirements in any relationship, if there is no respect there is no foundation for a healthy connection. All personal relationships, not just romantic ones, should be founded on respect and understanding above all. 

  4. Priority: While people have different priorities in relationships, you should always feel like your partner prioritizes you. If you’re noticing a lack of effort in your relationship, it could be a sign that your partner isn’t prioritizing you. 

  5. Be there: When you’re in a committed relationship, you should feel like your partner will always be there for you when you need them. If they aren’t there for you, they aren’t meeting the bare minimum requirement in a relationship. 

  6. Acceptance: Relationships aren’t always plain sailing and you have to be accepting of these rough patches! If you aren’t willing to accept these bumps in the road or work on the relationship, it will never work out. 

  7. Finding faults: No relationship is perfect and there will be little things here and there that you wish you could change about your relationship. However, your partner should never make you feel any less than. Narcissists often target insecurities and critique their partners for their own gain — subjecting them to name-calling or other toxic behaviors. 

  8. Be real: Authenticity is a bare minimum requirement in any relationship. Every partner owes their loved ones the respect of authenticity and sincerity in any relationship, with the certainty that they can be their true selves around their partner. 

  9. Controlling tendencies: Since the bare minimum is set as respect, there is no room for controlling tendencies like gaslighting, breadcrumbing, or any other manipulative behaviors. If these are present, the bare minimum is not being met and there are grounds to end the relationship. 

  10. More than sex: While a sexual relationship is important, it should never be the be-all and end-all of any dynamic. Building an emotional connection, not just a sexual connection, is the bare minimum in any romantic relationship. 

  11. Sexual satisfaction: However, while sex isn’t everything, it is important! Both partners should feel sexually satisfied in a relationship and feel comfortable expressing their sexual wants and needs. 

  12. Commitment: Relationships are founded on commitment, and if you’re not willing to commit, you’re not reaching the bare minimum requirements for a relationship. 

  13. Loyalty: On that note, relationships are about loyalty. Monogamous relationships are founded on loyalty, with both partners maintaining this commitment the bare minimum for the relationship to work. 

  14. Equality: The well-being of the relationship is based on total equality. Both partners should feel equally loved and supported every step of the way. 

  15. Communication: As we always say, communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship. With open and honest communication, the couple can continue to build their connection. 

  16. Mutual growth: You should both be your biggest cheerleaders! Both partners should encourage and support each other’s personal growth and development. 

  17. Shared goals: Having shared goals and aspirations strengthens the bond between partners. If you don’t have a shared path, it’s impossible to foster a future together. While you don’t need to have all shared goals, it’s the bare minimum for your greatest life goals to align. 

  18. Kindness: If your partner isn’t kind, why are you together? Kindness and understanding are the bare minimum for any relationship, as you should always feel safe and respected by your partner. 

  19. Feeling secure: A healthy relationship provides a sense of security and stability! If you don’t feel secure in your relationship, or feel like your partner could leave you at any moment — the bare minimum requirements of a healthy relationship are not being met. 

  20. Compatibility: Compatibility in values, interests, and life goals is crucial for a lasting relationship! While opposites attract, compatibility is key for a long-term future.

What are the signs of a partner doing the bare minimum in a relationship?

Is your partner meeting these bare minimum requirements? While it’s a good start if your partner is meeting these standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s enough for a fulfilling relationship.

If your partner isn’t meeting your emotional needs, and just meeting the bare minimum, it will start to affect your well-being over time. The usual telltale signs include a consistent lack of effort, emotional distance, and lack of communication. 

These signs indicate a one-sided relationship, with one or neither partner meeting the bare minimum for a fulfilling relationship. 

“If your relationship feels one-sided or draining, this may be a sign your partner is only meeting the bare minimum requirements,” says Caruso.  

“These indicators can include a lack of initiative in planning activities or addressing issues, minimal effort in communication where conversations remain superficial, and limited emotional support, especially in times of need.”

“Additionally, inconsistency in presence, both physically and emotionally, and a lack of affection beyond the basic gestures can signal complacency,” says Caruso. 

What do you do if your partner is not giving the bare minimum effort/time?

If your partner isn’t fulfilling your emotional needs, or consistently making an effort, a healthy relationship can’t grow. 

While we don’t suggest throwing your toys out of the pram and demanding more attention or affection, it is important to take action to try to salvage your relationship. If you’ve decided that the bare minimum isn’t enough for you in your relationship, you have to communicate this to your partner to move forward. 

“Identifying these signs is crucial for fostering open communication and addressing areas where the relationship can grow beyond the bare minimum,” says Caruso. 

It’s only fair to communicate your needs to your partner, as they may not realize that they are not fulfilling them. 

  • Open communication: “Addressing these issues involves open and honest communication about your needs and expectations,” says Caruso. “Encourage your partner to engage more actively and meaningfully in the relationship.”

  • Seek a relationship therapist: “Sometimes, seeking the help of a relationship therapist can also provide tools and strategies to improve the dynamics and deepen the connection,” says Caruso. 

  • Timeline: “Set a timeline for improvement that both you and your partner can agree on; if the issues remain despite best efforts to address them, and there’s little to no improvement over time, it may be time to leave,” says Caruso. 

If the timeline is not met, or your partner continues to pull away or refuse to put in the effort, then it could be time to reanalyze your relationship. 

How do you end a bare minimum relationship?

No one deserves a relationship where you feel like you’re begging for the bare minimum. If your attempts to highlight the issues and your partner doesn’t work, it could be time to call time on your relationship. 

Even though there may be positive aspects to your relationship, if you feel like you’re settling or that your needs aren’t being met, it’s important to put your own well-being first. 

Take time to reflect on your feelings and reasons for wanting to end the relationship. Consider the aspects of the relationship that have led you to this point, and be honest with your partner about what’s brought you to this point. Faced with a break-up, your partner may vow to make more of an effort, but it’s up to you whether this is sincere. 

Every relationship break-up is a difficult thing to process, but remember that you deserve someone who will always be there and who makes the effort to meet your needs. 

That’s the kind of love story worth waiting for. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a bare minimum relationship and a healthy relationship?

    A bare minimum relationship is categorized by inconsistency, a lack of effort, and a fragile foundation of trust. In contrast, a healthy relationship features two individuals who openly communicate, trust one another, and are committed to making the relationship work.
  • What is the bare minimum in a long-distance relationship?

    Long-distance relationships require a lot of consistency, communication, and effort to maintain a healthy connection despite the distance. If your partner is putting in the bare minimum, they might be making just enough effort to keep the relationship afloat but not enough to make you feel supported and loved.
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