Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.
The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.
A forced marriage is a union in which one or both of the people involved aren’t able to refuse it. (By comparison, arranged marriages are different, requiring consent from the people involved and where happiness tends to be considered more in the selection process.) Forced marriages may be orchestrated by the parties’ families, guardians, or cultural leaders and are vulnerable to violence and mental health difficulties.
It’s important to understand that while this practice is condemned in much of the world, it is still accepted in places (and happens illegally in others). Outside pressures and expectations will play a part in how quickly (if at all) a reluctant spouse will become subordinate to their partner, as will other factors, such as personality and access to information that runs counter to their culture’s accepted norms. All of this will determine the dynamics in this unorthodox relationship.
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.
One partner being happy with the arrangement while the other is not
Both parties facing the union with reluctance
An uncertain partner eventually coming to a place of resignation, satisfaction, or even happiness with the arrangement
The unhappy party being brainwashed or gaslighted by those who arranged the marriage
The union taking the unwilling party far from family members, loved ones, and their support system
The unwilling partner putting on an agreeable face while they inwardly are miserable, fearful, or angry
The unwilling partner being forced into compliance through threats or abuse by their spouse or through pressure from outside sources (parents, religious leaders, cultural expectations, etc.)
An abusive relationship that disregards the needs or desires of the unwilling party
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
Someone involved in forcing the marriage having a change of heart about the set-up
Law enforcement challenging the legality of the marriage
The couple being unable to conceive children (if this is important to either of them)
The dominant partner taking a second spouse
The unwilling partner developing skills or gaining knowledge that enables them to fight their oppressor
The unwilling partner fleeing the marriage
One party converting to another religion
The unwilling partner finding a sympathetic ally
The dominant spouse sustaining an injury or illness that makes them vulnerable
A social or cultural revolution that makes forced marriages less accepted or illegal
The couple having to relocate to a location where forced marriages are taboo
An unwilling wife becoming pregnant, making it harder for her to escape
The subordinate spouse falling in love with someone else
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One partner wanting the marriage while the other does not
One partner wanting to control a spouse who desires autonomy
One party wanting out of the marriage, regardless of the outcome
One party wanting to convert to a different religion or leave their spouse’s religion
Either party seeking to kill the other
One spouse wanting to learn and grow while the other wants to keep things as they are
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Controlling and Rebellious, Independent and Needy, Weak-Willed and Persuasive, Dishonest and Honorable, Courteous and Disrespectful, Confrontational and Timid, Mature and Irresponsible, Trusting and Manipulative
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Depression and loneliness
Feeling trapped and helpless
Being motivated by fear (of violence, being disowned, letting one’s family down)
Arguments and fights
Being ostracized by family or society because of one’s unwillingness to comply
Losing relationships with friends, family members, or potential love interests
Becoming resigned to the arrangement
Subjecting oneself to the dominant spouse; losing one’s sense of identity and self
Being killed by an abusive partner
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Sharing grief in the death of a beloved family member
Experiencing and having to survive a shared trauma that creates a balance of power between the two parties
A situation that makes divorce a desirable option for both parties
Facing a common threat (someone threatening their child, a violent regime taking power, etc.)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
The dominant spouse experiencing a significant event that causes a change of heart
The unwilling partner coming to highly value the people in their support system
A subordinate spouse who cannot escape the marriage becoming determined to hold onto who they are and what they believe
A subordinate spouse recognizing their own strengths and finding ways to use them to help others
A subordinate spouse who can’t get out of the arrangement determining to find joy where they can and focus on the positive aspects of life
The unwilling spouse escaping the marriage and becoming an advocate for others
An “outsider” seeing the situation and deciding to fight this specific injustice
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Alienation, Beauty, Beginnings, Betrayal, Coming of age, Crossroads, Danger, Enslavement, Evil, Freedom, Friendship, Hope, Innocence, Isolation, Journeys, Love, Obstacles, Perseverance, Rebellion, Refuge, Religion, Suffering, Vulnerability
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.