Types of Relationships: Figuring Out Where You Stand
Different types of relationships and how they work
The definition of a relationship can be broad but it’s typically divided into three main categories. Family relationships are ingrained and primal; then we start to form friendships outside our family tribe; finally, romantic, generally agreed by scientists and poets alike to be the most profound1
Let’s look at different types of relationships in love.
- Monogamous relationships: Monogamous relationships are the most common types of relationships. This is a form of commitment between two people without any allowances for infidelity.
- Polyamorous relationships: A polyamorous relationship is between three or more people. They can differ in their configuration, with just one party having an external partner, a shared partner or freely pursuing other romantic opportunities while remaining committed to each other.
- Long-distance relationships: Long-distance relationships between people who can’t regularly see each other, often rely on technology to maintain intimacy. Of the many different definitions of a relationship, long-distance is often one of the more challenging.
- Intercultural relationships: An intercultural relationship is between people of different cultures. This can be American and Canadian or a Senegalese and a Vietnamese person. Religious differences can add another level of challenge, as can differing courting vs dating practices.
- LGBTQ+ relationships: LQBTQ+ relationships is an umbrella term for the many types of relationships that aren’t between a cis-male and cis-female. Sexuality, gender identity and the wide spectrum of variety within such relationships are all considerations.
- Age-gap relationships: An age-gap relationship is defined as one that’s generationally significant but depending on your point of view, this could mean anything from five years difference to 20+. There is a gendered stigma around some of these relationships – ask any woman dating a younger man – but this can be misrepresented.
How to describe your relationship
In the haze and fog of the dating scene, defining yours out of all the types of relationships can be a challenge. You and your partner may not even agree.
They may see it as something casual, or what people are calling a situationship, meaning nothing is agreed yet. This may change with time but you do need to be on the same page. They may even think you’re already in an exclusive relationship. It’s always best to work on your communication and agree on the definition or at least your level of commitment. But the talk does need to be had so don’t be afraid to find the definition of a relationship that applies.
Common challenges in different types of relationships
Whatever stage your relationship has reached, obstacles are waiting to trip you up.
When you’re casually dating, trust can be a big issue. Do you put all your eggs in one basket or do you carry on looking while exploring the potential? You may even be in a rebound relationship, which doesn’t bode well. A Gitnux survey found that these have less than a 19% chance of lasting longer than two years2.
As you enter a more long-term relationship, you may find conflicts arise easily. This is when it becomes vital to co-establish healthy ways of communicating.
Healthy vs unhealthy relationships
The problem with assessing your relationship is you’re trying to gain a perspective from the inside, which produces biases. Here’s what a healthy romantic relationship looks like:
- Deep conversations about the relationship don’t make either of you uncomfortable
- You show consistent respect for each other
- Being vulnerable doesn’t make you uneasy
- You feel equal in the relationship
- You are each other’s sources of support
And here’s what an unhealthy one looks like:
- Not trusting each other and expressing that through controlling and aggressive behaviors
- They don’t respect your boundaries
- A tumultuous relationship where you fight often and over inconsequential things
- You have an on-and-off relationship that is vulnerable to breakups but just as flimsy on reuniting
- There’s any form of abuse in the relationship
Cultural and societal differences in a romantic relationship
Nowhere are the different dynamics in types of relationships in love more keenly experienced than in relationships that don’t fit our outdated, heteronormative idea of romance.
Gender roles are under the microscope and the old masculine/feminine dichotomy is no more. It’s important to be more fluid about this in modern dating. The increased presence of LGBTQ+ people in the conventional dating scene has changed a lot of our dating models and how diverse our romantic opportunities can be.
Dating across cultures can also be fraught with complexity, particularly when religion is added to the mix. You may even need to maintain a secret relationship with one of your respective families until you can broach the issue respectfully – which can cause strain.
Relationship advice and tips
Whatever types of relationships you’re thinking about, here are some tips eharmony has collected over our 20 years in the field.
- Focus on getting to know as much about them as possible
- Be yourself. It may not all be pretty but you can’t keep it hidden forever
- Early arguments are the most important so make sure they’re healthy from the offset
- Showcase your reliability
In an established relationship:
- Make sure you’re taking care of yourself as much as you are them
- Don’t let healthy behaviors give way to an increasingly toxic relationship
- Show your affection verbally or through affirming gestures
- Try to be emotionally flexible
In a mature relationship:
- Never stop vocally appreciating each other
- Try to surprise them instead of getting stuck in a rut
- Look for recurring issues and try to find their root cause to permanently address them
Worry less about different types of relationships and focus on the uniqueness of yours
The pillars of any healthy relationship are trust, communication and empathy. These sound easy enough but it’s important to be aware when your actions are putting these at risk.
While the ingredients may be few, the ways to contribute and take away from them are myriad. So always focus on discovering new healthy relationship patterns. At eharmony, our focus on compatibility means we try to bring people together who work well as couples from the get-go. We’ve helped make happy, healthy relationships for over 20 years, so sign up today for your best chance of finding one.