What Are Different Types of Relationships? – Platonic, romantic, sexual. Partners, spouses, or just friends. There are soooo many ways people interact with—and need—each other. It can be helpful to know more about the way we connect because today’s definitions are evolving. Here’s a roundup.
Humans are innately social beings. Even those who prefer their own company typically have a broad network of other people that make a big impact on their lives.
Understanding the kind of relationship you have with another person (or people) and what that might mean can sometimes be hard. This is partly because there are as many different forms of relationships as there are people to have relationships with.
Almost all of us will have most of the following relationship types throughout our lives. They can also tend to change over time, becoming more or less close or changing type, such with the breakup of a romance.
What Is a Platonic Relationship?
Platonic relationships are those you have with people you are especially close to but don’t have a sexual or romantic relationship with. Examples include close friends and mentors. According to Nicolas Meade, PsyD, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of Medicine’s Gender Program, “we generally hold great affection and care for our platonic partners, just without romantic or sexual desire.”
This type of relationship can be as fulfilling, intimate, and loving as any other relationship type, but it’s often less narrowly defined. It can also involve any number of people, from a pair of best friends to a larger group.
Most people have many different platonic relationships throughout their lives, from the time they are very young. They can come and go or last a lifetime.
And there isn’t always a total lack of romantic or sexual desire, either. You might develop these feelings for people you once only viewed platonically, or platonic relationships can develop out of terminated (or never initiated) romantic and/or sexual relationships. As long as these desires aren’t acted on, the relationship would still be considered platonic.
What Are Familial Relationships?
There is a lot of variation in familial relationships, a term that covers parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, stepparents, siblings, cousins, children, and many others. Familial relationships are often among the most important in people’s lives, in addition to the longest-lasting.
When there is significant family dysfunction, such as neglect or abuse, or when family members pass away, people often turn to what are called “chosen families.” (This can happen in the absence of trauma or loss, too.) These are similar, deep but non-romantic relationships that center on people we meet later in life and who aren’t connected to us genetically. Meade emphasizes that while “we generally do not have a choice who we are connected to in a familial way […] chosen families are valid familial relationships, too.” He also points out that “conflict can be quite normal” among families and isn’t always a sign of dysfunction.
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Family, whether we’re born into it or choose it, plays an important role in how we develop as individuals. Our understanding of culture and how we fit into society, for example, often begins with family. Traditions are typically passed down through family lines as well.
Defining Romantic Relationships
These are best understood as relationships with a deeper level of intimacy and commitment than friendships. You might feel comfortable sharing thoughts, fantasies, and experiences with your romantic partner that you don’t with anyone else. According to Meade, you’re also likely to be more physically intimate with them: “Some romantic relationships involve physical expressions of intimacy that may be different from platonic and/or sexual relationships (holding hands, hugging, cuddling, etc.).”
Romantic relationships are often sexual, but they aren’t always. Non-sexual romances are just as valid.
There isn’t always an easy way to describe the difference between a romantic and a close platonic relationship. As a rule, a healthy romantic relationship involves more intimacy, a deeper bond of trust, and a mutual understanding of the role that all the people involved play in each other’s lives. They also tend to involve making a clear commitment to one another.
About Sexual Relationships
Sexual relationships form any time you engage in sexual activity with other people, which can be as part of another kind of relationship (such as a friendship or romance) or on its own. They can last any length of time and involve any number of other people. They also often come alongside romantic relationships, so some people think of them as the same, but this isn’t the case.
Some people only form sexual relationships with romantic partners, some only enter into casual relationships without a romantic element, and others have a mix of these throughout their lives.
As sex involves a deep level of physical intimacy, clear and unambiguous consent from everyone involved is essential. Meade emphasizes that, “while consent is important to all relationships, it plays a uniquely important role in sexual relationships, and partners should talk about consent throughout the relationship and with every encounter.”
What Are Polyamorous Relationships?
Polyamorous relationships are usually romantic or sexual and involve multiple partners at the same time. The relationship with each partner can be different, and each partner can also have other relationships of their own.
A polyamorous relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that the people involved aren’t committed to one another. Some involve groups of people who are comfortable with their partner having relationships with multiple people, while others involve a small group who are only in relationships with one another. In some cases, partners in the same relationship might not know one another or have an entirely different relationship of their own.
Meade notes that “a healthy polyamorous relationship, just like any relationship, requires strong communication skills and respect for one’s partners.”
Psychologists have defined these different relationship types by looking at multiple dimensions of relating, including communication, romance, trust, sexuality, and the number of involved partners. But the ways we relate to one another are as diverse as the individuals in the relationships. Over time, as we observe and acknowledge more configurations of human beings, this list will expand and overlap.