What Are Different Types of Relationships?

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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What Are Different Types of Relationships?

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.


Terms That Describe Intimate Relationship Types and Dynamics

Why does it matter?

Relationships are a big part of life.

Terms That Describe Intimate Relationship Types and Dynamics – Whether it’s family or friends, acquaintances or lovers, folks online or IRL, or anything and everything in between, it can be challenging to find the right words to discuss different relationship roles and dynamics.

Terms A to C


In the context of relationships, accepting refers to the act of learning to embrace your partner(s) for who they are — including their traits, behaviors, and needs — at the present moment and as they shift over time.

The process of genuinely accepting your partner involves reflecting on your potential tendency to change, judge, or become easily irritated by aspects of who they are or how they behave.


Active and passive describes a power dynamic frequently observed between partners in relationships and families.

An active/passive dynamic can appear in many areas of the relationship. For example:

  • household chores
  • initiating foreplay or sex
  • having difficult conversations
  • taking on financial responsibilities
  • prioritizing health and well-being

Typically, the person who takes the initiative or makes a decision in the situation is considered the active person.

The person who remains unresponsive, disengaged, apathetic, or overpowered (physically or emotionally) is the passive person.


This word and category describe those who experience sexual attraction.

Use of this term helps normalize the experience of being asexual and provides a more specific label to describe those who aren’t part of the asexual community.


Asexual identity or orientation includes individuals who experience little or no sexual attraction to others of any gender.

Asexual can also refer to the spectrum of asexuality that includes a number of other sexual and romantic identities that describe those who experience little sexual attraction or none at all.


A balanced relationship is one where there are equal and healthy amounts of giving and taking.

Considering the amount of affection, energy, love, and support you give and receive in a relationship is a good way to assess which areas feel balanced, and which areas could use more attention or intention.

What balance looks like in each relationship may be different, and is dependent upon each person involved feeling valued, respected, and getting their needs met.

Basically or close friends

These terms describe a platonic bond that most often exists between two friends that have a great deal of love, care, and nonromantic affection for one another.

These types of relationships can often resemble sexual or romantic relationships in terms of time spent, care, and commitment, but often don’t include the sexual or romantic elements.

Platonic relationships between close friends frequently involve flirtation, admiration, and commitment, but don’t indicate anything about any party’s sexual or romantic attraction or preferences.


This describes a type of relationship that is not yet defined or labeled and often requires less commitment than relationships that are formal, or not casual.

Given the somewhat vague nature of the word, it’s hard to know exactly what someone means when they describe a relationship this way.

The meaning and expectations attached to casual relationships can vary greatly from person to person.

For example, some casual relationships are sexual, while others aren’t.

It’s important to speak with friends and partners about how you define a casual relationship to ensure you’re on the same page and can respect one another’s needs and boundaries.

Changing or working hard

These terms refer to the act of putting energy into shifting aspects of the relationship or individual involved in the relationship.

This “work” is often rooted in the desire for improvement or increased happiness in the relationship.

While changing or working hard in a relationship can be a sign of commitment, it can also be a sign of incompatibility or that one person is not getting their emotional or physical needs met.

Civil union

Also known as a civil partnership, civil union refers to the legally binding union between two parties.

This type of legally recognized partnership only provides state-level legal protections and privileges.

The terms associated with civil unions vary from state to state and don’t afford people the same federal protections and benefits as marriage does.

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Terms That Describe Intimate Relationship Types and Dynamics


This is a relationship dynamic that lacks the emotional and physical boundaries that are necessary to have a healthy and respectful relationship long-term relationship.

Though the term codependent is sometimes used to describe people or personal traits, it more accurately captures behaviors, actions, or tendencies.

Codependency can take different forms, but some signs are:

  • taking on your partners’ issues
  • taking care of them, sometimes at the cost of not caring for yourself
  • losing touch with who you are as an independent person
  • lacking your own relationships
  • putting your partner’s needs before your own


This refers to the act of living in the same household as someone you’re in a relationship with.

Partners can make the decision to cohabitate in any stage of a relationship, and for a variety of reasons that might be connected to:

  • the stage of the relationship
  • personal values
  • financial benefits
  • convenience
  • practicality

Different people attach different values and assumptions to taking the step to cohabitate, so it’s important to speak openly about what this step means in the context of your relationship(s).


This describes a relationship that includes intention and accountability, with regard to:

  • time spent
  • level of prioritization
  • desire to work through conflict
  • openness to a future or long-term engagement
  • dedication to meeting one another’s needs


This term describes the period of time before two people formally engage in a relationship that involves a long-term commitment to a future together.

The values and intentions ascribed to a given courtship can change from person to person, culture to culture, and relationship to relationship.

Terms D to K


This is the act of participating in a shared activity with the intention of spending time with or getting to know someone.

Dating, or going on a date, is often a first step in exploring a platonic, romantic, or sexual interest or attraction to someone.

The expectations associated with dating can change from person to person and culture to culture.

Speaking about what dating means to you can help foster communication, honesty, and trust in the early stages of getting to know someone you’re platonically, romantically, or sexually interested in or attracted to.


In the context of a relationship, disconnected refers to distant feelings or a lack of emotional connection.

Emotional disconnection is often a result of one or more of the following:

  • not getting your needs met
  • looking for someone outside the relationship to meet those needs
  • lack of communication
  • incompatibility


Dominating, or dominant, can be used to describe traits associated with a person or a relationship dynamic.

Often viewed in opposition to “submissive,” dominating refers to the act of asserting physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological control in a relationship, situation, or particular interaction.

When a person or relationship dynamic has dominating qualities, it can cause a temporary or ongoing power imbalance in a relationship.

For some, this shift in power is a positive thing and contributes to aspects of compatibility and attraction.

For others, this shift can be experienced as threatening, disrespectful, or nonconsensual.

Discussing your observations about dominance and dominating traits in a relationship can help you and your partners approach power dynamics with honesty and intention, while also providing you with a deeper understanding of the role this power dynamic plays in your relationship.

Domestic partnership

This describes a type of relationship that involves two people who are cohabitating and in a relationship with one another but aren’t legally married.

Although domestic partnership is a legal status, it doesn’t provide the same benefits, rights, or privileges as civil unions or marriages.


This refers to the period of time in a relationship before a formal, legal, or ceremonial commitment, but after the parties involved agree to this future commitment.

Some people associate engagement with a proposal from one person to another or giving the gift of a ring, while others may not attach a particular action, item, or tradition to entering this stage of a relationship.

Friends with benefits

This term describes a relationship that includes elements of friendship, with the addition of another relationship dynamic, often romantic or sexual attraction.

The particular benefits that come in addition to friendship is determined by each person involved and can vary from relationship to relationship.

Some people use the term to communicate their desire to keep things casual or have the opportunity to see other people.

Others use this term to indicate that they want the relationship to resemble that of a friendship but have the benefit of sex or physical intimacy.

How to Have a Better Relationship

Salvabrani.com – Can you spot a good relationship? Of course nobody knows what really goes on between any couple, but decades of scientific research into love, sex and relationships have taught us that a number of behaviors can predict when a couple is on solid ground or headed for troubled waters. Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all — effort. Keep reading for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.

Love and Romance

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge for couples is how to rekindle the fires of romance from time to time and cultivate the mature, trusting love that is the hallmark of a lasting relationship.

What’s Your Love Style?
When you say “I love you,” what do you mean?

Terry Hatkoff, a California State University sociologist, has created a love scale that identifies six distinct types of love found in our closest relationships.

Romantic: Based on passion and sexual attraction
Best Friends: Fondness and deep affection
Logical: Practical feelings based on shared values, financial goals, religion etc.
Playful: Feelings evoked by flirtation or feeling challenged
Possessive: Jealousy and obsession
Unselfish: Nurturing, kindness, and sacrifice
Researchers have found that the love we feel in our most committed relationships is typically a combination of two or three different forms of love. But often, two people in the same relationship can have very different versions of how they define love. Dr. Hatkoff gives the example of a man and woman having dinner. The waiter flirts with the woman, but the husband doesn’t seem to notice, and talks about changing the oil in her car. The wife is upset her husband isn’t jealous. The husband feels his extra work isn’t appreciated.

What does this have to do with love? The man and woman each define love differently. For him, love is practical, and is best shown by supportive gestures like car maintenance. For her, love is possessive, and a jealous response by her husband makes her feel valued.

How to Have a Better Relationship

Understanding what makes your partner feel loved can help you navigate conflict and put romance back into your relationship. You and your partner can take the Love Style quiz from Dr. Hatkoff and find out how each of you defines love. If you learn your partner tends toward jealousy, make sure you notice when someone is flirting with him or her. If your partner is practical in love, notice the many small ways he or she shows love by taking care of everyday needs.

Reignite Romance

Romantic love has been called a “natural addiction” because it activates the brain’s reward center — notably the dopamine pathways associated with drug addiction, alcohol and gambling. But those same pathways are also associated with novelty, energy, focus, learning, motivation, ecstasy and craving. No wonder we feel so energized and motivated when we fall in love!

But we all know that romantic, passionate love fades a bit over time, and (we hope) matures into a more contented form of committed love. Even so, many couples long to rekindle the sparks of early courtship. But is it possible?

The relationship researcher Arthur Aron, a psychology professor who directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has found a way. The secret? Do something new and different — and make sure you do it together. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love. Whether you take a pottery class or go on a white-water rafting trip, activating your dopamine systems while you are together can help bring back the excitement you felt on your first date. In studies of couples, Dr. Aron has found that partners who regularly share new experiences report greater boosts in marital happiness than those who simply share pleasant but familiar experiences.

Diagnose Your Passion Level

The psychology professor Elaine Hatfield has suggested that the love we feel early in a relationship is different than what we feel later. Early on, love is “passionate,” meaning we have feelings of intense longing for our mate. Longer-term relationships develop “companionate love,” which can be described as a deep affection, and strong feelings of commitment and intimacy.

Where does your relationship land on the spectrum of love? The Passionate Love Scale, developed by Dr. Hatfield, of the University of Hawaii, and Susan Sprecher, a psychology and sociology professor at Illinois State University, can help you gauge the passion level of your relationship. Once you see where you stand, you can start working on injecting more passion into your partnership. Note that while the scale is widely used by relationship researchers who study love, the quiz is by no means the final word on the health of your relationship. Take it for fun and let the questions inspire you to talk to your partner about passion. After all, you never know where the conversation might lead.