What Are the Different Types of Relationships?

Gone are the days when you could describe your relationship status simply as single, married, or divorced. Nowadays, you could find yourself anywhere, be it to talk and hang out, to be partners, or maybe just friends with benefits.

“Relationship titles run the gamut,” says James Wadley, PhD, professor and chairman of the board at Lincoln University in Philadelphia. “I see married couples calling their partner their best friends and all kinds of other terms of affection. There are dates, meetings and all kinds of “it’s complicated”.

So why have titles in the first place?

This is one way of making things clear. “I see people looking for these definitions to determine their own rules and their partner’s rules about how they should work in their relationship,” Wadley says. “There should be an understanding of quality time, life together, and even when the other person is supposed to come home at the end of the night. Often, couples cannot come to an agreement on what to do and this causes conflict.

While Wadley points out that these days the two (or more) people in the relationship are creating their own titles, he points out seven common types of romantic relationships you’re likely to encounter:

Talking / Hanging out / Kicking

This stage can start with a crush – those gooey feelings that make you want to spend more time with one person than with others. It is often casual and brief. Or it can go on for months while both parties “figure things out.” Just dating doesn’t mean the relationship is serious, but it does mean you enjoy each other’s company.

Meet

Like other types of relationships, dating has changed over time. Your grandparents or great-grandparents may have called it the yard. In their day, this may have involved adult supervision. Dating is often technology-driven now and parents normally stay at home. While the word itself means going on dates, people see it as very different things. It’s important to communicate what you expect, says Wadley. For some, dating is casual – just a small step up from the conversation – and you can date more than one person. For others, it’s the first step in a serious relationship.

Boyfriend / Girlfriend / Significant Other

Do you see other people? If the answer is no, a couple might decide that they are officially in a relationship. Having a significant other can provide a sense of stability. Many couples with this title only share an emotional and sexual bond with each other. The stakes are higher, but some would argue that the rewards are too. Couples who just see each other may be more focused on problem-solving when disagreements arise.

Partners / National partners

Once a term for same-sex couples, the term now applies to couples in general. The partner is moving away from heteronormative language that assumes everyone is interested in the opposite sex, Wadley says. A domestic partnership normally describes a couple living in an intimate relationship without a formal marriage commitment. Before same-sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015, many same-sex couples lived in domestic partnerships and enjoyed some of the benefits of marriage.

Casual relationship / Friends with benefits

A couple in an open relationship has a level of commitment to each other. But they also agree that either of them can go out or have sex with other people. The key word here is okay. It is not cheating. The term open means exactly that – each person is honest about spending time with someone else. Studies suggest that there may be more interest in open relationships than people talking about it or consenting to it. Almost 5% of the population admits to being in an open relationship compared to 20% of men and 15% of women who admit to having cheated on their partner.

Open relationship

A couple in an open relationship has a level of commitment to each other. But they also agree that either of them can go out or have sex with other people. The key word here is okay. It is not cheating. The term open means exactly that – each person is honest about spending time with someone else. Studies suggest that there may be more interest in open relationships than people talking about it or consenting to it. Almost 5% of the population admits to being in an open relationship compared to 20% of men and 15% of women who admit to having cheated on their partner.

Polyamory

From ancient stories to modern reality TV, polyamory has a long history. This type of relationship involves romantic love with more than one person. Unlike an open relationship where one member of a couple can have a relationship with someone else, polyamory involves an arrangement where three or more people are in a relationship with each other or with other people.

Whether you are in one, none, or a combination of these types of relationships, having a healthy relationship is always important. A therapist can offer you conflict resolution and other tools to keep you aligned. “I think relationships benefit from recording with a professional,” says Wadley. “You do security checks on your car. I recommend the same for healthy relationships.

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