~ June, 2021 ~ Like Anchorman‘s Ron Burgundy, relationships are *kind of* a big deal. Ask some folks, and they’ll even tell you intimate and romantic connections are basically the meaning of life. But if you haven’t learned yet, no two relationships are alike—even if you’re the common denominator. IMO? The many types of relationships are what make the it-takes-two- (three-, five-…) to-tango world spin ’round.
But before taking a deep dive into all the various kinds of relationships, let’s get some semantics out of the way. For instance, what is a relationship anyway? Put simply, a relationship structure refers to the members and organization of how that romantic relationship functions, says Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, Head of Couple Relationships at Paired, a relationship app.
Another term to know? Relationship dynamics, which describe how partners relate to one another or behave in their partnership. “Being cognizant of the dynamic of our romantic relationship(s) allows us to develop a level of self-awareness into whether our own needs and wants are being met,” New York-based therapist Samantha Zhu says. “It’s also a great way for us to check in with ourselves and evaluate if we’re engaging in partnerships that align with our relationship values.”
Speaking of values… the most socially-accepted relationship structure is a committed, monogamous one, but there are puh-lenty of other options that might be a better fit for you. The breadth of romantic relationships extends beyond gender, sexuality, traditional dynamics, and one partner.
Whether you’ve never considered anything but a single partner (I get it—it’s hard enough to find *one* person willing to commit), are already in an alternative relationship(s), or just want to learn about what else is out there, here’s the expert-informed breakdown of 12 common types of relationships, including a few that—lover beware—come with some not-so-healthy dynamics.
Enter the classic, “normal” (in a heteronormative world), one-and-done relationship. Within a monogamous relationship, two people agree to commit exclusively to one another, both romantically and sexually. Typically, these couples ride the “relationship escalator,” says Tarynn Dier, LMSW, a therapist focusing on alternative sexualities and lifestyles. You know, the “first comes love, then comes marriage,” kind of path.
Monogamy is far from the only option, says Dier. Think of “non-monogamy” as an umbrella term for relationship structures that ethically include more than one partner, whether it be to fulfill a consensual sexual (i.e. an open relationship) or romantic (i.e. polyamory) role. “For some, there is a need to have different personalities in your relationship orbit that cater to different needs,” she says.
Don’t get it twisted—while non-monogamous relationships often don’t follow the same kind of “relationship escalator” as monogamous ones, these relationships are just as serious. They just don’t need to operate or be defined by the same kind of timeline.
There are countless ways that partners engage in kink, but the relationship should always be rooted in clear communication and trust. “Kink builds this beautiful bond and closeness between the people who are doing it,” Dier says. “It’s not just about pain and pleasure—it can be relaxing and healing as well.” The element of aftercare is especially important, as it offers a whole new level of connection with a partner(s). A couple—whether monogamous or non-monogamous—may engage in kink only during sex, or it may be more of an all-day dynamic based on set roles and guidelines.
4. Long Distance
Raise your hand if you haven’t been in a long-distance relationship at some point in your love life. Thought so. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but this term refers to a relationship between people who are not physically in the same location and, consequently, often aren’t together in person.
It’s easier than ever to be in close contact with someone many miles away—thanks to FaceTime, texting, and social media—but it can still be difficult to feel the romance of an intimate connection. “It may be harder than ever to feel connected because you no longer have the same commonalities in your day,” Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts, previously told Women’s Health.
Sometimes, long-distance relationships are only temporary due to life circumstances, while in other instances, they may be a permanent arrangement between partners.
Zhu categorizes a rebound as a relationship that someone jumps into shortly after a breakup—when they likely haven’t dealt with the emotional fallout from it. “Rebounds are emotionally convenient to escape negative feelings associated with a breakup like pain, hurt, grief, and loss from the former relationship,” she says.
This is where things get messy. “It often stems from a place of miscommunication and not being clear about expectations,” explains Zhu. And newsflash: Rebounds typically don’t end well… or fix a heart broken by someone(s) else.
6. Friends with Benefits
This situationship arises when two people take their friendship to the next level with casual, consensual sex. “It allows us to have friendship and sex without the expectations of commitment and other types of sharing found in long-term relationships,” Zhu says.
It’s totally cool to pursue a friends with benefits relationship, but if you want to keep it feel-good and fun, make sure to outline boundaries and be honest about what you want from the jump. (Yeah, there’s a rom-com or two about that…)
7. Just for Now
Another kind of casual romantic connection, think of a “just for now” relationship as a fling where both partners aren’t looking for a long-term commitment. This can be a lot of fun and a way to experience companionship, but a JFN ‘ship can get complicated if someone isn’t honest that this arrangement isn’t meant to last. In these temporary, casual flings, the biggest disadvantage isn’t the type of relationship itself, but not being clear and candid about your boundaries.
Moving in with your partner can be fun and exciting—until the slumber-party-every-night phase wears off. Chances are, the relationship will feel stagnant at one point or another. Sometimes, the lack of intimacy or disconnect is just a phase and can be worked through (may I suggest trying kink?), but other times you get stuck feeling like roommates—nothing more.
Because of the stigma around things like non-monogamy and divorce, not to mention the emotional rollercoaster it is to part ways, Dier says folks can find themselves simply cohabitating.
“In an independent relationship, partners feel a sense of autonomy and control,” Cohen says. “This doesn’t mean that people are separate entities, but they can explore their own interests and pursuits, and invite one another to share them when they choose.” There’s a certain level of comfort and security when you realize you have a life together, but also have a full life of your own outside the relationship.
But don’t let the “we” turn into an “I,” cautions Cohen: “While having a healthy level of independence is important, having a partner to grow alongside and to rely on can assist us in achieving our personal goals.”
Hello, emotional distress and anxiety! Sometimes, relationships can feel like they swallow us whole, and you totally lose yourself without knowing it’s happening. Your lives naturally become more intertwined as a relationship grows, but it’s when you lose the ability to function without each other that can signal codependency. Simply put, a codependent relationship means an overreliance on a partner and blurred boundaries, Cohen says.
The word “toxic” gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean romance-wise? “A toxic relationship is problematic in that one or more partners are getting hurt as a result of being in that relationship,” Cohen says. Think traits like controlling behaviors, secrecy, disrespect, blame, resentment, or judgment—to name a few.
12. A Good Fit
Whether monogamous or non-monogamous, a healthy relationship feels balanced, safe, secure, and supportive for all partners involved. It’s all the good stuff: open communication (especially when you don’t agree on something), encouragement in your personal pursuits, and the ability to share your innermost thoughts freely, Cohen says. It’s the sweet feeling of being heard, understood, and valued—as in, every single part of you.