Relationships 6 Types of Relationships and Their Effect on Your Life By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 21, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD LinkedIn Twitter Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor at Yeshiva University’s clinical psychology doctoral program. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Laura Porter Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is a Relationship? Basic Types of Relationships Defining Your Relationship How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy Interpersonal relationships make up a huge and vital part of your life. These relationships can range from close and intimate to distant and challenging. No matter the nature of the relationship, different types of relationships help make up the social support network that is pivotal for both your physical and mental well-being. To better understand and discuss these relationships accurately, it can be helpful to learn more about the different types of relationships that a person can have. What Is a Relationship? Relationship A relationship is any connection between two people, which can be either positive or negative. You can have a relationship with a wide range of people, including family and friends. The phrase "being in a relationship," while often linked with romantic relationships, can refer to various associations one person has with another. To "be in a relationship" doesn't always mean there is physical intimacy, emotional attachment, and/or commitment involved. People engage in many different types of relationships that have unique characteristics. Basic Types of Relationships Relationships typically fall into one of several different categories (although these can sometimes overlap): Family relationships Friendships Acquaintances Romantic relationships Sexual relationships Work relationships Situational relationships (sometimes called "situationships") These different forms of relationships can vary greatly in terms of closeness, and there are also different subtypes of relationships within each of these basic types. Some of the different kinds of relationships that you might experience at some point in your life include the following. While there are many different types of relationships, the four main types are typically identified as family relationships, romantic relationships, friendships, and acquaintanceships. Platonic Relationships A platonic relationship is a type of friendship that involves a close, intimate bond without sex or romance. These relationships tend to be characterized by: ClosenessFondnessUnderstandingRespectCareSupportHonesty Acceptance Platonic relationships can occur in a wide range of settings and can involve same-sex or opposite-sex friendships. You might form a platonic relationship with a classmate or co-worker, or you might make a connection with a person in another setting such as a club, athletic activity, or volunteer organization you are involved in. This type of relationship can play an essential role in providing social support, which is essential for your health and well-being. Research suggests that platonic friendships can help reduce your risk for disease, lower your risk for depression or anxiety, and boost your immunity. Platonic relationships are those that involve closeness and friendship without sex. Sometimes platonic relationships can change over time and shift into a romantic or sexual relationship. Romantic Relationships Romantic relationships are those characterized by feelings of love and attraction for another person. While romantic love can vary, it often involves feelings of infatuation, intimacy, and commitment. Experts have come up with a variety of different ways to describe how people experience and express love. For example, psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests three main components of love: passion, intimacy, and decision/commitment. Romantic love, he explains, is a combination of passion and intimacy. Romantic relationships tend to change over time. At the start of a relationship, people typically experience stronger feelings of passion. During this initial infatuation period, the brain releases specific neurotransmitters (dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin) that cause people to feel euphoric and "in love." Over time, these feelings start to lessen in their intensity. As the relationship matures, people develop deeper levels of emotional intimacy and understanding. Romantic relationships often burn hot at the beginning. While the initial feelings of passion usually lessen in strength over time, feelings of trust, emotional intimacy, and commitment grow stronger. What Does It Mean to Be in an Exclusive Relationship? Codependent Relationships A codependent relationship is an imbalanced, dysfunctional type of relationship in which a partner has an emotional, physical, or mental reliance on the other person. It is also common for both partners to be mutually co-dependent on each other. Both may take turns enacting the caretaker role, alternating between the caretaker and the receiver of care. Characteristics of a codependent relationship include: Acting as a giver while the other person acts as a takerGoing to great lengths to avoid conflict with the other personFeeling like you have to ask permission to do thingsHaving to save or rescue the other person from their own actionsDoing things to make someone happy, even if they make you uncomfortableFeeling like you don't know who you are in the relationshipElevating the other person even if they've done nothing to earn your goodwill and admiration Not all codependent relationships are the same, however. They can vary in terms of severity. Codependency can impact all different types of relationships including relationships between romantic partners, parents and children, friendship, other family members, and even coworkers. Codependent relationships are co-constructed. While one partner might seem more "needy," the other partner might feel more comfortable being needed. Someone who feels more comfortable being needed, for instance, may avoid focusing on their own needs by choosing a partner who constantly needs them. Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships Casual Relationships Casual relationships often involve dating relationships that may include sex without expectations of monogamy or commitment. However, experts suggest that the term is vague and can mean different things to different people. According to the authors of one study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, casual relationships can encompass situations such as: One-night standsBooty calls"Sex" buddiesFriends with benefits Such relationships often exist on a continuum that varies in the levels of frequency of contact, type of contact, amount of personal disclosure, discussion of the relationship, and degree of friendship. The study found that people with more sexual experience were better able to identify the definitions of these labels compared to people with less sexual experience. Casual relationships are often common among young adults. As long as casual relationships are marked by communication and consent, they can have several sex-positive benefits. They can satisfy the need for sex, intimacy, connection, and companionship without the emotional demand and energy commitment of a more serious relationship. Casual relationships tend to be more common among younger adults, but people of any age can engage in this type of relationship. Consent and communication are key. Open Relationships An open relationship is a type of consensually non-monogamous relationship in which one or more partners have sex or relationships with other people. Both people agree to have sex with other people in an open relationship but may have certain conditions or limitations. Open relationships can take place in any type of romantic relationship, whether casual, dating, or married. There tends to be a stigma surrounding non-monogamous relationships. Still, research suggests that around 21% to 22% of adults will be involved in some type of open relationship at some point in their life. The likelihood of engaging in an open relationship also depends on gender and sexual orientation. Men reported having higher numbers of open relationships compared to women; people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual relative to those who identify as heterosexual were more likely to report previous engagement in open relationships. Such relationships can have benefits, including increased sexual freedom and pitfalls such as jealousy and emotional pain. Open relationships are more successful when couples establish personal, emotional, and sexual boundaries and clearly communicate their feelings and needs with one another. Open relationships are a form of consensual non-monogamy. While there is a primary emotional and often physical connection between the two people in the relationship, they mutually agree to intimacy with other people outside of the relationship. Toxic Relationships A toxic relationship is any type of interpersonal relationship where your emotional, physical, or psychological well-being is undermined or threatened in some way. Such relationships often leave you feeling ashamed, humiliated, misunderstood, or unsupported. Any type of relationship can be toxic including friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, or workplace relationships. Toxic relationships are characterized by: A lack of support Blaming Competitiveness Controlling behaviors Disrespect Dishonesty Gaslighting Hostility Jealousy Passive-aggressive behaviors Poor communication Stress Sometimes all people in a relationship play a role in creating this toxicity. For example, you may be contributing to toxicity if you are all consistently unkind, critical, insecure, and negative. In other cases, one person in a relationship may behave in ways that create toxic feelings. This may be intentional, but in other cases, people may not fully understand how they are affecting other people. Because of their past experiences with relationships, often in their home growing up, they may not know any other way of acting and communicating. This doesn't just create discontentment—toxic relationships can take a serious toll on your health. For example, according to one study, stress caused by negative relationships has a direct impact on cardiovascular health. Feeling isolated and misunderstood in a relationship can also lead to loneliness, which has been shown to have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Toxic relationships can be stressful, harmful, and even abusive. If you are in a toxic relationship with someone in your life, work on creating strong boundaries to protect yourself. Talk to a mental health professional or consider terminating the relationship if it is causing you harm. If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Defining Your Relationship How you define your relationship depends on various factors, including what matters to you and how the other person feels. To define your relationship, it can be helpful to ask a few questions: Do you have romantic feelings for one another?What does each person hope to get out of the relationship?How much time do you want to spend together?Where do you see the relationship going?Are you currently involved with or want to be involved with other people? Figuring out what matters to you and your partner is an important step in defining the type of relationship you are interested in having. You might find that you are both on the same page or discover that you want different things out of your relationship. Defining your relationship doesn't have to mean committing for the long-term. Instead, it can be a way to help you both better understand the boundaries and expectations of your relationship. How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy Regardless of how you define your relationship, there are important steps you can take to ensure that your connection is healthy. Strategies that can help include: Showing appreciation and gratitudeCommunicating openly and honestlyBeing affectionate and showing that you care Mutual respect Actively listeningShowing interest in each otherBeing supportive and encouragingFeeling empathy for each otherSpending time togetherHaving healthy boundariesBeing trustworthy Communication is often the single most important thing in a relationship. Good relationships are also marked by honesty, trust, and reciprocity. This doesn't mean that the relationship is purely transactional; it indicates that you naturally engage in a give and take that provides mutually beneficial support. 6 Steps to Leave a Toxic Relationship A Word From Verywell No matter what type of relationship you have with another person(s), it is important for it to be a healthy one. Healthy relationships are characterized by trust, mutual respect, openness, honesty, and affection. Good communication is also a hallmark of a healthy relationship. There are steps that you can take to improve your relationships with other people. Making sure you let others know you care and showing your appreciation are two strategies that can be helpful. But if a relationship is causing stress or shows signs of being toxic, look for ways to establish clear boundaries, talk to a therapist, or even consider ending the relationship if it is too unhealthy. Social relationships are important and they come in all different types. Having a variety of relationships with different people can ensure that you have the support and connections you need for your emotional health and well-being. Relationship Counseling: What You Need to Know 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Miller A. Friends wanted. Monitor on Psychology. 2014;45(1):54. 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Stress and negative relationship quality among older couples: Implications for blood pressure. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2016;71(5):775-85. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbv023 Lavner JA, Bradbury TN. Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce?. J Fam Psychol. 2012;26(1):1-10. doi:10.1037/a00259 By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.