Different Kinds of Relationships

As humans, we are wired for connection. As infants, we relied on our caregiver(s) to provide safety, stability, and love. Through attachment, children and adults develop trust and learn to regulate emotions. As children, we learned to socialize through interactions with siblings and other children. As adolescents and young adults, we develop our identities as we socially interact with others. Strong positive relationships help provide a sense of security, especially within the family of origin, and can carry over into intimate relationships.

Our first experience of love is through familial love, or family-love with our parent(s) or early caretakers(s). Familial love is unconditional love, where a child can feel safe and secure—knowing they will get their needs met and forming a positive attachment to a parental figure. Unconditional-love, is sometimes referred to as compassionate or agape love. Unfortunately, not all children not grow up in households where parents were consistently able to provide a safe, secure, and emotionally nurturing environment. If your first experiences of love were abusive, you may be estranged from family and/ or struggle in intimate relationships.

Outside of family and intimate relationships, many relationships (such as friendships) can be described as platonic. A platonic relationship can be intimate and loving but feelings of passion are absent. Companionate-love includes intimacy plus commitment and is distinguished from passionate-love. Intimate relationships often involve vulnerability, such as emotional vulnerability as there is a comfort level to feel safe enough to share deep emotions. Physical intimacy is another area that involves giving and receiving physical touch. Physical closeness and affection are non-sexual, although platonic relationships can also have a social and/or sexual component. Other aspects of intimacy involve intellectual intimacy such as through stimulating conversations, experiential intimacy through shared experiences/ adventures, and spiritual intimacy with closeness through religion or nature.

With many different types-of-relationships, commitment, intimacy, and passion are three common elements that are often interwoven as one or more aspects of relationships. These concepts are taken from Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.  Romantic-love includes intimacy and passion (but not commitment), whereas fatuous love includes passion and commitment (but not intimacy). These relationships may be temporary and impulsive or may end up as long-term relationships but undecided in terms of commitment.

Commitment in a relationship might mean exclusiveness such as in a monogamous relationship, or it could mean honesty about sexual partners but not necessarily exclusiveness in non-monogamous relationship. Dating, cohabitation, domestic or civil partnerships, and marriage often involve commitment and may or may not involve intimacy, sex, or passion.

Consummate love involves all three elements: commitment, intimacy, and passion and tends to represent a form of love that many people view as an “ideal” relationship. Keep in mind that values and life experiences have a significant impact on how one defines what is ideal to them. These are all valid types of relationships. Think about your closest family relationships, friendships, and intimate or sexual relationships, and see if you can relate to these different kinds of relationships.

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Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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