Types of Romantic Relationships
Five types of romantic relationships serve to categorize most romantic unions.
When you look back at your relationship history, you may have what feels like a wide range of different experiences. Some romances are short. Some are boring. Some are defined by strong attraction and big conflicts. Some are warm and stable. All of these experiences teach us about ourselves and help us grow, but it’s useful to know which types of relationships we prefer and which seem healthiest for us.
In a study I conducted with Dr. Jonathon Beckmeyer, we set out to explore different types of relationships and how they relate to young adults’ well-being.
A note about the science
In relationship science, we often present participants with a set of options and ask which one best fits their current relationship status—single, casually dating, committed relationship, engaged, married. These labels are useful in some of the studies we do, but they don’t tell us much about the relationships themselves.
Dr. Beckmeyer and I measured relationship dynamics like warmth, support, negative interactions, and relationship satisfaction to better understand what was going on between partners. We also measured parts of the structure of the relationship, such as commitment, length of the relationship, and how much the partners had combined their lives (e.g., living together, co-owning a pet).
These factors clustered together to show us five types of relationships. Which one sounds the most like the relationship you’re in—or the one you want?
1. Happy and independent types of romantic relationships
These couples were warm, supportive, and had low levels of negative interactions. They thought there was a pretty good chance they would get married, but they had not combined their lives very much. None of them were living with their partners, and compared to some other relationship types, they did not spend as much of their free time together. This group was also a little younger than other participants and a little more likely to be college students.
2. Happy and consolidated types of romantic relationships
This was the most common type of relationship, and people in this group were a lot like happy and independent couples. The one big difference was how much they combined their lives. The happy and consolidated group was far more likely to be living with their partners and spending a lot of free time together. They were also older and had been together a little longer.
Individuals who fell into this group were often at the beginning of a new relationship. They had not been together very long, and their interactions were a little less positive than the happy and independent or happy and consolidated groups. We might imagine these folks are still trying to decide whether to commit to their partners. They are going through some of the growing pains of figuring each other out and learning what they want from the relationship.
Stuck couples do not have the same positive interactions as happy couple types and are not as satisfied with their relationships. Even though they have been together the longest and have integrated their lives together, they generally do not expect to marry their partners, and more than half had broken up and gotten back together. These couples seemed to be moving along in a not-so-happy relationship with unclear future plans but also an unclear exit strategy. Dr. Beckmeyer and I were so interested in this that we did a separate study based on interviews with people who were “stuck.”
5. High intensity types of romantic relationships
High-intensity relationships are a fascinating mix of lots of warmth and support with a hefty dose of negative interactions. These couples were quite satisfied in their relationships and had been together for a long time. However, they also had the highest rate of relationship cycling—breaking up and getting back together. We concluded that these couples are simply a little more volatile, which may work fine for some people and not for others.
As long as a relationship is healthy and free of abuse, there is a wide range of relationship forms and styles that work well for different people. Some of us like to combine our lives with our partners, and others like more independence. Some of us tolerate conflict and negative interactions well, and others do not. What seemed not to work well for many people in our study were relationships that were stuck—they showed higher depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction than people in other types of relationships.
Those in high-intensity relationships were more likely to report depressive symptoms and had higher life satisfaction than some other groups. Happily independent and consolidated couples seemed to fare best in the outcomes we measured. Knowing what you need and want is probably the most important consideration, and sometimes that might mean leaving a relationship that is stuck or too high intensity for you.
(Written by Tyler Jameson and published in Psychology Today)