The Ultimate Guide to Relationships

The Ultimate Guide To Relationships

Rose MacDowell

They make you happier, help you live longer, and improve your health. What are we talking about? Relationships, of course!

Like all human beings, you're hardwired for connections with other people. Whether they're platonic, romantic, or familial, relationships are one of the primary motivators of your behavior. 

Some studies show that relationships are even more important to your well-being than food or shelter. How many different types of relationships are there? What kinds of bonds make you happiest, and why? How can you improve your relationships, or start new ones as you get older?

We answer these questions and many more in The Ultimate Guide to Relationships. 

What Is a Relationship?

A relationship is defined as "the state of being related or interrelated." Relationships can be fleeting or life-long, but all involve some degree of emotional and/or physical connection.

Relationships and emotional attachments aren't just important for our well-being, they have evolutionary significance. Living in groups protected us from predators and the dangers of isolation, and fostered a feeling of responsibility for and connection with other people.

Though societies have changed dramatically, the primal instinct to bond is still as strong today as it was thousands of years ago. Let's look at some of the different types of relationships. and what makes each of them meaningful in our lives. 

Types of Relationships

Like people, relationships come in a lot of different varieties and each one is unique. But there are some main categories of relationships that most of us experience at some point in our lives. 

Non-Romantic Relationships

The best way to describe non-romantic relationships is all of your relationships besides your significant other. These relationships typically include: 

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Neighbors
  • Acquaintances

While all of these relationships are non-sexual, not all could be described as platonic. Why? Keep reading to find out what a platonic relatonship is, and how it differs from the other non-romantic bonds in your life. 

Platonic Relationships  

What Is A Platonic Relationship?

A platonic relationship is one in which you share a close, non-sexual connection with another person. The word platonic comes from the ideas of the Greek philosopher Plato, who described a pure love that he considered the divine ideal. It now refers to friendships with everyone from a BFF to a running buddy to a bromance partner.  

Besides being non-sexual, what distinguishes platonic relationships from other kinds of connections? 

  • Closeness. You wouldn't typically describe a relationship with a colleague as platonic, and here's why:  a platonic connection involves the kind of tight attachment you share with people who know you well. You have different levels of closeness with each of your friends, and that bond can wax and wane over the years.     
  • Honesty. Honesty and trust are two important characteristics of platonic relationships. You're able to let your hair down with close friends, share stories of career mishaps and dating disasters, and be your true, vulnerable self. 
  • Acceptance. Platonic friends accept each other's strengths and weaknesses, and use conflict to help the relationship evolve. You allow each other to grow over time, knowing that your connection will change and deepen the longer you remain friends.  

The importance of friendships

You may know that you feel happier and more optimistic after you spend time with friends, but do you know why? Here are just a few of the positive effects of friendship: 

  • Better health. Can friendships counteract a diet of margaritas and tacos? Maybe! Studies prove that the stronger your social connections, the lower your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and depression. If you've ever felt isolated or alone, then you know why. Fewer friends means more stress, which takes a toll on your emotional and physical health.
  • Improved self-esteem. Friendships boost your confidence and help you feel better about yourself. Friends help you feel worthy of love and time, and allow you to see yourself in a positive light.  
  • A feeling of belonging. Friends can make us feel more at home in the world, giving us a sense of safety and connection in uncertain times. Friends are your tribe, the people who get you and want the best for you. If your family of origin is fractured or unhealthy, friends can become your chosen family, offering you the safe haven and protection you don't get from biological relatives. 

You don't need a lot of people in your life to reap the benefits of friendship. Just a few close friends -- or even one -- can make you feel cared about, understood, and less alone. Though maintaining friendships takes effort and time, the payoffs are great and can last a lifetime.  

Best friendships

Best Friendships

There are friends, and then there are best friends. These are the first people you call when anything of note happens in your life, good or bad. You contact them even when nothing happens. You may have known them since childhood, or met recently and "clicked."

A best friend can be any gender or age, and have a lot in common with you -- or nothing at all. While the phrase "best friend" implies you can have only one, many of us have two or more very close friends who fill that role.    

There are a few ways to distinguish a best friendship from a friendship that's worthwhile, but not quite BFF material: 

  • You're in regular contact. In fact, you may hear from them on and off throughout the day, every day. You text or call each other about events both significant (a breakup, a career milestone) or insignificant (you're bored, what do you think of this outfit?). 
  • You share everything. You can usually tell a best friend by how much they know about you. If they've been with you through every up and down and are privy to details you don't share with others, they're in the BFF zone. 
  • You express your feelings. You can tell a best friend you love them and it doesn't feel awkward, probably because you've done it countless times before. Even if you're not the "I love you" type, chances are you express your caring in unambiguous ways, like spending time together and being open and honest. 
  • They don't judge. The hallmark of a best friend is a non-judgmental attitude. No matter how you feel or what you're going through, a best friend is a safe person to vent to, ask for advice, and lean on, and you're that person for them. 

Can best friends become partners?

Have you ever lain awake wondering, is my best friend in love with me? Or, am I in love with my best friend? You certainly aren't the only one. A best friendship involves feelings of love and attachment that can easily become romantic. Best friends can and sometimes do become partners, particularly if they once dated.

How do you know if your best friend is on track to become a lover, partner, or best friend with benefits? Watch for these signs: 

  • There's tension in the air. They seem awkward or unsure around you and you don't know why. Or maybe you have trouble looking them in the eye ever since you realized you're attracted to them. Either way, that strange vibe is an indication that something has changed -- and it just might be your feelings for each other.
  • They get jealous. Maybe you told them about last night's date, or you went away for the weekend with other friends. They seem to want you to themselves, or have nothing good to say about the people you're spending time with. If they get jealous more often these days, they may be catching romantic feelings for you (or vice versa!) 
  • They can't keep their hands off you. Maybe you've always been affectionate with each other, but now they want to loop their arm through yours or hold your hand. Maybe the hugs are longer and the shoulder squeezes more frequent. Or maybe you can hardly keep from touching them whenever you're together. The desire for physical affection and closeness can be surefire signs that you've jumped the boundary from best friends to something more. 

Still not sure if your relationship with your best friend has crossed into romantic territory? Broach the subject when you both feel relaxed and open to talking. Maybe you like your friendship just the way it is, or want more. Honest communication can help you get to the heart of the matter and find out where your friendship stands, and where it's going in the future. 



We can't discuss close friendships without touching on bromances. These tight friendships are the male equivalent of the girl crush, and involve the same intensity and platonic chemistry. 

What does the word bromance mean?

Put the words brother and romance together and what do you get? You guessed it. A bromantic relationship has a certain romantic je ne sais quoi about it, even though it's purely non-sexual. A bromance can strike you at any age, and last a few weeks or a lifetime. 

Though bromance may sound like a term invented in Hollywood for buddy movies, it's actually a thing! How are bromances different from regular male friendships? 

  • They're more intense. At least in the beginning, meeting a partner in bromance can feel like finding your other half. Take a guy you click with, add a dash of platonic infatuation, and you've got the perfect recipe for a bromance. The typical friendship builds over time. The bromance explodes out of the gate with crush-like excitement. 
  • They feel more intimate. It wouldn't be a bromance without a sense of emotional closeness and intimacy. Many men associate intimacy with sexual relationships, but deep friendships can be intimate, too. You can share your feelings with a bromance partner and not worry about being shamed or misunderstood. 
  • You feel like you've known them forever. Even if you haven't known them that long, you and your bromance bro have an understanding that goes deep. You may have friends that go way back, but the synergy in a bromance is rare and unique.  


Mentorships are another kind of meaningful, platonic relationship. The word mentor can bring to mind an older teacher or boss who helps to guide a novice in their academic or professional career.

Mentors aren't always older, but a person in a mentor role does pass on their knowledge and experience 

Are mentorships actual relationships?

Mentorships aren't just actual relationships, they can have a profound influence on your life. Many of us can point to a particular person -- teacher, parent figure, or friend -- who influenced our personal or academic path forward.

Mentoring can be a particularly selfless relationship dynamic. Mentors take an interest in our success and help us reach our full potential, and often expect nothing in return. Mentoring can happen one on one, long distance, or in a group setting with other students or employees. 

Romantic Relationships

Ah, romance. Romantic relationships are the subject of the world's greatest literature, love songs, and films, and for good reason. Nothing activates your emotions like romantic love. These relationships can fulfill you, break your heart, and challenge you like few others.

Traditional Romantic Relationships

Traditional relationships are the most common type of romantic relationship the world over. While alternative relationships like polyamory have become more common, traditional relationships are still far-and-away the choice of most people, in every country and culture. 

How to identify a traditional relationship  

If you picture a monogamous married couple when you think about traditional relationships, you're on the right track! Tradrom relationships aren't limited to married couples, but saying "I do" is often the ultimate goal.

Once the exclusive domain of straight couples, marriage and traditional relationships are now common among gay and non-binary couples in the Western world. Examples of traditional relationships can include:

  • Exclusive unmarried relationships. If you're still dating but are monogamous and committed, raise your hand! You're in an exclusive unmarried union, one of the most prevalent tradrom relationships.  
  • Marriage. What lots of people in their 20s and 30s are doing for the first time, and over 40 for the second time.  
  • Exclusive cohabiting partners. Unmarried but living together, sometimes with pets and/or children.  
  • Exclusive long-distance relationships. Distance doesn't mean you can't be monogamous and committed. Committed long-distance relationships are on the rise thanks to dating apps and other ways of meeting people all over the world. 

Traditional Committed Relationship Rules

Every relationship is different, but traditional relationships tend to have a few general rules in common. First, monogamy. The hallmark of a traditional union is forsaking all others, whether you're married or not. You typically won't find polyamory, polygamy, swinging, or open relationships among trad folks, even if they're younger and more open-minded. 

Second rule? Commitment. Couples in these types of relationships are on the long-term track, and are often headed toward marriage if they aren't married already. 

Monogamous Relationships

If you're in a romantic relationship, you and your partner have agreed to be sexually exclusive. Monogamy is practiced the world over, and is considered "the norm" in many cultures and religions. 

What Is a monogamous relationship?

Monogamy refers to sexually exclusivity in a romantic relationship. That means both partners agree not to have sex with anyone else for as long they stay together. The word monogamy is derived from the Greek words monos, which means alone, and gamos, which means marriage. 

What are some advantages of monogamy?

Potential advantages of monogamy can include:

  • Greater intimacy. Focusing on one partner and getting to know each other's bodies and preferences can make sex more fulfilling. While some people prefer novelty, many monogamous people find that knowing their partner helps them feel more comfortable being vulnerable, and adds an element of emotional intimacy that makes sex better. But remember: monogamy isn't always a guarantee of intimacy.  
  • Trust. You're more likely to be able to trust a partner you know well and share a life with. Multiple partners and sex with people you don't know well can increase the chance of physical harm, particularly if you're a woman, trans, or non-binary. 
  • Health. Multiple sex partners can mean a greater risk of STIs, including chlamydia, HIV, herpes, and HPV. You can help reduce the spread of STIs by using condoms and dams and sharing test results before having sex with new partners, but no method is 100% effective. 

What are some disadvantages of monogamy?

There are also potential cons to monogamy, particularly in a world that reveres novelty and new experiences. Some of these disadvantages can include: 

Lack of variety. There's no question about it: monogamy limits your intimate options. If you're a person who likes to flirt or date multiple people at once, monogamy may not be your thing. At least not now.  

Less lovemaking. People who are sexually monogamous typically have sex about three times per week, compared to four or five times per week among swingers and polyamorous people. Monogamy often equals familiarity, which can lead to less frequent sex. 

Less freedom. Monogamy can feel secure, comfortable, and for some people, confining. People who value space and the ability to make decisions without consulting a partner may find monogamy restricting.  

Engaged Relationships

You're engaged to be married. Congratulations! You've taken one giant leap toward getting married and spending the rest of your lives together. From this day forward, you can kiss your single days goodbye and start calling yourself the F word: fiance! 

But engagement is about more than a ring on your finger and making wedding plans. It changes how you see your relationship, and how other people see it, as well.   

Is engagement important in relationships?

Engagement may feel like an intimate, private act, but it has a wider cultural meaning. When you become engaged, you send a signal to your family and the world that your relationship is more than a passing phase. You and your partner are going from "you and me" to "we," blending your lives and creating a family of your own, even if you don't have children together. 

Depending on your culture and family expectations, being engaged can make your relationship seem more valid and legitimate to other people. Folks who doubted whether you and your partner could go the distance may have a change of heart when you send out save-the-date cards.   

Does engagement mean the same thing to everyone?

You're over-the-moon to be engaged, but you can't help but notice that a recently engaged friend doesn't seem as enthused. Getting engaged means something different for every couple. Some of us have waited our entire lives for this moment and consider it a dream come true. Others get engaged out of obligation to family, or because our culture requires it.

Your partner may have different feelings about the engagement than you do. Maybe you never saw yourself as "the marrying kind," but know how important marriage is to your significant other. Or you view engagement as a key step in moving forward in your relationship, even if your partner is happy the way things are. 

Each couple navigates the sigificance of engagement and marriage in their own way, and decides what meaning it has for them. 



It's blissful, difficult, romantic, and both maligned and idealized in popular culture. Marriage, in all its complex and maddening glory, is one of the most important types of relationships human beings can experience. 

Types of Marriage

Each marriage is as individual as the couple who vow to love each other until death do they part. But there several common types of marriage, each with its own unique characteristics. These can include:

  • The starter marriage. These childless marriages usually last around 5 years and typically take place when partners are in their 20s or early 30s. 
  • Companionship marriage. A companionship marriage centers around friendship and keeping each other company rather than sex and romance. 
  • Parenting marriage. In a parenting marriage, having children and co-parenting are the priority, while physical and emotional intimacy take a back seat. In fact, intimacy may be missing entirely.  
  • Living apart together marriage. When a married couple lives apart together, they live separate and independent lives and don't cohabitate. They may have individual places across the street, across town, or even across the world. 
  • Open marriage. In an open marriage, one or both partners have sexual and sometimes emotional relationships with other people. Open marriages can include polygamous relationships, polyamory, and swinging. 

The purpose of marriage

The purpose of marriage may seem obvious. When you love someone, you want society to recognize your relationship. You want to share a household and possibly finances, and often start a family. But there are other functions of marriage you may not think of, including:

  • The joining of families. In many cultures, marriage is seen as a joining of two families as well as two individuals. Arranged marriages in particular take into consideration the background, social status, and financial resources of each family, while the feelings of the couple may be secondary or not considered at all. 
  • The care of children. Marriage can provide a stable framework for having and parenting children. Children in a secure family structure are more likely to have adequate food, shelter, and resources. 
  • Sex. A committed couple is more likely to have regular sex than unmarried folks, who may go weeks, months, or years between partners. Sex in marriage is also considered more acceptable in conservative or religious cultures. 
  • Fulfillment. Some studies suggest that married people are happier than singles. Married people also report higher levels of satisfaction with their overall quality of life, which includes factors like career choices and personal growth.
  • Social support. Marriage is more likely provide access to additional friends and family members who can lend emotional and practical support. 
  • Economic security. A spouse can help provide an income, benefits like health insurance, and a safety net in case the other spouse loses a job or gets sick. 

Non-Traditional Relationships

Non-traditional relationships have become more common as societies evolve and become more open. Non-traditional relationships can run the gamut from friends with benefits arrangement to polyamorous bonds with multiple partners. 

Civil Unions

Before gay marriage was codified into law in the US, civil unions were common in many states. Civil unions are legal unions that were once considered similar to marriage, but lacked certain rights such as the ability to inherit a partner's assets, divorce each other, and adopt children. 

Civil unions still exist in many countries, particularly those that don't allow legally recognized gay marriage.  

Meaning of Civil Union

A civil union is a legal union between two people who are not married. It can provide some of the same benefits as marriage, but may not be recognized by other countries or states. Civil unions have become uncommon in the US since the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. 

If the Supreme Court overturns the right to gay marriage, civil unions may once again be the only legal framework available to gay couples who want to pass down property, share parental rights, and make medical decisions for each other. 

Are Civil Unions and Marriage the Same?

Civil unions are very different from marriage, and offer fewer benefits. In addition, civil unions imply a "separate but equal" treatment of gay and other folks who are not able to be legally married.

While civil unions do make it possible to file taxes jointly, pursue financial support from a former partner if the relationship ends, and inherit certain assets if the partner dies, they have several crucial drawbacks:

  • Civil unions are not recognized in every state
  • A partner in a civil union may not be entitled to federal benefits, like a partner's social security payments
  • Civil unions are viewed differently from marriage, and can feel less binding and meaningful to partners who would prefer to be married
  • Because their relationship doesn't have the same legal protections or societal recognition, couples in a civil union can feel discriminated against, like second class citizens in a world that reserves marriage for opposite sex couples. 

Same sex relationships

Same Sex Relationships

What is a Same Sex Relationship?

The phrase "same sex relationship" was originally intended to describe a relationship between people of the same gender. Because the spectrums of gender and sexuality are wide and varied, couples often abandon the "same sex" terminology and opt for something more inclusive that works for them. 

Some examples of alternative terms to "same sex" are queer, gay, or lesbian, but every couple is entitled to choose the term that feels right for their relationship. For the LGBTQIA+ community, identity can be especially sacred for reasons including historical persecution and the attempted erasure of non-straight identifiers. 

How are Same Sex Relationships Different?

The only real, discernible difference in gay relationships is that, well, they're not straight. That does not make them of lesser value, or imply a separate type of behavior or connection that applies only to non-straight people. Picture a straight relationship but with a gay couple. It really is as simple as that. 

What's it Like to Be in a Same Sex Relationship?  

Same sex relationships involve similar emotions, conflicts, joys, and difficulties as straight relationships. But couples in same sex relationships also have to contend with the attitudes and prejudices of society, family, and friends, and may deal with more stressors on their relationship as a result.

Same sex relationships can also be a source of pride to both partners. Living in their truth and feeling free to love each other can strengthen the bond in a same sex partnership, and add to the depth and meaning of the couple's bond. 

Arranged Relationships

Though they may seem like vestiges of a pre-feminism era, arranged marriages are changing with the times. Why do people have arranged relationships, and are they better than love matches? Can you be happy in an arranged marriage? 

What are arranged relationships?

In an arranged relationship, two people are chosen by their families to marry and become life partners. The parents choose who will marry whom based on factors like religion, culture, social status, and financial stability.

In some arranged marriages, the couple meet and fall in love, but don't proceed with a relationship or marriage until their families agree.

Do arranged marriages still happen?

Arranged relationships were the norm in many cultures for centuries. Today, there are still places where arranged marriages are common. For example, in India, the Middle East, and Orthodox Judaism, arranged marriages are still very popular. 

Arranged marriages are typically part of a culture's custom, with a long history of tradition and ritual around the engagement and ceremony. 

Arranged marriage pros 

A common assumption about arranged marriages is that they're loveless unions of financial or familial convenience. In reality, arranged marriages can be love matches based on long-term suitability and sharing common values.

Another pro? Arranged marriages generally have a lower rate of divorce, though part of this may be due to cultural attitudes toward splitting up. Family support and acceptance can also make an arranged marriage more likely to succeed, and help reduce conflict between the married couple and family members. 

Arranged marriages cons

Arranged marriages downsides can be the flip side of the benefits. Basing a marriage on rational factors can lead to a more stable relationship, or create a passionless union with little emotional connection. The involvment of family can make a couple feel supported, or stifled and unable to live independently. 


Parenting Partners

Some call it co-parenting, others call it a parenting partnership. No matter what you term it, when two people parent together, their relationship has unique joys and challenges. 

Are co-parents in a "relationship?" 

While it's common for co-parents to have shared a romantic relationship at some stage, this isn't the case for everyone. In many co-parenting situations, the guardians are relatives. For example, a brother and sister might work together to co-parent a younger sibling or cousin, or a child's mother might work with her own mother in a parenting partnership. 

The dynamic between parenting partners is, without question, a relationship. Some people assume that a relationship implies romance or sex, but that's not always the case. Friends, relatives, neighbors, mentors, and co-parents are all different and important relationships. 

How does a co-parenting relationship work?

The terms of your parenting partnership are up to you and your co-parent. The specific nature of the relationship between co-parents can vary, but typically include the following:

  • Split Custody. Co-parents often have a split custody arrangement in which time spent with the child/children is shared. In these situations, the co-parents may not spend time with each other, but communicate regularly to ensure consistent parenting methods. 
  • Shared home. Sometimes co-parents decide to remain living in the same home despite the end of their romantic relationship. Or, they never had a romantic relationship, but find that sharing a home is the most effective way to co-parent. 
  • Calendar-keeping. Keeping a shared calendar is a common way for co-parents to keep track of children's schedules, extracurricular events, and school commitments. 
Rebound relationships

    Rebound Relationships

    If you've ever jumped from one partner to the next with nary a moment in between, then you know what a rebound relationship is. Rebound relationships come in many different forms, and can be toxic, healthy, or something in between. 

    What is a rebound relationship?

    A rebound relationship refers to a partnership that happens very soon after a breakup. For example, if you break up with your boyfriend and find a new one a week later, that's considered "rebounding."

    There are no hard and fast rules that define a rebound relationship. Some people might consider entering a new relationship after three months of being single a rebound, while others might think three months is plenty of time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. 

    Signs of a rebound relationship

    How do you know if you're in a rebound relationship or if your relationship is genuine (and are the two mutually exclusive?). Here are some common signs of a rebound relationship: 

    • You got out of a serious relationship very recently. If only a few weeks have transpired between the old partner and the new one, you're probably in a rebound relationship.
    • They talk about their ex all the time — or not at all. If your partner talks a lot about their former partner or avoids discussing them altogether, there's a good chance they're still processing the breakup. In this situation, the healthy choice is to take some time to be alone and focus on the relationship with yourself.
    • The relationship is moving fast or feels rushed. If your partner just ended their last relationship and now — one week into your relationship — asks you to move in, that's a potential red flag. A new partner who wants to rush through the early stages of your relationship could be looking for a distraction more than a true connection. 

    Long Distance Relationships

    Long distance relationships are more common than ever, thanks to online dating apps and social media. Love from a distance can be romantic, frustrating, exciting, even tedious at times, but that doesn't stop couples from falling in love from across state lines or across the world.

    What is a long distance relationship?

    If geographical location prevents you from seeing each other as often as you'd like, you're in a long distance relationship. You may see each other a few times a month or a few times a year, or even less. But no matter how often you see each other, one thing holds true -- you both wish it was more often. 

    Are long distance relationships healthy?

    Though long-distance relationships come with challenges, they can be healthy and fulfilling. Staying connected across the miles will take effort from you and your partner, and the ability to withstand a certain amount of loneliness and frustration. 

    How to make a long distance relationship work

    Short of keeping a private plane at the ready or moving to be near your faraway bae, how can you make a long distance relationship work? Here are some separation-busting tips and tricks:

    • Be positive. If both you and your partner believe you can overcome the obstacles, the distance between you will seem less daunting. A can-do, in-it-together attitude goes a long way toward keeping you bonded while you await your next reunion.
    • Take advantage of technology. From FaceTime to long distance relationship bracelets to Bluetooth sex toys you can control from anywhere, technology is a long-distance couple's best friend. Tech gadgets can make you feel less alone and erase the miles that separate you, at least temporarily. 
    • Commit yourselves. Like all relationships, long distance love takes time and effort. While you're apart, commit to frequent conversations, phone dates, and texting to keep you in touch and informed about each other's day to day lives. 

    Dominant/submissive relationships

    Dominant / Submissive

    In a Dominant/submissive relationship, also known as a Dom/sub or D/s, one person assumes the dominant role while the other is submissive. This can apply only to the sexual part of the relationship, or to other parts of the relationship, well.

    What is a dominant?

    Dominant refers to the role within BDSM that centers around power play, a dynamic wherein all control is surrendered to the dominant player. Typically, the dominant controls the scene/activities while the submissive surrenders control. Play between dominants and submissives can involve many people, or be exclusive between two people.

    What is a submissive?

    On the other side of the power play spectrum is the submissive. Like dominance, submission involves an exchange of power for sexual and/or emotional satisfaction. The relationship between the dominant and submissive is referred to as a Dom/sub dynamic, or D/s for short. 

    For a deeper dive into this relationship dynamic, check out Dominant And Submissive Relationships

    Types of Dominant/Submissive Relationships 

    Some of the most common types of D/s relationships include the following:

    • 24/7. The 24/7 D/s dynamic refers to a relationship that upholds the agreed upon terms of power exchange at all times. When you're grocery shopping, watching a movie, playing tennis — the D/s roles are respected every hour of every day. 
    • Casual. The casual D/s relationship is similar to a friends with benefits arrangement. Casual D/s partners might not interact much outside of sexual encounters. It's common for casual partners to have primary romantic partners outside of their D/s dynamic.
    • Bedroom only. Bedroom-only D/s dynamics are relationships that explore dominance and submission exclusively during sex. Outside the bedroom, the roles and expectations of the dominant and submissive are disregarded. 
    • Non-sexual. Acts of dominance and submission do not always involve sexual or physical intimacy. In non-sexual D/s dynamics, players establish how they want to exchange power without involving sex. For example, the dominant player might task their sub with polishing their boots, or demand a detailed account of everything they eat in a day. 
    • Service-based. In these relationships, submissives engage in various acts of service to the Dominant. Service-based D/s dynamics can involve sex, or not. Common examples of service related submission include serving as a foot stool, preparing meals, cleaning, and scheduling appointments.

    Learn more about the titles Dominants and submissives use to address each other in What Are Honorifics? 


      Once a fringe family system practiced by religious sects, polygamy has become more well-known in recent years. Reality TV shows about polygamists make the arrangement seem fairly common, but in reality, true polygamy is rare.  

      What is polygamy?

      Polygamy describes a marriage of more than two people. The term can also be used for any number of spouses living together as one family unit. This includes polygyny, where men have multiple wives, and polyandry, where women have multiple husbands. 

      What's the Difference Between Polyamory and Polygamy?

      Many people confuse polygamy with polyamory. While both involve having multiple relationships at once, there are important differences between the two. 

      Polygamy involves marrying two or more people, while polyamory means having multiple relationships that typically don't lead to marriage. Polyamorists are free to date people other than their primary partner, and are less likely to stay committed to one partner over another. There are many different types of polyamory, including open relationships, swinging, and ethical non-monogamy. 

      Casual fling

      Casual Flings

      Casual flings have become an accepted part of the search for love, a way to explore who you are and what you want from a relationship. Some people actually prefer briefer or less committed connections, while others think of casual flings as fun but temporary lead-ups to long-lasting love.  

      What is a casual fling?

      A casual fling, or casual relationship, is a sexual relationship that usually lasts from from hours to weeks, though there are no hard and fast rules. Most of the time, a casual fling is both superficial and short, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have meaning to the participants! 

      Here are some of the most common reasons people engage in casual relationships

      • To explore their sexuality or try out new kinks
      • To try to get over another relationship
      • To celebrate a breakup or divorce
      • To experience intimacy while taking a break from serious relationships

      While a fling itself may not have staying power, it can be the catalyst for emotional change, sexual exploration, or a life transition. It can also be a positive or a negative, depending on the circumstances and the person you choose.

      Casual dating vs. casual flings

      Casual dating may sound similar to casual flings, but they do have different meanings. Here three ways to tell the difference: 

      1. Frequency. A partner in a casual fling will often see you once or twice, but rarely more. A casual date is more likely to see you after the first few dates, even if it's only on occasion.

      2. Amount of contact. Fling partners aren't known for being communicative, unless they want to set up another time to get together. If you hear from someone daily or several times a week? Casual date behavior. Not at all or only to arrange a booty call? Casual fling.   

      3. Type of contact. A casual date might be interested in learning more about you, or be open to a longer-term connection over time. This can mean they text and call you more often, and ask more questions about you and your interests. A casual fling is less likely to want to get to know you on more than a superficial level. 

      Friends with Benefits

      It's practically a rite of passage into adulthood or life after divorce. What are we talking about? Having a a friend with benefits! Friendships with benefits can help you transition from one stage of life to another and keep you from leaping into a committed partnership before you're ready. 

      Friends with benefits meaning

      Friends with benefits are two (sometimes more!) people who are in a friendly but non-monogamous relationship. There's no commitment in a friends with benefits relationship, and few expectations.

      Rules for friends with benefits

      There are a few rules for friends with benefits that can help keep everyone involved healthy and happy:

      • Practice safe sex. It goes without saying, but no matter what kind of sex you're having or with whom, it should be safe. 
      • Check your feelings at the door. The word "friends" is key here. Before plunging headfirst into a FWB situation, ask yourself if you can keep your feelings in check.  
      • Be yourself. Just because you and your FWB aren't forever doesn't mean you can't be true to yourself. Express what you think, how you feel, and let your genuine self shine through. 

      Friends with benefits pros

      All relationships have perks and drawbacks. Pros of a FWB arrangement include:

      • Less time commitment. The typical FWB doesn't expect -- and often doesn't want -- a lot of your time. A night or two a week max is a common schedule. 
      • Sexual satisfaction. You might feel safer exploring the far reaches of your sexual self with a friend with benefits, especially if you've found past relationships a bit confining. 

      Friends with benefits cons

      • Feelings. It can be difficult to tamp down your emotions when you're sharing a bed with someone. This is one of the most common snags in FWB relationships, and it sits firmly atop our list of cons.
      • Lack of fulfillment. You may not know you need more emotional depth until you're in a FWB situation. Check in with yourself before and during your friends with benefits arrangement, and make sure it's the best choice for you. 
      Traditional romantic relationships

        Extramarital Affairs

        Extramarital affairs are common, and involve as many as 40% of married couples. Though most affairs are brief, they can have a lasting impact on relationships and are one of the most frequent reasons for divorce. 

        What is an extramarital affair?

        An affair is "a sexual liaison or romantic involvement between two people other than a married couple." An extramarital affair can happen with a co-worker, friend, stranger, or person you meet online.

        Most extramarital affairs involve deception, which is the main thing that separates them polyamorous or open relationships. 

        Why do extramarital relationships happen?

        There are myriad reasons for someone to cheat, and every circumstance is different. However, certain factors tend to be more common when it comes to marital infidelity. These can include:  

        • Unmet needs. People in affairs often cite unmet needs as the reason they looked outside the marriage. A partner who feels dissatisfied emotionally or sexually is more likely to venture outside of their current relationship. 
        • Character issues. People who engage in affairs may have a persistent need for attention and validation that supersedes their vow to be faithful. They may feel entitled to the excitement of an affair, and addicted to the dopamine rush that comes with a new, forbidden relationship. 
        • Conflict avoidance. Cheating can happen when people feel unhappy but would rather avoid conflict than discuss difficult issues. Resentment and toxic relationship dynamics can build up over time and contribute to infidelity. 
        • Lack of commitment. People who aren't committed to riding out the ups and downs of a long-term relationship relationship are more likely to cheat on their partners. The stress of financial difficulty, having children, or emotional conflict can override their commitment to the relationship and lead disruptive or damaging behavior.  

        Sugar Relationships

        Some call them sugar relationships, others call them mutually beneficial arrangements. Whatever you call them, these types of relationships are increasingly common, particularly among young women and older men.  

        What is a sugar relationship?

        A sugar relationship, also known as sugaring, involves the exchange of money, gifts, or material goods for company or intimacy. 

        What is a sugar daddy? 

        A sugar daddy uses material wealth and/or social standing to attract a partner, often referred to as a sugar baby. A sugar daddy is often older than the sugar baby, as they tend to be more established and financially independent.  

        What is a sugar mommy? 

        A sugar mommy is a woman who, like a sugar daddy, attracts a typically younger person with money, gifts, or other types of support. In exchange, she gets companionship and intimacy, 

        Are sugar relationships healthy?

        There is no one-size-fits-all sugar relationship. Some sugar babies have loving, monogamous relationships with their sugar daddies, while others keep their relationship strictly professional. 

        Although it's true that there is no one way to enjoy a sugar relationship, there are certain guidelines and boundaries to follow to ensure the safety and efficacy of the arrangement. 

        • Consent. First and foremost, sugar relationships are 100% consensual partnerships between adults. Yes, it's common for sugar daddies to be older (sometimes much older) than their sugar babies, but both parties must be over the age of 18. 
        • Equality. A sugar relationship should be mutually beneficial, meaning that neither person receives the majority of the perks 
        • Communication. Communication is key in every relationship, but particularly important with sugar relationships as they often involve contractual agreements. If you're in a sugar relationship, be sure to communicate specifically and consistently about expectations, wants, and needs.  

        Forbidden Relationships

        You're in love, and that's good news! Unless your love is forbidden, that is. We don't just mean your friends don't like them or they vote for the other party. We mean forbidden, as in your boss, your married neighbor, or your son's best friend from college.

        We're talking about the kind of love that inspires gasps and rumors, that almost everyone considers oh-so-wrong. 

        What are forbidden relationships?

        Forbidden relationships are viewed by society and most everyone you know as destructive and immoral. Types of forbidden love vary according to culture, country, and religion. 

        In some places, love between a single person and a divorced person is considered unthinkable, while in others, almost everything but an abusive or predatory relationship is accepted. 

        Examples of forbidden relationships

        Forbidden relationships come in many different shapes and sizes. Here are some of the most common:

        • Age gaps. No matter what you call it — a May/December romance, "Mrs. Robinson situation," or cradle-robbing — any relationship with a large age gap is bound to invite judgment. 
        • Marital status. This type of forbidden love goes by many derogatory names — having an affair, stepping outside the marriage, cheating — all of which mean the same thing: a relationship with someone who isn't your spouse. 
        • Genetic links. Marrying your first cousin used to be a-okay, but no longer. Family bonds aren't always frowned upon in more traditional cultures, and might actually be encouraged. How forbidden these links are depends on where you live and how you were raised. 
        • Social bonds. If you've ever heard the words, "they're from a good family," then you know what social bonds are all about. In some cultures, love between people from different sides of the proverbial tracks is considered forbidden or doomed to fail. 

        Toxic Relationships

        Not all relationships are happy, healthy, or even safe. Toxic relationships are all too common, and can have a damaging impact on your happiness and self-esteem.

        Toxic relationships are possible with parents, siblings, other family member, friends, and partners. They can take many forms, but all are dysfunctional and can cause tremendous pain and conflict. 

        Let's examine some of the most common types of toxic relationships. 

        Codependent Relationships

        A codependent relationship involves two or more people who are overly reliant on each other for emotional support, financial stability, and/or physical needs. It can also refer to a person who has an unhealthy dependence on someone else. 

        Codependents lose themselves in another person. They use people pleasing, lack of boundaries, and other forms of subtle manipulation to get love and approval. 

        How to know if I am in a codependent relationship?

        If you're codependent, you might have a history of unhappy relationships, broken friendships, or conflict with family members. Signs of a codependent relationships include:

        Unproductive conflict. One of both of you may be defensive, blame the other partner for problems, or lack the self-awareness needed to take responsibility and deal with conflict constructively.

        Caretaking. Codependents tend to be caregivers who feel responsible for making sure everyone else is okay. When you're in relationships, you might try to make sure your partner feels happy while you neglect your own needs. 

        Trouble communicating. If you're codependent, it can be hard for you to express your feelings. You might be afraid to assert yourself because you worry that it might upset other people or make them reject you. 

        How to stop being codependent 

        You can recognize codependency and change long-standing patterns. Here are some key ways that can help you learn healthier ways of relating:  

        Set boundaries. Start to establish standards and expectations that are healthier for you.  Instead of catering to your partner or allowing them to cater to you, start to celebrate yourselves as different people. 

        Practice taking responsibility. Remember that your reactions and feelings are yours alone, and not the fault of anyone else. Take a short time out from conflicts that threaten to get heated or become unproductive. 

        Learn to say no.  Get used to prioritizing yourself and your own needs. A simple "no, I won't be able to do that," should suffice. 

        Abusive Relationships

        Abusive, toxic, dysfunctional. We hear these words every day in reference to relationships, but what do they really mean? How do you know if you're in an abusive relationship, and how can you escape from one? 

        What is an Abusive Relationship?

        An abusive relationship is any relationship in which one partner exercises control and power over another. Abuse can be subtle or overt, but over time it can chip away at your self-esteem and make you question your perception of reality.

        If you're in an abusive relationship, you may fall into toxic patterns such as circular disagreements, or leave the relationship only to go back and repeat the pattern again.

        Types of Abusive Relationships

        Emotional. Emotional abuse is a form of psychological manipulation. This type of abuse can take various forms, including:

        • Controlling behavior
        • Intimidation
        • Humiliation
        • Threats
        • Emotional blackmail
        • Not allowing you to speak or express your emotions

        An abuser may try to isolate you from friends and family members, or threaten to harm them if you leave. They might also spread rumors or tell lies intended to undermine your credibility and give them more control. 

        Possessive Relationships

        They want to know where you are at all times and when you're coming home. Maybe they want to be with you every moment, or refuse to let you see family and friends. If this sounds familiar, you could be in a possessive relationship. 

        What Does "Possessive" Mean In A Relationship?

        The definition of possessive is "having or manifesting a desire to control or dominate another, especially to limit that person's relationships with others." While the word is often used to describe a partner in a romantic relationship, parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues can be possessive, too.

        Possessiveness can run the gamut from a little jealousy to abusive control. 

        Signs of Possessiveness

        A possessive partner may initially seem kind and concerned. You might feel flattered, or more loved than you have in previous relationships. But eventually it all feels like too much. Your partner gets angry when you're a few minutes late, or you hide the truth to avoid making them upset. 

        Possessive relationships signs may include the following:

        • They text you. A lot. A possessive partner, friend, or family member might feel the need to be in touch with you almost constantly through text. This can mean a steady patter of texts throughout the day, "blowing up" your phone, or demands to hear back from within a certain amount of time. 
        • They become the fashion police. They may tell you to change, offer unsolicited advice, or insist that they choose what you wear when you go out. Even work outfits may be subject to a possessive person's scrutiny. 
        • They control your social calendar. One red flag of possessiveness is control of where you go and who you see.  Some possessive people don't like you to go out unless they accompany you, or give you a curfew. They might call or text you while you're away, making you feel tethered to them or unable to enjoy yourself.

        Toxic Friendships

        Ever argued with a friend (yet again) and wondered why you don't walk away from the relationship? As important as friendships are, not all of them are good for you. Just like some romantic relationships, friendships can be toxic and destructive, particularly if one or both people struggle with healthy communication. 

        It can be just as hard to leave a dysfunctional friend as it can a toxic partner. You might have a long history and a strong attachment forged over many shared experiences.

        How do you know if your friendship has become a negative influence in your life instead of a positive one? Here are a few signs to watch for:

        • You fight. Often. Conflict is normal in almost all relationships, especially those that stand the test of time. You won't always agree, no matter how much you appear to have in common. But if you argue about the same issues or your disagreements devolve into shouting or name-calling, it may be time for therapeutic help -- or an extended break from each other. 
        • They try to control you, or vice versa.  If a friend wants veto power over your other friends or the people you choose to date, your relationship may be toxic. 
        • You dread seeing them. You were once excited to hear from them, but not anymore. You feel awkward around them and no amount of talking seems to dispel it. If you find yourself sending them to voicemail or not responding to texts, you could be in the end stage of the friendship. 
        • You compete with each other. There can be a bit of competitiveness in any relationship, even if you're close friends. But when a friend becomes more of a rival than a trusted ally, it could be time for a heart-to-heart conversation about your friendship, and what you can do to make it a safer place for both of you.

        How can you fix a toxic friendship?




        If you want to save an unhealthy friendship, take action. Tell your friend how much you value them, then lay out your concerns in clear terms. If the problems persist, you might want to try to therapy to help you communicate and work on solutions -- or help you end the friendship if the time has come.   

          Controlling Relationships

          You're out with friends and the texts won't stop. Your partner wants to know where you are and when you're coming home, and if you don't pick up when they call, you know they'll be angry. 

          Is this love, or is it control? Controlling relationships are all too common, and are a form of abuse that can impact your self-esteem and make you feel anxious and depressed. 

          What Is A Controlling Relationship?

          A controlling relationship is based on an imbalance of power. One person tries to control the other using fear, guilt, and intimidation. Controlling relationships can happen between family members, partners, children and parents, and friends.  

          Control can be:

          • Physical
          • Emotional
          • Sexual
          • Financial
          • Spiritual
          • Psychological

          Control may not be limited to one part of your life. For example, a person who tries to control who you see may also insist that you go to church more often, or want to have oversight of your finances.  

          Signs of a controlling relationship

          The signs of a controlling relationship can be obvious or subtle. Controlling behavior in relationships might seem like love and concern at first, but can quickly start to feel stifling, even frightening. 

          People of all genders can be controlling. The behavior of a controlling man can be similar to that of a controlling woman or nonbinary person, though physically controlling behavior is more common in men.

          Signs of a controlling relationship can include: 

          Loss of privacy. The controlling person may go through your belongings or look through your phone or computer without your permission. They might demand the password to your devices or sign-in information to social media accounts. 

          Jealousy. Controlling people are often jealous of your friends, other family members, or ex-partners. They might call or text you repeatedly, refuse to let you see certain people, or insist on being present if you do.

          Constant criticism.  Controlling people might criticize how you look, what you eat, the things you wear, or the way you live your life. Though a controlling person may say otherwise, criticism is not the same as honesty, or caring and constructive advice that you ask for. 

          Final Thoughts

          Relationships are an essential and challenging part of being human. They can inspire a full range of emotions, from joy to pain to confusion to intense attachment that lasts decades.

          To be fulfilling, relationships of all types require care and effort, as well as the ability to show the people we value who we truly are. At their best, relationships allow us to love freely, give of ourselves, and experience who we are through our connections with others.