Health + Wellness

Understanding Different Types of Relationships to Find What Works for You

People in bed with legs and feet intertwined.
No two people are exactly alike,and neither are any two relationships, whether platonic, romantic, sexual or a combination. Knowing and defining your relationship status is important not just for your dating app profile, but also so you and your partner or partners are on the same page for what you want and can expect from each other.
And even then, sometimes the best description you can offer is "it's complicated."
If you're ready to consider what types of relationship you're up for or trying to figure out the best way to describe that thing you have with someone, read on for some definitions and considerations.

What are Different Types of Relationships?

Sexual relationships can take many forms. Some of the more common relationship types include monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, open relationship, long distance relationship, or friends with benefits. These are just labels, and the people in the relationship can pick any or none of them.

Always remember that relationships are between the two (or more) people in them and not between those people and their friends, families, or followers. If labels help you define what you are to each other, great, but you are under no obligation to choose a relationship type from the list in this article or any others.

It's much more important that you and your partner(s) discuss the boundaries in your relationship, including whether you will or won't have other sexual partners, and come to a mutually agreed-upon understanding. This will help you avoid relationship pitfalls-both the serious (think betrayals of trust) and the comical (think sitcoms where one guy has two dates show up at the same restaurant).

Also remember that any type of relationship can be among any combination of sex, gender, and sexual orientation and that's okay, as long as everyone in them is a consenting adult.

That said, here are some definitions of the most common types.

What is Monogamy?

Monogamy is the practice of having only one sexual/romantic partner at time. Monogamous couples can be married or not married - the partners just agree that they will not have sex with anyone else while they are in this relationship. If either does, that's cheating.

Partners in truly monogamous relationships do not engage in any sexual behavior outside of each other. Monogamy can cut down on the risk of sexually transmitted infections if both partners commit to avoiding other sexual relationships. However, infidelity or cheating can open both partners to risk, especially if they are not practicing safer sex.

Non-monogamy is any relationship that includes more than one sexual or romantic partner. We discuss some common types of non-monogamy later.

What Does Dating Exclusively Mean?

Dating exclusively usually means that a couple has decided not to date (or have sex with) anyone else but is not quite ready to declare themselves "in a relationship." This is often the first commitment a couple makes and may be a step on the way to declared monogamy.

What is Serial Monogamy?

Sometimes we think of monogamy as one romantic or sexual partner for life, but it really means one partner at a time. Serial monogamy is the practice of having many, often short, monogamous relationships in succession-one right after the other. You're only with one partner at a time, but you may not be with that partner for long. Or, when one monogamous relationship ends, you seek out another monogamous partner, without having multiple partners in between.

When thinking about STIs, jumping from one monogamous partner to another can be a risk factor if partners don't use condoms as it can take time for STI symptoms to show up (and many never have symptoms). People who practice serial monogamy should commit to safer sex and condom use with each new partner at least until they have been tested for all STIs and gotten a clean bill of health or finished treatment.

What is Consensual Non-Monogamy?

Consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term for any relationship in which partners agree to romantic or sexual interactions with more than one other person. This is different from infidelity or cheating because the partners have agreed that sex outside the relationship is allowed.

There are several types of non-monogamy. We'll run through a few.

What is an Open Relationship?

An open relationship is an agreement between partners that they can have intimate/sexual contact with other people. With married couples, this is often referred to as an open marriage or swinging. On social media people may use "open-minded" as a status to indicate they are not entirely monogamous.

The way people negotiate open relationships with each other depends on what each partner is comfortable with. In some open relationships, partners let each other know when they hookup with someone else, while others prefer not to know about it.

In any case, when it comes to safer sex, partners in an open relationship are more at risk for Sexually Transmitted Infections than those in truly monogamous relationships, and should wear condoms with outside partners and maintain a regular practice of getting tested for STDs.

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory is the practice of being in (or open to) romantic/sexual relationships with more than one person at a time. This is different than an open relationship in which romantic partners agree to have sex with outside people. People who are polyamorous have more than one committed romantic or sexual relationship at the same time.

Note: Polyamory is not the same as polygamy. Polygamy means having more than one legally married spouse. Polyamorous relationships may have a primary couple who is officially married (these are often called nesting partners) and then each person in the relationship may also have another partner or partners that they are committed to, but not married to.

What are Types of Poly Relationships?

A poly relationship can take many forms and like any other relationship, it doesn't necessarily need a label. Triads are a group of three committed partners and quads have four. In some, the partners are all involved with each other (A is with B, B is with C, and C is with A) while in others the relationships may be a "V" with one person as the pivot, involved with 2 or more partners, but those partners are not involved with each other (A is with B, B is with C, but A and C are not with each other).

The partners of your partner(s) that you are not romantically involved with are known as metamours. When all partners and metamours in a polycule (the group of people involved with each other) are open and friendly, it is often known as Kitchen Table Polyamory.

Some polyamorous relationships may have a hierarchical structure in which one partner is considered "primary" and others are "secondary." Primary partners may live together, get married, and have children, but triads and polycules may also live together and share children.

The most important part about polyamory is open communication and consent. Everyone involved in the relationship must be aware of the dynamics, agree to them, and have the power to renegotiate the terms to have their feelings heard and their needs met.

Open communication and consent are important for all relationship types, not just polyamory!

What Does FWB Mean?

Friends With Benefits usually refers to a couple that has sex regularly but isn't in a romantic relationship. FWB relationships can be a lot of sexy fun but they can get tricky if one partner wants more or meets someone else. Communication and consent are extra important between FWBs.

When making decisions about contraception and safer sex, it's also important to know if your FWB has any other FWBs. Being honest with each other can help make sure you'll still be friends, even if you drop the benefits part someday.

What Does Hooking Up Mean?

Hooking up may be the most confusing relationship term out there because it means different things to different people. Most people use it to mean sex of some kind with someone they're not in a romantic relationship with.

Hookups tend to be casual sex without romantic feelings but as we all know, relationships can change! A hookup can be a one-night stand or the start of some other kind of relationship.

And what starts out as friends with benefits could go through a dating exclusively phase on its way toward marriage. Or, the reverse could be true, exes who were once monogamous could decide to see other people but remain friends with benefits.

What is the Meaning of LDR?

Though it might sound like some type of technology, LDR is short for Long Distance Relationship, or when partners don't live near each other. Jobs, schools, or family obligations mean that they cannot live in the same place (at least for now) but they are committed to each other nonetheless.

LDRs can be difficult with partners feeling lonely or disconnected between visits, but with texting/sexting and sometimes steamy video calls, technology has definitely made these arrangements a lot more manageable.

Defining Your Own Relationship Boundaries

These definitions can give you an idea of the different types of relationships that are most common or most talked about. The truth is every relationship is different and the only people who can define it are the two (or more people) who are in it. You have to decide what works for you, talk about it with your partner(s), make sure you're on the same page, and then stick to whatever arrangement you've made.

It can help to set relationship boundaries-an agreed upon set of do's and don'ts for your relationship. This isn't about controlling the other person's behavior outside of the relationship but setting up guidelines to help make sure everyone feels comfortable and respected. While we often think about boundaries in terms of sex, there are lots of other aspects of a partnership that could benefit from discussion ahead of time. Here are some things to think about:

Monogamy? The most basic question that couples need to decide on involves whether they are going to date and/or have sex with other people. It sounds straightforward but remember that some people have different ideas of monogamy. Is any sexual behavior okay? What about flirting or sexting? Talk it out and agree on what's in bounds.

Safer Sex? Couples should discuss early on whether they plan to use condoms and/or other birth control methods and for how long. The answer to the monogamy question will likely affect the answer to this question as your risk of STIs is lower in a truly monogamous relationship (once both partners have been tested, of course).

Time together? How much time are you going to spend together? How many sleepovers? Do you want some time in your own space each week?

Money? Who is going to pay for what; is it split 50/50 or based on some other formula? Or, for couples who have been together a long time, are you going to mix your money or keep separate accounts but share expenses?

Moving forward? Some relationships will be the same year after year while others will move through stages-from FWB to dating exclusively to monogamous or from monogamy to an open or polyamorous relationship. Relationship problems often happen when one person is satisfied with the status quo, and another is hoping to take a next step.

Remember all of these boundaries can be renegotiated once or many times over the course of the relationship, and partners are always allowed to change their minds about what they want. Honest communication is the key to a successful relationship-talking about it all in advance and getting everyone's consent can prevent jealousy, anger, and hurt feelings.