How many different types of love relationships are there?
Maybe you can think of a few, but are there really 15 distinct relationship types?
As you’ll see in this post, every type of relationship has something that sets it apart from others.
One of these should stand out as the best description of your own — or your most recent love relationship.
While no human relationship is perfect, some are more problematic than others.
And every type’s description has something worth keeping in mind.
- Understanding Sternberg's Theory of Love
- 15 Different Types Of Relationships For Romantic Partners
- 1. The Asexual or Sex-Averse Compatible Love Relationship
- 2. The Allosexual Compatible Relationship
- 3. The Open Relationship
- 4. The Independent Relationship
- 5. The Codependent Relationship
- 6. The Chameleon Relationship
- 7. The Dominant/Submissive Relationship
- 8. The Toxic Relationship
- 9. The Rebound Relationship
- 10. The Last Resort Relationship
- 11. The No-Strings Relationship
- 12. The No-Breathing-Room Relationship
- 13. The Long-Distance Relationship
- 14. The Gold-Digging Relationship
- 15. The Transactional Relationship
- Relationship Types That Incorporate The Triangular Theory of Love
Understanding Sternberg's Theory of Love
The relationship types explored in this post make more sense when you know about the triangular theory of love developed by psychologist Dr. Robert Sternberg. His theory was that everyone, throughout their life, experiences varying levels of the following:
- Intimacy — feelings of closeness and connectedness
- Passion — romantic and/or physical attraction and amorousness
- Commitment — the decision to love another or to commit to continuing to love them
In the best relationships, both partners recognize this and show a mutual interest in cultivating all three, even when it’s difficult.
15 Different Types Of Relationships For Romantic Partners
Review the following types of love relationships to see which best describes your own.
You may see several types that seem to cover elements of the relationship you’re involved in.
Some of these relationships allow for cultivating Steinberg’s love theory to include intimacy, passion, and commitment. But as you’ll see, others are more dysfunctional or even toxic.
Better understanding the type of relationship you share with your romantic partner helps you navigate your future with this person with more self-awareness, compassion, and mutual respect.
1. The Asexual or Sex-Averse Compatible Love Relationship
The best of these offer proof that a relationship without sexual intimacy can be compatible and satisfying, especially for two people who don’t particularly enjoy sex.
Asexuals exist. And their asexuality is not a defect or anomaly. The thing that makes them asexual is a lack of sexual attraction — not a complete lack of interest in sex. But some asexuals are sex-averse (i.e., sexual intimacy does not appeal to them).
And the lack of sex doesn’t rob them of a chance to have a mutually satisfying romantic relationship because sex and romance are neither synonymous nor inseparable.
- Asexual arrangements eliminate sexual pressure, which can psychologically benefit people working through intimacy-related trauma.
- If either party has a sexually transmitted disease, no-sex unions provide a framework and safe space for understanding.
- Couples who don't have sex often form powerful emotional bonds rooted in intellectual and experiential knowledge.
- Couples may not enjoy certain hormonal bonds triggered by physical intimacy.
- If one party's sex-drive increases, expect to break up.
2. The Allosexual Compatible Relationship
That said, there’s nothing wrong with a truly compatible romantic couple enjoying physical intimacy. When it’s part of a healthy romantic relationship — i.e., not used as a weapon or imposed as a “duty” — it can draw you both closer together.
When the love is real, and the attraction (not just physical but soul-deep) is strong, you have the makings of a compatible relationship. We’re not saying there won’t be challenges. There will be. But if you’ve got a strong foundation, you’ll find a way to overcome them.
- Couples can enjoy soulful and physical bonds, drawing them closer together.
- Allosexual partners are open to exploring new things about intimacy.
- Couples that share hobbies and interests can connect on every plane.
- Allosexual relationships may not survive one party's libido erosion.
- When the sex isn't great, the whole relationship may suffer.
- Some would argue that highly sexualized individuals may be more likely to cheat if their appetite grows.
3. The Open Relationship
Open relationships allow both partners to date (and be intimate with) other people. It’s similar to a no-strings relationship/arrangement, but it may have the outward appearance of exclusivity. Or there may simply be more of a commitment to stay together as a couple.
The success of these relationships depends primarily on whether both parties are equally happy with the arrangement. If one of you wants to be exclusive but the other does not, a break-up is usually the result.
- So long as safe, consensual sex is practiced, both parties can quench their sexual desires.
- For individuals with hyperactive sex drives and few jealousy issues, open relationships can work well.
- Open relationships are filled with variety.
- Many people think they can handle an open relationship only to discover that the resulting jealousy is too much to handle.
- These unions may expose people to more sexually transmitted medical complications.
- It's unusual and may draw criticism or ridicule in certain situations and communities.
4. The Independent Relationship
In an independent relationship, you both do your own thing. In fact, you might do very little (if anything) as a couple. You might live together (or not), and you probably do spend some time together.
But neither of you depend on the other for financial or personal support. You’re technically a couple, but there’s no real interdependence there. If you’ve both been in codependent relationships, it might feel like exactly what you need right now.
At some point, if you want more closeness and support, that’s likely to change.
- There's no pressure to be someone you're not.
- Each party enjoys considerable alone time and intermittent companionship to stave off loneliness, which is the perfect balance for some people.
- You have the time and space to pursue other interests, hobbies, and friendships.
- Both parties often find themselves on different pages with disparate expectations, complicating the situation.
- If you're looking for a strong romantic bond, this dynamic won't provide it.
- In times of need or trouble, there's a solid chance they won't show up in support.
5. The Codependent Relationship
In a codependent relationship, you both depend on each other to function, so separation is likely to cause distress or intense anxiety. You feel incomplete without them, and vice-versa.
You want to be with them all the time. And knowing they feel the same is gratifying — at least until it becomes suffocating.
Someday, when you realize your “other half” is always there, and you can’t ever have your own thing without feeling as though you’re cheating on them, it’s time to re-evaluate.
- People in codependent relationships are usually exceptional listeners.
- Codependent personalities can be very supportive of one another.
- This relationship style can be punctuated with a lot of love and deep bonding.
- Not being around one another, in and of itself, can cause anxiety.
- Codependency can hamstring personal growth.
- Couples attached in unhealthy ways may be less willing or able to separate, even when the relationship sours and no longer works for either party.
More Related Articles:
6. The Chameleon Relationship
In this relationship, one or both of you change yourselves to appeal to the other. It’s one person who changes themselves to please the one they want to be with in many cases.
If you’re the chameleon, you’ve probably sacrificed some interests and possibly even a relationship or two to make yourself more pleasing or attractive to your partner.
But at some point, you get tired of always having to pretend you like everything your partner likes and you hate everything they hate. And it becomes absolutely necessary — for your health and well-being — to let go of them and move on.
- The early days of chameleon relationships can be a lot of fun.
- Pretending to be someone you're not erodes mental health.
- Since the relationship isn't rooted in reality, the likelihood of it lasting is between slim and none.
- You never enjoy honest bonds because you don't genuinely know one another.
7. The Dominant/Submissive Relationship
If one of you is proud of identifying as “the one who wears the pants,” there’s a problem. Neither person in a loving relationship should aspire to be the one who dominates their partner or who has a position of authority over them.
That’s not love. It’s dominion. And you only exercise that over someone you don’t see as your equal. If someone expects unconditional obedience (or any other kind) from you, you don’t have a relationship between two equal partners.
- People have different personality types, and some folks find happiness in dom-sub partnerships.
- People with particular fetishes may find these relationships enjoyable if it's wrapped in respect with clear parameters.
- Individuals easily lose themselves when dynamics are skewed.
- Respect is essential to any relationship, and dominant-submissive unions are often short on it.
- These types of unions can easily become abusive.
8. The Toxic Relationship
Here’s another situation where you stay together for practical reasons or because one of you is in a dominant role and maintains control over the other. There may be a strong attraction between you, but the love is either one-sided or nonexistent.
Narcissistic personalities create a toxic environment for those with whom they enter into an exclusive relationship. No one benefits from it. Staying together “for the kids’ sake” is likely to backfire since they learn about relationships by watching you.
And, if they survive, they’re unlikely to want what you have.
- Unless you're a masochist, toxic relationships have no pros.
- You may develop mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.
- Toxic relationships cause trauma.
- They have the power to ruin other relationships in your life, including friendships and professional connections.
9. The Rebound Relationship
One of you got into this relationship right after breaking up with someone else or being dumped. And we get it. Why waste time grieving someone you can’t be with when you can get back out there?
You might be thinking, “I need this right now. It’s not everything I want in a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re just having a good time together.” And maybe you are.
It’s essential, though, that both of you know and are okay with a relationship that isn’t everything you want it to be. At some point, that will come up. And another break-up will likely be the result.
- Rebound relationships can help you get over a bad breakup.
- The dynamics can be complicated if one party is more into the relationship than the other.
- They typically don't last long.
- Rebound relationships may keep you from addressing issues that caused your last breakup.
10. The Last Resort Relationship
Think of movies based on an agreement between two best friends: “If we don’t find someone before the age of 30, we’ll marry each other.” Except in the movies, they usually end up falling for each other.
In these relationships, you typically get along great as long as neither one complicates things by wanting intimacy more than the other one or falling in love with someone else.
No one should be your last resort. And you shouldn’t be anyone’s either.
- It may turn into a deep and abiding love.
- It can be very comfortable.
- Both of you may feel like you're settling, which comes with a host of mental health hurdles.
- You may never develop a romantic bond.
11. The No-Strings Relationship
This is your typical “no commitment required” relationship. It could be all about hooking up. Or it could be a “friends with benefits” situation.
Maybe you just get along so well it seems archaic to you both to keep it platonic. But you don’t want the restrictions that come with an exclusive relationship. Or maybe they don’t.
Whatever the situation, where there’s no real commitment to each other, it won’t take much to run this relationship into the ground.
- This is the way to go if you're looking for a steady-but-casual hookup.
- You can enjoy the company of someone without getting serious.
- These understandings leave loads of time for your other passions and pursuits.
- Your feelings for one another may never be on the same page, causing frustration.
- People often lie to themselves about wanting a no-strings-attached situation when, in reality, they crave commitment.
12. The No-Breathing-Room Relationship
“We do everything together!” If you’re already cringing, that’s a good sign. This is similar to a codependent relationship, but it’s based less on insecurity or fear than on the mistaken idea that loving couples do everything together.
Fact is, even in the best relationships, you need some time away from each other. Consider the following examples:
- One of you goes to a concert with friends while the other goes to a spa.
- One of you tries an interesting new recipe while the other reads in another room.
- One of you visits family while the other stays home for some time alone.
It’s not a sign of relationship trouble if you don’t do everything together. Neither of you is a clone of the other (we hope). So, enjoy your separate interests.
- For a time, it may be nice to have a “partner in crime.”
- Strong bonds can be formed when you spend loads of time with someone.
- The relationship is rooted in false notions about what constitutes a healthy union.
- There's little room to pursue your interests in a meaningful way.
13. The Long-Distance Relationship
Long-distance relationships are tough. It’s one thing if you’re only separated for a matter of days, weeks, or months. It’s hard enough, but if you know you’ll be together within an acceptable time-frame, it can still work.
But when the long-distance arrangement gets to be too long for one or both of you, the challenges to your relationship may be more than either of you can fix:
- One of you might fall for someone who’s in closer proximity.
- The lack of any kind of physical intimacy can put a strain on the relationship.
- You might find that your relationship was mostly physical to begin with.
- Seeing each other in person can be magical.
- You both have time to pursue your goals and work on yourselves while maintaining a committed relationship.
- It's easy to get lonely.
- Your relationship may be more emotionally challenging.
14. The Gold-Digging Relationship
In a gold-digging relationship, one partner essentially takes advantage of the other. It’s one-sided exploitation: one is the gold, and the other is the digger.
If you’re the “gold,” you don’t get much (or anything) out of the relationship. You might enjoy the gold-digger’s company, but at some point, you have to acknowledge that the only reason they’re around is that they want something you can give them:
- Wealth and access to the lifestyle they want
- Powerful connections and prestige (for career advancement)
- Fame by association
- In many cases, both parties get exactly what they want.
- The relationship can lead to financial and material comfort.
- Relationships based on financial gain are often fraught with infidelity and disrespect.
- The relationship will be a chore if you don't genuinely have feelings for someone.
15. The Transactional Relationship
This one’s similar to the gold-digging relationship, but the exploitation is mutual. If you’re thinking, “We have an arrangement that suits us both,” you might be in a transactional relationship.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have a deep mutual appreciation, but your couplehood has more to do with what you can do for each other — or what each of you gets out of it.
For example, one of you gets to be rich, and the other gets to have a gorgeous partner on their arm. In the public eye, you might be the “it” couple. You look good together on paper — but not behind closed doors. And at some point, one or both of you will want more.
- Both parties derive pleasure from the relationship.
- Some transactional relationships aren't marred by overwrought emotions because there's a mutual understanding of the bottom line.
- Either of you could fall in love with other people at any given moment, rendering your relationship DOA.
- You may never form deep, true bonds.
Relationship Types That Incorporate The Triangular Theory of Love
As mentioned, Sternberg's theory outlines the three components of love, and psychologists have identified seven types of relationships that incorporate the trio of emotions, including:
- Infatuation: passion (crazy-eyed obsession)
- Friendship: emotional intimacy (the loving vibe during girl's night)
- Empty love: commitment without emotional or physical intimacy (remaining married to someone you no longer love for the kids)
- Romantic love: passion and intimacy (first love)
- Fatuous love: passion and commitment (first serious love)
- Companionate love: intimacy and commitment (most happy marriages longer than seven years)
- Consummate love: the whole shebang — passion, intimacy, and commitment (the rom-com dream)
Which type of relationship do you have?
Now that you’re acquainted with the 15 types of relationships described above, which one sounds most like your current — or most recent — love relationship? Or how many of these sound familiar?
Every relationship has something to teach us. We’re guessing you’ve learned things worth sharing with others. And you’ve probably heard some pretty harrowing stories, too.
This post aims to show you the variety of relationship types and the richness of the kind we want for you, whatever your orientation or gender identity. You deserve it, too: a relationship built on mutual respect and unconditional love.
Don’t settle for less.