1. the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.”the study will assess the relationship between unemployment and political attitudes

The word ‘relationship’ is used so freely by people, so that it’s often assumed to have one universal definition. However, the word actually encompasses such a huge variety of kinds of human connections, both romantic and nonromantic. It is likely that no two people share the exact same understanding of what actually does define a relationship.

So what is a relationship?

A relationship is any kind of association or connection between people, whether intimate, platonic, positive, or negative.

Generally, when we talk about “being in a relationship,” the term is referencing a specific type of romantic relationship – involving both emotional and physical intimacy, some level of ongoing commitment, and monogamy (i.e., romantic and sexual exclusivity, wherein members don’t have this type of relationship with anyone else). Saying that, there are other subcategories within these terms, such as marriage, casual relationships and ethnically nonmongamy.

There are four basic types of relationships:

  • family relationships
  • friendships
  • acquaintanceships
  • romantic relationship

There are also other types of relationships , such as work relationships and community or group relationships. Various types can overlap and coincide with one another—for example, two people can be both work colleagues and close friends.

Romantic relationships

People in a romantic relationship may choose from a variety of terms to define theirs.

Dating relationship

Dating is the process of intentionally spending time with someone to get to know them better, have fun together, and potentially being romantic with each other. Dating can sometimes be about seeing if there’s potential for a more long-term relationship, or it can just be about having fun without expectations for the future. The latter often being referred to as casual dating.

The term dating can sometimes be a grey area, as not all individuals agree what level of commitment is implied within a dating relationship. Some people use it for when they’re exploring a relationship and others may use it to define a committed relationship. Determining what the other person feels or how they view this level of relationship can sometimes be difficult.

Committed relationship

In the context of romantic couples, the phrase “in a relationship” usually means being in a committed, long-term romantic relationship.

A committed relationship is where two or more people agree to continue being in a relationship for the foreseeable future.

There’s a mutual understanding that the individuals will continue to spend time together, work on developing their relationship and nurturing their connection.

People in committed relationships may choose to use identifying terms such as boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner to signify their relationship to others.

In traditional monogamous relationships, being in a relationship also means that a couple will be romantically and sexually exclusive—that is, they won’t have any other romantic or sexual partners other than each other.  In nonmonogamous relationships, exclusivity isn’t required.

Marriage is one form of committed relationship, whereby a couple publicly vows to stay together and forms a legally binding union.

Casual relationship

A casual relationship is when two or more people may be dating, regularly spending time together, and engaging in romantic or sexual activities, but without any expectations for the relationship to last into the future. These types of relationships are usually more situational and short-term, and they may or may not be exclusive.

Individuals in casual relationships usually do like each other and are attracted to each other, though there may not be an intense emotional connection or desire to deepen the connection. Whereas people in committed relationships may see each other as life partners, people in casual relationships may not be as integrated into each other’s lives. They typically won’t use terms like boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner.

Casual sex relationships

A casual sex relationship is one where two or more individuals spend time together primarily to have sex with each other. They might see each other regularly for sex, or they may have sex once and never see each other again. They may like each other and enjoy each other’s company, but they’re not interested in a romantic relationship with each other. More often that not, there’s no emotional connection, or the connection is distinctly platonic or friendly. The colloquial term ‘friends with benefits’ is often used to define this type of relationship.


A situationship is a romantic relationship that hasn’t been explicitly defined, usually by omission. The relationship may have many of the same qualities as a committed relationship, a casual relationship, or dating, but the people involved have simply not put labels on it. This omission is usually intentional, whether that’s to avoid making things too complicated, because they’re still figuring out what they want from each other, or because they’re not wishing to discuss the status of their relationship.

In general, situationships usually have more emotional involvement than individuals partaking in casual sex relationships, but not the explicit romantic feelings and commitment of a committed relationship.

Ethical nonmonogamy

This is a broad umbrella term for any relationship where people can have multiple romantic and sexual partners at the same time. It includes polyamory, open relationships and many other types of relationships between more than two people.

Ethically nonmonogamous relationships can be casual, committed, open, exclusive, dating-only, sex-only, or some combination of these categories, and people in these relationships may or may not use terms like boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner to describe each other.

So if they are the types of relationships, what sort of relationship might you, the reader, be in now? Are you and your partner/s on the same page on what you want from your relationship?

A few questions to ponder…

  • What do you want from this relationship? Something casual and in-the-moment? Something more future-oriented? Not sure yet and just want to explore for now?
  • Are you looking for a long-term relationship? If so, do you see potential here?
  • Are you seeing other people?
  • Are there romantic feelings here? Would you like these to develop further?

Depending on what sort of relationship you may be in, these questions may be too serious or may be something that you wish to avoid. However, does avoiding the questions mean that you’re making assumptions on what both/all of you are feeling?