Are All Relationship Types Possible?
The idea that there are far more types of relationships these days as compared to the past is a bit misleading. We have labels now to communicate relationship styles like open relationships, casual relationships, traditional relationships, etc. These different relationships have been around forever as any even quick dive into history will show, but now we label them because they are more openly accepted. Another reason we label them now is because we want to learn how to properly operate within them, and in the counseling world we want to be able to help those in any kind of relationship. But are all these relationship types really possible to make work? Are some better than others for different situations? Exploring the foundations of all relationships is useful to decipher if any kind of relationship can work, and looking at the subtleties of certain kinds of relationships allows one to both decide if it can work for them and if they would desire it.
Different relationship styles can be very diverse, but there are some universal aspects of any relationship we can explore. 3 major foundational aspects of relationships are:
- Any situation involving 2 or more people is going to be complex and dynamic.
- Emotional values can and will change over time.
- Trust is always necessary.
Ignoring or discounting any of these 3 foundations will often lead to undesirable outcomes in relationships. Taking them in order, it is important for any relationship participants to understand that when you try to make anything work between 2 or more people, it is not going to be simple. People are complex creatures with layers upon layers, unique histories, and baggage that will impact the relationship. This is not necessarily a negative thing. Acknowledging that relationships will not be handled like a formula will avoid the pitfalls of trying to keep things simple which always leads to problems. Think of your own self and how many different thoughts, emotions, and behaviors you have. Now add a whole additional person or even multiple! That is going to take time and effort to make fit together. It is normal to have doubts, and if you are willing to work through them a relationship of any kind will have a chance.
Emotions are not stable throughout our lives. Happiness and sadness fluctuate daily, let alone over long courses of time. But our emotional values, things we are ok and not ok with, will also change. I used to be ok with things that now upset me, and vise versa. We may enter a relationship and design it based on our current emotional values. In fact, that is all we can do. But like any future plan that has a chance of working, we need to build in some flexibility to changes in one or multiple partners. It is a recipe for disaster to start any relationship and expect you and your partner/partners to not change over time. Stay flexible and communicate! Change can always be managed through communication and discussion.
Trust is non-negotiable in any type of relationship. Open relationships, traditional monogamous relationships, casual dating, there needs to be level of trust in all of them. Trust refers to giving another person the ability to hurt you if they act in ways you do not desire. That feels uncomfortable, but it is required for us to build good relationships. If you are not willing to trust someone enough to give them the power to hurt you then you will not be in a full relationship. Trust also comes with the benefit of feeling secure most of the time about something in life. Having strong trust in someone gives us something to hold on to when other things in life seem out of control or difficult. Trust is built by shared experience, communication, and actions matching words.
Different Relationships, Different Challenges
The universal aspects of relationship apply across the spectrum of types, but there are specific challenges in different types of relationships. Let’s start with a traditional monogamous relationship. One obvious challenge is you are putting a lot of your emotional well-being into one person. You commit to one another meaning that you often are expected to be each other’s biggest supporter, caregiver, motivator, as well as being the person they have the most fun with. You spend so much time with just on another that it can be a extra challenging when there is a bump in the road like conflict in the relationship. Traditional monogamous relationships also have a chance of becoming repetitive or boring. It is important to work with your partner if you start to feel things get stale. We know from a lot of examples that with the right attitude and communication these relationships often work.
In causal relationships, ones where you may be seeing another person regularly but with no strong commitment to one another to remain monogamous, comes with feelings of freedom. But this type of relationship has its unique challenges as well. One challenge is that you may not feel as connected to your casual partner. Conflict or disagreements that would not damage or end a committed relationship may do so in a casual relationship since there is not as much connection or commitment. Casual relationships also can be risky in terms of sexual intercourse. Not knowing if the person you are casual with is seeing others who have clean medical histories is a legitimate concern. Casual relationships will also start with an agreement that neither person is committed, but over time emotions may change. One person may start to want more commitment while the other does not. Jealousy can arise as people start to feel more connected with an originally casual partner. Having consistent and frequent conversations with one another about how each person is feeling about the arrangement is crucial to making this type of relationship work. While this type of relationships is not usually something people are looking to do for life or very long periods of time, they are able to work with the right attitudes for as long as both parties are interested.
Open relationships are becoming less and less stigmatized in the modern world. This is a very good thing, as some people do have the ability to manage having their partner and/or themselves having other sexual partners outside of their committed romantic relationship. First thing that is necessary for this specific relationship is both people are very clear at the beginning what the rules are. Open relationships can sometimes start with one person thinking it is more a casual relationship, while the other feels very committed to them but still is okay with having outside sexual partners. Imbalance in understanding of the situation will always end up causing trouble. Both partners must be in agreement and be able to demonstrate clear understanding of their relationship parameters. Open relationships have another challenge that can be overlooked. Typically, an open relationship means that each person will have multiple people in their lives that they have sexual relationships with. While some people say a relationship is “purely” sexual, emotions are always involved. Because of this, things can get super complex as more people typically means more chances for miscommunication, changes in feelings, and personal problems. Open relationships can work and even be sustainable, but they have some incredible challenges that can only be handled by all involved parties being totally honest with one another.
If you are trying to work on a relationship, traditional or otherwise, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.