What Is A Romantic Relationship?
For most people, romantic relationships can be the most important part of their lives. Romantic relationships are often thought of as friendships with the addition of passion, intimacy and commitment.
To love and to be loved just as you are; to form a partnership and build a lifetime together; to look at your partner and see the future, these are some of the most rewarding parts of life.
Read more about love and how we fall in love here.
But what goes into these romantic relationships? Why do some romantic relationships fail while others thrive? What makes up a healthy relationship? Is what's healthy for you healthy for another?
Let's explore romantic relationships a bit.
The Spectrum of Love and Love Relationships:
Imagine romantic relationships on a spectrum - on the one end, you have dislike, and the other, love. Here are some of the kinds of love relationships:
Non-Love: a casual relationship on the opposite end of the love spectrum. In a "non-love" relationship, there exists no intimacy, passion, or commitment. This may be a friendship.
Liking: the experience we have with certain friends and people we know that involves an increase in the level of intimacy, without passion or commitment.
Infatuation: infatuation is a type of love that involves passion without intimacy and commitment. Perhaps, it may be the way we feel about a television husband or a rock star.
Empty Love: this tends to be a relationship that is one-sided, but committed. Empty love not reciprocated, and involves no intimacy, or passion.
Romantic Love: Romantic love can involve intimacy and passion but may or may not involve commitment.
Fatuous Love: this is a rare type of love that involves both passion and commitment, but no intimacy. Fatuous love is a type of love that's likely to fail.
Companion Love: in this type of love relationship, there is intimacy and commitment, but no passion. This may involve many workable and functioning marriages - the passion may be gone, but the commitment and intimacy remain.
Consummate Love: Consummate love involves all three elements: passion, commitment, and intimacy.
Levels of Romantic Relationships:
There are a number of levels that people go through while they're looking for a partner, a romantic relationship. Here is a simplified list of the types of levels in romantic relationships:
Booty Call/Hook-Up: This, as you'd imagine, is a repeated hook-up with the same person over time. There's passion and intimacy without commitment.
Friends with Benefits: probably the most complicated in all types of romantic relationship levels, friends with benefits are two people who are friends that sleep together. Unfortunately, this often ends in a loss of a friendship.
Lovers: those who are intimate and passionate have deep feelings for each other, though they may never progress to the next level and involve any type of commitment.
Dating: seeing each other and dating means that a level of commitment has been achieved; alongside passion and intimacy. Depending upon the partnership, it may progress into a real relationship.
Significant Other/Romantic Partner: it's not just sex, it's not just dating - you guys are SERIOUS about one another. And the world knows it.
Types of Romantic Relationships:
While many romantic relationships end in either a relationship breakup or marriage, there are other types of romantic relationships out there. Here are a few types of romantic relationships:
Closed Relationship/Marriage: This is a relationship in which there is no emotional or physical intimacy outside of the marriage or partnership.
Cohabitation: an arrangement in which two unmarried individuals in a romantic relationship live together without being married.
Domestic Partnership: a personal relationship in which two people live together and share a domestic life but are neither joined by a civil union or marriage.
Common-Law Marriages: an interpersonal status that is legally recognized in certain areas as a marriage without a marriage ceremony or civil union.
Civil Union: a legally recognized form of partnership that's similar to marriage, often for those in same-sex relationships.
Open Relationship/Marriage: This is a relationship in which there is an expectation of multiple partners within the relationship, all of whom are on equal footing.
Intentional Family are those who chose each other as family, regardless of whether they choose to be sexual with one another or not.
Polyamory - people who have multiple relationships, when held in a position of trust and open communication. Sometimes referred to as "open" relationships," polyamory reflects a non-monogamous lifestyle.
Primary Relationship: This refers to the closest relationship within the polyamorus dynamic. Sometimes there is a dominant "couple" within the relationship dynamic.
Things To Consider At The Beginning Of A Romantic Relationship:
While no romantic relationship is perfect, during the beginning stages of a relationship, or the "honeymoon phase," we may find ourselves overlooking a lot of things because we're infatuated with each other. That's okay, but to learn to have healthy relationships, you must begin to see your partner as he or she really is.
Keep the following in mind at the beginning of a romantic relationship:
- Does my partner make me feel appreciated?
- Does my partner make me feel free to be me?
- Does my partner make me feel understood?
- Does my partner make me feel valued?
- Does my partner respect me?
- Does my partner control me?
Make sure that your partner understands what you want and need from him or her in terms of the romantic relationship.
Together, explore your feelings about values, beliefs, needs and the expectations you want from a partner.
Bring up how YOU feel love is shown. Ask your partner how he or she defines love.
Discuss conflict resolution - even in the early stages of a relationship, any long-term relationship will have conflicts. How will you work together to solve them.
Tips for Healthy Romantic Relationships:
There are a lot of relationship don't-do-this-or-else advice. What about how to maintain a healthy normal romantic partnership? How does one maintain a healthy romantic partnership?
Here are some tips:
When looking for a relationship, approach it from an attitude of "What can I bring to the relationship?" rather than "what can I get out of it?" This is the attitude that fosters healthy relationships.
Don't confuse "loving someone" with "needing someone." Need is based upon insecurity and codependence which can lead you to believe that you cannot live without them. When you love someone - really love them - you know that you can be happy alone and continue to love that person regardless of your romantic relationships.
You cannot depend upon a partner for your own happiness - happiness is something that you must create and foster within yourself.
Happiness is something you yourself bring into a relationship.
Take care of your own well-being. If you don't, you will only attract someone at the same emotional level or lower. If I am healthy, I will attract a healthy partner. If I am emotionally unhealthy, I will attract emotionally unhealthy partners.
Do not hold your partner to expectations unless they have been previously discussed and agreed upon.
Take responsibility for your own emotions - not the emotions of others around you. You can only control yourself and the way you react to certain events.
Learn to tell your partner specifically what you need from him or her.
It's up to you to ask for help than expect someone else - including a partner - to do something to make you feel better.
You can feel sorry for your partner if he or she is hurting - but you don't have to be the person who feels guilty for causing the pain. If your partner EVER expects you to feel guilt or tries to play on your susceptibility toward guilt, reevaluate your relationship with your partner.
When talking about your emotions to your partner, learn to explain these emotions without placing the blame on your partner - take responsibility for being insecure or defensive.
Remind yourself that sometimes, when you talk about your feelings, you may trigger your partner to feel defensive - he or she may feel blackmailed, manipulated, responsible or pressured - even if that's not what you meant to have happen.
Healthy relationships are based on respect. Treat each other with dignity.
When you feel badly about something you've done - tell your partner immediately and ask for forgiveness.
If your partner doesn't accept your apology, you must forgive yourself. You can only give an apology - not force someone to accept it and forgive you.
Relationships are give and take. You should not be doing all the giving or the taking. It's a partnership.
Don't assume you know how your partner feels. If you don't know how he or she feels - ask.
Communication in Romantic Relationships:
There are several things to keep in mind when talking to your partner (or, really, anyone). Here are some tips for communication in romantic relationships:
Feelings are not up for debate. Ever.
It's not worth it to try to explain why you feel the way you feel to someone who isn't interested.
Logic never heals emotional wounds.
Feelings shouldn't be expressed indirectly, through sarcasm (a sign of resentment, hurt, anger, and bitterness). Identify and explain your feelings as you understand them.
Feelings may not be consistent - expecting them to remain the same will lead to resentment and disappointment.
Defending your feelings often puts other people on the defensive, so it's not a worthwhile communication technique.
Invalidating your partner is one of the quickest ways to kill the relationship.
Don't behave judgmentally toward your partner - it will only serve to drive you apart.
State your feelings starting with, "I feel (emotion)" and wait for your partner to respond - don't try to force explanations.
Take a time out and a step back (I call it "taking 5") when you feel like you've been attacked, are hostile or angry.
Ask your partner how he or she would feel before making any decisions that affect the two of you.
Don't use your partner's words against him or her - this is a particularly damaging way to attack someone.
Handling Negative Feelings In A Romantic Relationship:
There are some general guidelines to both promote effective communication and working toward a solution with your partner.
Read more about feelings.
- Figure out what feeling you're feeling.
- Tell your partner with an "I feel (emotion)."
- Wait for your partner to respond.
- Identify your feelings about their response.
- Use those feelings to help determine how you feel about the relationship - should you invest more or less in your partner.
- If several relationships show a pattern; the same feelings in a relationship with a different partner, you may want to work on managing your own emotional needs.
Problems Within Romantic Relationships:
It's not a question that every romantic relationship comes with problems. After the "honeymoon period" is over, the real you comes out and problems may emerge.
Here are some of the major problems in romantic relationships:
Jealousy - while jealousy is a natural feeling, in a romantic relationship, jealousy can become problematic when you - or your partner - begins to experience it. Typical things people may be jealous over include:
- Friendships of the opposite sex
- Time spent at work
- Time spent with friends
Read more about jealousy.
Infidelity - while infidelity is often associated with sexual activity with another person, there are several types of infidelity.
- Emotional infidelity occurs when there is an emotional - but not physical - romantic involvement to someone who is not your partner.
- Physical infidelity occurs when one partner decides to have sexual relations with someone who is not his or her partner.
- Affairs - an affair occurs when emotional infidelity and physical infidelity mix.
Infidelity can greatly impact romantic relationships.
Read more about infidelity here.
Dating Abuse - while most people don't assume that people who are simply "dating" or in a romantic relationship can be abused. It's untrue. One does not have to be married to be abused. Intimate partner rape and intimate partner abuse is fairly common and underreported.
Read more about domestic abuse.
Read more about intimate partner rape.
Feeling Under-Appreciated - many people in long-term romantic relationships end up feeling under-appreciated by their partner. Once you can see a pattern (example below) emerge, you can take what you see and take it to your partner using specific examples.
- Becky writes a resource page about relationships. Her partner shrugs.
- Becky edits 300 posts and schedules them for The Band. Her partner says, "I could've done more."
- Becky cleans the whole house and purges it. Her partner criticizes the way she got rid of "too much stuff."
The pattern remains the same - different scenarios, but Becky is left feeling like her partner doesn't appreciate her.
Couples Counseling in Romantic Relationships:
Another way to manage conflict in relationships is to consider couples counseling. Therapy provides a safe place to share your feelings, concerns, worries, and positives in an objective forum. The therapist, who should specialize in family or couples work will be able to help develop communication skills and coping strategies. Some things to consider when seeking couples therapy:
- It is normal to seek therapy
- Seeking therapy does not mean that your relationship is failing or falling apart
- Your therapist should not be seeing you or your partner individually as well
- The therapist is not there to take sides or prove that one person is right and one is wrong
- Therapy takes thought and work
- The goal of couples therapy is to develop communication skills
Read more about therapy.
Getting Back Into Dating After Divorce:
With the divorce rate hovering around 50% in the US, many individuals will be thrust back into the dating scene after being in a monogamous relationship for many years. Putting yourself out there after divorce can be downright terrifying.
Read more about life after divorce.
Here are some suggestions for dating after divorce:
Develop and maintain a new support group. While old friends are great, new friends can help you better to adapt to your new life. When a divorce happens, generally friends take sides or refuse to get involved. They may also feel jealousy that you're now free from your marriage. New friendships can help remind you that dating isn't as scary as it may feel.
Remind yourself that you're worth it, dammit! After the stress of a crumbled relationship, you may find yourself feeling particularly low about your own worth. It's hard to not feel like the divorce was your fault - even if it wasn't. So remind yourself every single day that you're worth it. Make a list of awesome things about you and pull it out whenever you're feeling low. This can avoid the trap of dating someone who, because your self-worth is so low, will treat you poorly.
Read more about how-to increase self-esteem.
Get your ass out there. You're not going to find a romantic relationship holed up on the couch. Think of this time post-divorce as an opportunity to do the things you weren't able to do in your marriage. Create a list of 10-15 activities you'd like to do, then follow that list. You can find romance in the most bizarre of places!
Don't jump before looking. A lot of people, especially when we're in emotional pain, tend to look for another relationship to jump immediately into post-divorce. Make sure you're not doing this - it's not healthy, it's not appropriate, and you need to feel your feelings and heal before you jump into a new relationship.
When we lose our partner to death, the very concept of dating can make us want to throw up our hands and hide. While much of the dating advice for widows is similar to that of someone who has been divorced, the grief process is much different when we've lost our partner.
Read more about how to cope with losing a partner.
Expect backlash - a lot of people will thumb your nose at you whenever you begin dating again - either they believe you're "dating too soon" or "not grieving enough." Fuck 'em. There is no timetable on grief and no rules for how and when a widow can and should date.
Reevaluate your own needs - you have the time to explore what you would want in a partner at this stage in your life. Use this opportunity to think about what an ideal relationship would look like for you; what you want out of a partner and what you can give someone in return.
Give yourself time to heal. Without allowing those wounds of losing your partner to close, you may jump into an unhealthy relationship - something you do NOT need.
Take baby steps: Take baby steps when you're venturing into the dating world - rather than meet someone new for dinner on a moonlit yacht, catch a cup of coffee or something low-key.
As many of us have been divorced or widowed also have children, there is an additional element to deal with while dating: your children (or your partner's children).
Read more about blended families.
Don't hide your children. Many people feel like having children may be seen as a downfall. Children are never downfalls or something to be "dealt with." Be upfront about your children to your date immediately. If he or she can't handle dating a single parent, you don't need that person in your life.
Read more about single parenting.
Wait -n- See. It's recommended that before you introduce your partner to your children, you should make sure that your relationship is going to go the distance. Children - especially small ones - get attached quickly to other adults. And if they've already experienced the loss of your breakup, it's wise to wait and make sure your partner is worth it.
Presents! Kids love stuff. When you introduce your children to your partner, have your partner bring a small gift for the children. Nothing extravagant, just a little something.
Don't force it. Try as you may want, it's inappropriate to force your children to like your partner. It may feel daunting, especially if your children express their displeasure at your partner, but reassure them that they still matter to you.
Additional Romantic Relationship Resources:
WebMD's Romantic Relationship Quiz - a quiz to determine if you are ready for a new romantic relationship.