Relationships are complex beasts. They come in all shapes and sizes. The thing is that no two relationships are exactly identical. No two people are identical, either. All of this is to say that there is no perfect relationship anywhere in the world. Relationships are fluid, evolving, and often transient.
We use a variety of terms to categorize the relationships we find ourselves in. Take romantic relationships. That’s just one category. Within that category there are different types of relationships, including:
- Platonic – without sex
- Casual – with sex but without commitment
- Committed – with both sex and commitment
- Open – with commitment and non-monogamous connections.
Even within these four subcategories, we have differences of opinion. Some people would not consider a platonic relationship romantic at all. Others don’t see a difference between casual and open relationships. So what does it all mean?
Why We Categorize Relationships
Trying to understand all the finer points of any relationship can be frustrating. We categorize our relationships to make them easier to wrap our brains around. Likewise, relationship therapists rely on categorization to give them a starting point for helping clients. But when push comes to shove, no relationship fits perfectly into a single category.
At Relationships & More, a relationship and therapy clinic in Rye, NY, all sorts of clients are welcome. The clinic helps married couples, unmarried couples, singles, adolescents, and on and on. Each person who comes to them for help is an individual with unique needs.
Categorizing the type of counseling a client needs is only a starting point. Once therapy begins, Relationships & More therapists tailor what they do to the client at hand.
To Categorize Is to Simplify
Dividing personal relationships into categories is necessary to get a baseline for understanding those relationships. But beyond establishing a baseline, categorizing is to simplify what is a very complex entity.
For example, another type of relationship is the codependent relationship. This is typically a relationship in which one party feels a responsibility to take care of the other party. The one being taking care of depends on the other for their care. Meanwhile, the caregiver depends on that relationship for fulfillment.
All of this sounds simple enough. But ask any licensed therapist and they will tell you that codependent relationships are far too complex for such a simple explanation. Codependency manifests itself in ways that can be both beneficial and harmful.
Categories Can Also Be Harmful
We generally think of relationship categories as a positive thing. Categorizing can be helpful in a lot of ways. it can also be harmful. Consider the toxic relationship. It is all the rage these days, at a time when introspective navel gazing is hip.
Technically, a toxic relationship is one that harms participants physically, emotionally, or mentally. But harm is a relative term. And unfortunately, a culture that seems to be overly sensitive about almost everything has given itself permission to define harm very loosely.
A marriage relationship going through troubles that would have been normal and solvable 30 years ago could easily be considered toxic today. Being too quick to apply the toxic label gives people the excuse to not learn how to improve their relationships.
The truth is that relationships cannot be put in neat little boxes. We can utilize baseline categories as a starting point for understanding certain types of relationships but digging into the details could very well blow those categories out the water. In the end, every relationship is unique. That should not be a surprise to anyone.