Variety is the Spice of Life
This section of our resources section focuses on relationships with significant others, partners, girlfriends/boyfriends, and other intimate relationships. However, the same resources used to deal with romantic/sexual partner conflict or problems could also be applied to any relationship: family, friends, co-workers or acquaintances.
Variety in relationships is huge, from the type of relationship to the level of commitment to the sexual boundaries. Relationships also have many names. These names or titles ideally exist to assert personal boundaries, and comfort level.
What is a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships center on a few key concepts: respect, communication and consent. Healthy relationships increase our self-esteem, improve mental and emotional health, and help us have fuller lives. Some common aspects of healthy relationships include:
- Mutual respect
- Trust and honesty
- Reciprocity, or “give and take”
- Feeling supported and supporting others
- Fairness and equality within the relationship
- Emotional intimacy or closeness
- Being able to have your own life apart from the other
- Being able to set personal limits with self and others
- Willingness to compromise
Advocates for Youth have several charts and resources dealing with healthy relationships and communication.
Communication is one key to any relationship whether it is family, a friend or a romantic/sexual partner. Communication is epically important when checking in with your partner about sexual activity, and talking about consent.
Consent (in a sexual context) is generally defined as mutual agreement of all parties involved in a sexual encounter to engage in that specific encounter, and the ability to stop the sexual act at any time. Consenting to one behavior does not obligate you to consent to any other behaviors and consenting on one occasion also does not obligate you to consent on any other occasion.
Consent should be an ongoing process in a relationship, with partners regularly checking in to make sure that everyone is comfortable with what is going on.
There are some situations in which a person cannot give consent. People under the age of consent (16 for Indiana), are intoxicated, or have decreased mental ability (because of a mental health or mental disability) can never give consent. Having non consensual sexual interactions is considered sexual assault and is illegal.
Keep in mind – Consent is sexy.
Monogamy vs. Non-Monogamy
There are many types of romantic relationships between two or more partners. Most people in the United States today are familiar with and engage in monogamous relationships but, again, relationships and sexuality are widely varied.
Here are some common terms when it comes to relationship definitions and types.
- Monogamy – the state or custom of being in a relationship with one person at a time. Monogamy can include sexual monogamy where you are only engaging in sexual activity with one person over a period of time and only that person.
- Serial monogamy – the practice of engaging in a series of monogamous relationships with either short-term or long-term partners.
- Polygamy – the practice of marrying more than one man (polyandry) or women (polygyny) at a time. This practice is illegal in the United States.
- Polyamory – the practice of having multiple romantic partners at the same time. This is not cheating (although cheating can happen in polyamorous relationships) but rather a set of boundaries set within the relationship(s) that allows one, both or all partners to be involved with other people at the same time. Read Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up or see The Polyamory Society for more information.
- Primary Partner – a term often used to describe the most emotionally or sexually important relationship between polyamorous people, primary partners often have a committed relationship with their own rules and boundries.
- Open Relationship – the practice where one or both partners in a committed relationship may become sexually active with other partners. Swinging generally falls under this category and can also be organized activities that couples engage in together.
- Casual Relationship – also referred to as “dating”, “hooking up,” or “friends with benefits.” A physical and (possibility) emotional relationship between two people.
Other Relationship Resources:
- Online listing of Relationship Pamphlets from the University of Chicago
- Unabridged Student Counseling Online Pamphlets from Dr. Bob Hsiung at the University of Chicago
- Common Questions about Relationships from the University of Buffalo – SUNY
- The John Gottman Institute: Researching and Restoring Relationships