What types of relationships are there, and what do they consist of? What type of relationship do I have or want to have? How can I improve it? Experts explain.
There are different ways to connect romantically and erotically with people. However, not all relationships are sexual, nor are all sexual connections loving. People are currently attempting to break with the heteronormative standard. We explain what types of relationships there are.
Farith Zambrano Medina, who holds a degree in sexology from Tecnológico de Monterrey, says there are different ways people pair up when they decide to form a relationship, and they’re generally based on stereotypes.
“This form of arrangement usually revolves around the stereotypes we have of the relationship, generally coming from a heteronormative system stemming from monogamy, in which couples are composed of two people, so the word “couple” itself implies two,” he says.
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We can identify different types of relationships and sexual orientations on this basis. Let’s list them:
These types of relationships are usually monogamous. This includes the three main orientations: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. In these relationships, there’s a sexual and sentimental exclusivity contract, in which they promise each other that they won’t love someone other than their partner in either a sexual or emotional way.
“A closed relationship is the traditional kind of couple, but there are divergent ways to form couples in which erotic and sentimental monogamy is questioned,” says the sexologist.
There are different types for this arrangement. Each partner decides how open to be and defines their own agreements that specify what’s allowed and what isn’t.
“For example, two people may maintain a romantic relationship in which they reserve emotional love for themselves but allow each other to have sexual activities with other people. Some of these couples are defined by their number of conquests, others aren’t. There are very specific rules about how many times they can have sexual contact with other people,” Zambrano explains.
These types of open relationships include different phenomena, such as swingers, who have sexual relations with other couples. In this dynamic, the arrangement is sexual, but they spend their time with their partner. Somehow, there’s an emotional exchange.
This kind of relationship claims that monogamy isn’t natural and suggests that we all have the ability to love more than one person.
“Polyamory breaks up the couple dichotomy to form new systems. There are threes and fours, and from four on we describe them with geometric configurations: pentagons, hexagons… These aren’t closed or open because they can be both,” Zambrano explains.
In these systems, individuals decide to include someone else in their activities. In some cases, both should like them, and in others, each engages with someone different.
“Jealousy doesn’t exist in polyamory because that’s a construct of monogamy. The relationship is deconstructed, and in return, the members talk about all their emotions. But what isn’t allowed is lying. Everyone involved needs to know that you have other partners,” says Farith Zambrano Medina, an expert sexologist on sexual diversity, gender, and groups made vulnerable by the system.
In polyamory, there may also be interaction between systems, for example, a member of one hexagon may become a member of another hexagon. There isn’t a link between hexagons, but there’s a connection with other members. “They form different groupings and configurations,” the expert adds.
Conversely, there are asexual couples. There are very good emotional relationships here, but there are no sexual relations. Every relationship is going to set its own rules and agreements.
“Any type of relationship: closed, open, or polyamorous, implies a degree of openness and communication. I recommend continually evaluating three parameters: sexual attraction, affinity (recognizing and respecting the other), and friendship (trust and interest in sharing time, space, and intimacy),” says Karla Elizabeth Urriola González, clinical and educational sexologist at Tec de Monterrey’s Office of Gender and Safe Community.
Beyond the classification of a couple, when we’re in a relationship –whatever number is involved– it’s important to build the “us”.
“There’s the me, the other, and the us. The us is what we share, the communication between us, whatever the level of sexuality. It isn’t how much I talk, but how much “we” communicate and that we listen to each other,” Urriola says.
Before entering into a relationship or being in one, sexuality experts recommend talking about agreements so that each party knows why they’re in the relationship and what they hope to get from it. They should also establish whether it will be closed, open, or polyamorous, and why.
Still, there’s also a difference in relationships before and after the pandemic.
“Couples’ interactions became more complex because previously they saw each other on the weekend or for a period of time at night. Now, they’re interacting all day and sharing the responsibilities of the home and talking about issues they used to avoid,” says Karla Elizabeth Urriola González.
According to sexuality experts, many couples have benefited, others have ended, but what worries them most are the cases where there’s violence.
“The pandemic has trapped victims at home with their violent abuser and, moreover, the aggressor is more frustrated than usual by the pandemic’s adversities: economic and family loss, lack of employment or money. The government and organizations need to pay special attention to this and establish shelters,” says Farith Zambrano Medina, a founding member of the Emotional and Mental Welfare Institute in Nuevo León.
Love in the time of coronavirus needs to adapt to safety measures and, above all, to virtual interaction. In this context, it can be difficult to find sexual and emotional connections. Here’s some advice:
If you’re connecting through an app, it’s important to go out after meeting someone. “It’s necessary that communication with this person turn toward real life as soon as possible, as soon as trust allows for it. That allows both people to feel like they’re in a real exchange,” Zambrano says.
If you’re going to risk getting to know each other, you should be careful to do so after getting tested and verifying that neither of you have Covid-19 symptoms. You should meet in an open place such as a park with face masks on.
If you’ve decided to have a sexual encounter, do so in a sanitized and ventilated area. Use condoms to prevent the exchange of fluids.
If you don’t want to take any chances, there are many ways to connect erotically: cybersex, phone sex or by text messaging. “You need to be careful with the things you share online because once it’s on the net it’s no longer just your information. Be sure of who you’re sharing photos or videos with and how,” adds Farith Zambrano.
Work in your personal spaces. “Try to create a separation. For example, when working, do so in different spaces, and if the space is small, put up curtains or screens. It’s important to have something that gives you the feeling of privacy and separation,” says the sexologist.
Not everything has to be done together. Have time for each person. Make time to do something one person likes and the other doesn’t, such as watching TV shows or movies.
Schedule moments to be together, such as dinner. “Structure time as a couple. Don’t kill spontaneity, but allow for order,” Farith adds.
Respect each other’s way of working. If you work with music and the other person works in silence, arrange ways to work such as using headphones or adjusting your schedules.
Learn to say the things you need, and don’t assume the other knows. Don’t fall into the absurd idea of “if you say it, it doesn’t matter anymore.” Your partner can’t guess.
Talk about your sexual needs, share your erotic fantasies, and create intimacy.
Keep an eye on your partner’s mental state. Detect anxiety and depression in time. “Pay attention to whether your partner is sleeping well and taking an interest in life, so you can help them in time,” Farith says.
If your relationship is on the violentometer, how violent is it? “It’s important to recognize the situation you’re living in to be able to deal with it,” adds Zambrano Medina.
Create safe spaces with family and friends. These are places you can go to in case of violence in your relationship. “Violence always increases. It can decrease if treated by a specialist and if the violent person is willing to change,” he says.
Make escape strategies and an emergency plan. Approach institutions like the National Women’s Institute so they can provide you with tools to work on yourself and to be able to escape in a safe way.