Our primary relationships can be one of the greatest sources of fulfillment, creativity, love, and connection that we can experience as human beings. These relationships are a continual exercise in subtle negotiations, empathic connection, and our ability to stay connected. They can contribute to some of our greatest experiences of love and evoke some of our most profound experiences of fear.
We live in a time in which the definition of the word “relationship” has fluid flexibility, meaning, and personal narrative. This has many benefits, such as: less culturally determined restraints, less pressure for personal suppression, and greater freedom for exploration.
However, some of the freedom can also contribute to confusing boundaries, unclear relationship parameters, and lack of definition. Because of some of these “pros” and “cons” we are faced with many more questions pertaining to relationships then we may have had to entertain in the past.
Questions such as: What’s the difference between casual versus serious relationships? How do I know what’s right for me? How can I commit to a casual relationship?
Aren’t the two mutually exclusive?
What is a “committed” relationship?
Commitment may be when two or more people engaged in a romantic or sexual partnership pledge to be romantically faithful to only the partners within. Those who are committed may discuss long-term goals as well as struggles within the relationship. They are committed to the relationship and are open to working on themselves and the relationship with the intention of growing in the relationship.
Commitments can include marriage, exclusive polyamory or polyamorous situations, and live-in circumstances, among others.
What is a “casual” relationship?
A casual relationship can occur when two or more people engage in a romantic partnership but choose to refrain from future planning and have an agreement that the relationship will maintain boundaries that allow it to flourish in a casual state. The relationship may last a short time or go on for a long time. Also, member(s) may agree to engage in romantic or sexual intimacy with other people not contained within the pairing/group.
Casual relationships can include dating, “hooking up”, courtship, friendships, and more.
Relationships are about individual definitions.
There are many different opinions about how relationships best function.
When thinking about casual versus committed relationships, there are some specific psychological views that maybe important to consider.
- Feminist Theory Interpretation
- Developmental Psychology Interpretation
- Imago-Relationship Theory
Feminist theory is connected to psychological thought pertaining to the worth and dignity of each individual. It respects the right for individuals to choose what sort of life and relationship they wish to create. Feminist theory is a reflection of autonomy and self-determination. Additionally, feminist theory encourages individual and relationship empowerment, giving little merit to social normative behavior or definitions.
Present-day relationship definitions fit well with feminist theory interpretation. Psychologically speaking, this school of thought allows for a broader view of relationships and encourages each member of a relationship to define it as they see fit. This allows for more autonomy, personal fulfillment narratives, and the right to a person’s self-determination.
This field of psychological thought states that there are roughly eight developmental stages that we navigate throughout our lifespan. These stages are our mandate as human beings and successful navigation of these stages allows us to develop into fully functional and healthy people.
Developmental psychology posits that we live in binary terms. We can either successfully navigate the stage of development or we become “arrested” in this area until we succeed in negotiating the said stage. There is no grey area.
One of the developmental stages that we must navigate along our path pertains specifically to relationships. It is the stage of intimacy vs. isolation. From a developmental perspective we either progress and experience the level of awareness and trust needed to successfully obtain intimacy or we reach road blocks and a lack of progression and enter into isolation.
From a developmental perspective, we have no other choice but to obtain successful navigation of each stage development. This can be thought of as circular in the sense that if we are not successful at one juncture that we will be faced with another opportunity at some point along our path.
To become full human beings, we must navigate intimacy. Intimacy can include trust, vulnerability, partnership, and collaboration. This stage of development, like all stages, contains its own challenges. According to this theory of human behavior, it is not uncommon for individuals to avoid, fight, or let fear get in the way of completing this developmental task.
Imago-relationship theory suggests that by definition each individual contains significant wounding from his/her childhood. This posits that we each have an unconscious mechanism within our relationships whereby our partner will undoubtedly have wounds or wound us that were similar in fashion to how we were wounded in childhood.
Imago-relationship suggests that our primary relationship can be a vehicle (if navigated successfully) that can not only heal both partners childhood wounds, but also give them an experience to thrive in ways in which they have never experienced previously.
As you are looking at the difference between a “casual” and “committed” relationship, and as you deepen your own relationship awareness, consider the above-mentioned perspectives. Some questions to consider on your relationship journey may include:
- Might you be avoiding intimacy out of fear?
- Are you paralyzed by societal norms about relationships, and in turn not getting what you need?
- How can you increase your capacity for intimacy?
- What is your partner’s capacity for intimacy?
- How might you and your partner’s childhood wounds be presenting themselves in your relationship?
- Do I notice similar patterns in my relationships?
- How can better address my own barriers in relationships?