Relationships, including those between siblings, coworkers, intimate partners, parents and children, are subject to different characteristics, dynamics and boundaries. Moreover, the concept of love has been historically difficult to define, making the navigation of loving relationships particularly complex. Comparing the presentation of love in romantic relationships to that in relationships involving family and friends can help illustrate love's depth.
Levels of intimacy vary based on relationship type. Intimacy itself may be sexual or affectionate or could even just mean having the ability to confide in another. Romantic relationships can encompass all of these aspects. Relationships with friends and family members aren't sexual but might embrace a great deal of affection and trust. Despite the type of relationship, intimacy thrives when participants treat one another as equals and communicate respectfully, according to Debra Langan and Deborah Davidson in their work titled "Rethinking Intimate Questions: Intimacy as Discourse."
Degrees of commitment also vary depending on the nature of given relationships. A married couple may vow to remain faithful to one another sexually. Someone involved in a dating relationship may value loyalty to family and longtime friends above any romantic relationship. Others may prioritize commitment to family and long-term partners over commitment to friends. Familial and romantic relationships tend to generate the highest levels of commitment, states Lisa J. Cohen, Ph.D., in her "Psychology Today" article on the psychology of love.
Commonalities and Overlap
Relationship love shares some attributes with the love for friends and family. In all cases, there can be found some amount of caring and devotion. There is also always the risk of rejection, betrayal and mistreatment, regardless of relationship type. There is another type of overlap common to these relationships -- friends can become lovers and lovers can revert to being friends. Friendship is a part of romance, and romantic relationships can become familial via marriage.
The concept of love can be perceived differently based on culture. In some Eastern cultures, for instance, marriage is a partnership based on economics as much as on love. Some researchers believe gender plays a role in intimacy, with women more likely to crave intimacy beyond that which is purely sexual in nature. Same-sex relationships involving women are reported to have intensely intimate connections, while those involving men sometimes lack any intimacy beyond that of sex.
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.