Five Types of Marriage Relationships

Have you ever seen the happy older couple who have been married for several generations, yet they still laugh together and are best friends? Or, what about the couple who yell and have awful arguments every weekend (especially if either, or both, become inebriated), but they’ve remained married for 25 years and counting?

Then, of course, there are the newlyweds who just can’t seem to get enough of each other; but after a few years, beers and several children later, they become bored with daily routines, and lack the passion, fun, and excitement that they originally shared between them.

Well, what works for one, may not work for all. In fact, when country singer, Dolly Parton was asked in an interview, what kept her marriage together, she replied, “I keep a bag packed by the door, honey.” Some couples enjoy spending time away from their partner, and as the saying goes, for them, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

I frequently suggest to my clients to “customize their marriage”. In other words, do not compare your marriage to your parents, your friends, your siblings, or for heaven’s sake, not to anyone in Hollywood. Although we all can extract some positive pointers from those couples who seem to be making their marriage work, it’s best to do what works for the two of you!

Below, I’ve described FIVE different types of marriage relationships, and I’m sure that one of them should befit your current situation. If you’re single, you may find one that reminds you of a past relationship (maybe even one that you would like to forget).

Two are considered as “intrinsic” unions; two as “extrinsic”; and one can be listed as either, depending on the views and needs of the couple.

Feel free to highlight the one that best describes your situation, and to post your comments below.


This is the type of marriage where couples argue and experience conflict on a routine basis. The spouses often nag, complain, criticize, belittle, and bring up past events. The result is tension and conflict.

They communicate to “win”, rather than to resolve issues, and if one partner were to apologize, or admit their wrong, he or she would lose face for the next argument. So, the objective is to be “right” rather than happy.

Surprisingly to some, these types of marriages actually do not end up in divorce, as there are some individuals who thrive in chaotic environments. You see, individuals who grew up in frenzied environments may CREATE conflict when there is no apparent reason to do so. To them, peace is disturbing; and conflict is the “norm”.

A loud, rambunctious atmosphere feels comfortable to them, therefore, they may invoke arguments, in order to release tension and gain a sense of familiarity.

The problem comes when one partner did not grow up in a household where there were frequent arguments and put-downs, and finds their partner’s verbal attacks as emotionally draining and unacceptable behavior. This partner may feel imbalanced; while the other feels relieved.

The conflict-habituated marriage, therefore, can be intrinsic if both partners find conflict as a “normal” state of being. But, it would be extrinsic for the partner who does not.


In devitalized unions, couples start off feeling extremely passionate towards one another. In the beginning, they spent a lot of time together having fun, laughing, communicating, and enjoying one another’s company. They built a rapport due to sharing common goals, values, and beliefs. Emotional and physical intimacy created a strong chemical bond between them, and they couldn’t seem to get enough of each other’s love.

However, over a period of time, the relationship lost its passion, and things became routine and mundane. Now, the couple share in marital “duties”, and responsibilities, such as, taking care of the children, or making sure that the household bills are managed. Each spouse spends much of their time working on individual projects and goals and is considered the most common out of the five listed.

Please note, devitalized marriages may be more common because partners observe so many other couples who have the same type of marriage. If they come to accept or to expect that ALL marriages lose their zest over time, then they will accept that, that’s just the way that it is.


In this type of union, partners did not expect their marriage to contain emotional intimacy. They united for more pragmatic reasons instead. I refer to these “marriages” as “mergers”. But, then again, “courtly” or romantic love didn’t really flourish until the middle ages. Before then, the primary reasons for marriage were: property and familial status. (No wonder the females with large dowries could marry men with a high-ranking family status).

There are still individuals who choose marriage as a way to improve their image, increase their status, or for material possessions. Some also choose to societal pressures, and to avoid having children out of wedlock.

Should one partner decide to leave the marriage, the other will probably be okay. And, this may occur if one spouse begins to feel unfulfilled or emotionally empty, and begins to want more of an intrinsic commitment versus a utilitarian agreement.


When partners enjoy spending time, and having fun together, they are in a vitalized marriage! They share a common vision of what they want their marriage to be. They respect one another, and when a problem arises, they want to communicate about it, so they can return back to living in a functional environment.

Individuals in this type of relationship respect partner’s boundaries and find pleasure in seeing their partner happy and fulfilled. The couple’s share a strong emotional connection, and are interrelated because they depend on one another for support, appreciation, and commitment. Their partner is their safe haven and shelter from life’s various storms.

However, although they share a close connection, each spouse maintains a sense of individualism throughout the marriage. So, if one partner lets go, it would certainly be devastating; but the other partner would eventually recover and move on.

  5.TOTAL MARRIAGE (Intrinsic):

In a total marriage, couples experience the same qualities as a vitalized marriage. However, their lives are even more intertwined. Couples in total marriages do practically everything together—write a book, travel, volunteer, attend events, start a business, work for the same company or department, and so on.

Even if they are miles away from one another, these couples have reported that they can feel what the other one is doing, or can feel when something is wrong. They may know what their partner is going to say before they complete their sentence, or may believe that they know their partner better than they know themselves.

Total marriages are probably the rarest of all those mentioned, but they do exist. And, because the partners have become so interwovened — unlike the vitalized marriage where spouses maintained their individualism–, if one partner lets go, or dies, it may take years for the other partner to fully recover. The grieving process can cause severe depression, as the partner attempts to re-establish their self-identity and adjust to their new life alone.

Although this article does not list every type of marriage relationship, it does cover the most common. Which one of the five describes yours?



Denyce Gartrell, MA, MCC

Li Global Relationship & Communications Strategist, Media Personality, Speaker, Educator & Author w/over 10 yrs exp.

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