The Relationship Spectrum

I’ve developed a framework for thinking about the depth and quality of relationships and came up with a kind of “relationship spectrum”.

Why do I develop these frameworks? What’s the point? I find it helps me see things more clearly particularly in the blurry area of interpersonal relations. You can plan a path forward with the current and new companions in your life. You can decide if the quality of your relationships is good enough and what to do about it (try harder or step back). You can better prioritise who to devote your limited energy to.

From the first meeting you gradually advance through these levels eventually settling on one. Sometimes the level can recede. Sometimes it can fluctuate up and down. Often we will think we are on a higher level that we are due to certain illusions.

Which level the relationship is on can be analysed using the 4 Elements framework.

Level 1 – Apathy: You either don’t know them or you know that you don’t want to know them. If someone stays at this level then they have probably shown signs of significant incompatibility.

Level 2 – Sympathy: This person seems “all right”. You care and feel some compassion. You genuinely wish the person well from a distance. You don’t make time for them but aren’t adverse to small doses. They might even make it to your facebook.

Level 3 – Friendliness: You like the person but there isn’t a real connection. You might hang out now and then. Perhaps often. But there is a lack of depth. Most people start to use the word “friend” at this point. Conversation doesn’t get very personal and generally remains on a superficial level. These relationships do not rely on any high degree of mutual understanding and are usually just to fulfil basic needs of connection. They provide comfort and a sense of belonging. Some people who have problems forming close bonds with others will often have a lot of these with nothing much above. This relationship is generally reliant on regular contact and therefore as one goes through life many of these relationships tend to come and go.

Level 4 – Affection: This is where feelings of love begin. You “click” conversationally. You have decent chemistry and hang out quite a bit. You are “good friends”. You confide in each other but still keep a lot to yourself. If you move apart you will still keep in touch on occasion. People who you have a lot of shared history with but have drifted away a bit may sit here.

Level 5 – Attachment: You have strong feelings of love and attachment for this person. You miss them if you don’t see them for a while. You may Skype them regularly if you move apart. Most average marriages are at this level as are longer term friends.

Level 6 – Devotion: You are completely devoted. You think about this person a lot. This is a pretty high level of relationship except that complete understanding is not achieved but there is still a high level of it. Good marriages are at this level and so are most life long friendships. You can only maintain a few people in this category at any one time and some people will not have any.

Level 7 – Complete Bond: There is nothing between you. No secrets. No misunderstanding. You desire to know every little detail of each other. To be capable of having a relationship of this type requires both people to have a high interpersonal intelligence and be very outwardly focused. This kind of relationship is extremely rare and most people never have one hence the saying “we are all alone”. I can only think of about 3 people I know who are at a high enough level of development to be able to get to this point with anyone.

What do you all think? This seems to make sense to me. Share any adaptations you might make for yourself.


  1. Michelle said:

    Very interesting reading and makes perfect sense to me.

  2. This is an amazing piece of writing and I think your spot on.When I was age 16 to 18 I was lucky enough to have level 7,very sadly he was killed in a car accident age 24.You may like to read my verse ‘Bleed Forever’it says it all almost 33 years after his death.Reading this has helped me immensley,I’ve just slotted everyone in their rightful catagories.Well done you,

  3. It makes a lot of sense to me. So what would you do with that categorisation? I mean, could you use it somehow?

    • Well it helps me to think about how connected with various people I am and why. Then I can prioritise my time and energy better.

  4. I have also recently been thinking about relationships as I have found that many of my patients that suffer the most do not have strong social support networks. I am also seeing that my children have not developed the deeper level friendships that I had at their age. I found your analysis quite accurate and enjoyed the rational way of categorization. I wonder if social media has induced this decline in people’s abilities to go to higher levels. I wonder what teaching someone to have deeper relationships would look like or if it’s even possible. Great, thought provoking analysis.

    • Hmm well actually as a child I learned the habit of getting very personal and deep with people through the internet. When I was a kid I would play game and make online friends and because there was a kind of protection offered by the semi anonymity it allowed for very uncensored open dialogues. Social media also helps me to keep in touch with people who might have otherwise drifted away. I would say that people who lack deep relationships are always highly absorbed in themselves.

  5. I found this very interesting and seems to ring true. Although it would seem to make sense that each level achieved would take a longer amount of time in the making, do you think it possible for some of the higher levels to be reached in a relatively short period of time if there is an immediate connection with someone? I find there is at least some needed to build trust.

    • I think you can get to 6 very quickly if you really understand each other well enough. 7 would definitely take some time. When I think of people that I have full understanding of, it took me at least a couple of months of near constant contact. But for others it could take years.

  6. It is sad that relationships at the upper levels seem to have just evaporated from my life and looking back I can’t identify a particular reason but it saddens me.

  7. I believe you have made very clear definitions here. What I began to think about while reading was how the first few levels have a tendency to jump back and forth depending on betrayal and other less than positive relationship experiences. I also think that some people could begin at level two or three even. Some people have that amazing chemistry. Thanks for sharing your thinking! You have made some great observations. Have a wonderful day!

  8. I suggest these levels are accurate for the more superficial levels of relationship. Level 7 is level one of true, heart-based relationships, though, in my experience. Thanks for the great idea on a post about the higher levels and attributes of relationship. I’d be interested in hearing yours, as well… : )

    Some of the best popular definitions of what these higher levels might look like are in The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm

    • Well it really depends on what you value. I guess for me I consider understanding to be the most important. But I also have relationship with family and friends that might not have as much understanding as I would like but there is an extreme degree of mutual care and also shared history. And in my view really understanding another person takes a lot of mental energy and focus that most people really don’t have so they are forced to rely on the shared history, and mutual care the most. Thanks for the book suggestion ill have a look at it :)

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