Difference between Horizontal and Vertical Relationships

An individual's life is filled with many various sorts of relationships with other individuals, some of which may be categorized as horizontal relationships and others as vertical relationships. Most of these bonds are interpersonal relationships, such as those within families or between friends and acquaintances. Simultaneously, both horizontal and vertical are employed to represent the connection between a person and a higher authority figure, such as the state or a religious god.

It will be shown in the following discussion that the labels "horizontal" and "vertical" do, in reality, most commonly refer to the orientation, most visibly identifying who the participants are in that particular interaction. However, a typical horizontal link might take on the characteristics of a vertical connection and vice versa. Separate from the people that make up each type of relationship, there are also differences in the relationships that characterize them and the environmental factors that keep them alive. The similarities and differences between these two types will be discussed in greater depth in the following sections.

What are Horizontal Relationships?

Horizontal relationships are those that are based on mutual respect and reciprocity, rather than on rank or superiority. A horizontal relationship is another term for this form of partnership. Democracy, reciprocity, and collaboration are hallmarks of horizontal interactions. Horizontal relationships include those between parents and children or between parents and siblings.

Relationships between individuals of the same generation are often referred to as intragenerational ties. The group's members are roughly on par with one another in terms of their level of expertise. Other types of relationships that might be considered horizontal partnerships are those between friends, equal partners, peers, and coworkers. Additional instances of horizontal relationships include

Although there may be a clear power imbalance between the partners in some partnerships, those relationships may nevertheless be classified as horizontal. For instance, a teacher and student may not have the same knowledge or authority inside a classroom; yet, they are still able to be classified as having a horizontal relationship when the instructor encourages the student to speak honestly and assuredly. The same holds true in democracies, where citizens not only have the right but the need to voice their opinions and concerns about government policies and procedures. When difficulties between members of a relationship are resolved through the mediation of a third person, the relationship is no longer considered horizontal. Such is the case, for example, when disagreements arise in the framework of an otherwise egalitarian partnership, and one partner is compelled to uphold an obligation under the weight of the law.

Despite their egalitarian roots, horizontal relationships are not immune to the potential for conflict. The failure of the parties involved to keep the bond strong might lead to unhealthy levels of rivalry and hostility rather than fruitful cooperation. Relationships between governments that develop mutual fear and defense can have far-reaching consequences, as was the case during the Cold War between the United States of America and the entity formerly known as the Soviet Union.

What are Vertical Relationships?

One person in a vertical relationship is placed above the others because they hold a superior position in terms of either power and authority or knowledge and wisdom. Because of the hierarchical nature of these bonds, generosity is essential for their smooth functioning. An average family consists of a grandmother, a parent, and a child. Intergenerational connections are relationships between family members that transcend several generations.

Having strong vertical links is beneficial for several reasons, including the dissemination of knowledge, the distribution of goods, and the preservation of social order. The relationships between a government and its citizens are an example of a vertical link. Other examples are those between a teacher and a student, an employer, and an employee, a warden and a prisoner, and so on. It is always clear which party has the upper hand in these exchanges, regardless of how much freedom each side is given.

As was previously said, there are relationships in which vertical interactions look more like horizontal ones. When one person in a partnership grows more powerful than the other, the partnership ceases to be equal and instead becomes unequal. When a husband and wife take their marital issues to court, the dynamic shifts from horizontal to vertical. A vertical connection exists between siblings when one sibling is favored by the parents over the others because of some superior quality or accomplishment.

Because of their hierarchical nature and the inherent inequalities in power and authority that exist between their members, vertical relationships can get out of hand. The misuse of power and authority is what we mean when we talk of tyranny, and it may lead to the rise of dictatorships inside states. Uprisings are often the result of oppression. For the most part of recorded history, stronger nations have conquered and oppressed weaker ones.

Differences − Horizontal and Vertical Relationships

The following table shows how horizontal relationships are different from vertical relationships −

Characteristics Horizontal Relationships Vertical Relationships


A horizontal relationship is one in which there is equality of status amongst the relationships involved.

To put it simply, a vertical relationship is one in which one person is superior to another in some way (e.g., in relationships of power, authority, knowledge, or wisdom).


Horizontal relationships are characterized by democracy, reciprocity, and collaboration.

Vertical relationships are characterized by their strict hierarchy and their emphasis on compassion.

In families

Relationships like those between a husband and wife or between siblings fall under this category. They're also known as relationships between generations.

Vertical relationships can also be referred to as intergenerational ties. These are the relationships that hold grandparents, parents, and offspring together.

In government

Democratic governments have a horizontal relationship with the people they serve, in contrast to the vertical organization of most governments. Citizens in democracies are expected and encouraged to take part in policymaking.

Authoritarian governments and their citizens have a hierarchical relationship.

In law

To comply with the partnership's goals and obligations, the members of the partnership must have what is called "horizontal links," according to the legislation.

A vertical relationship exists when one party to the connection is compelled to fulfill its duties by coercion or force of law, as in the case of a third party's intervention.

At work

Mutually beneficial partnerships between coworkers are instances of horizontal relationships.

An employer and an employee have a vertical relationship.


Most people with horizontal connections would rather compete with one another than cooperate together.

Vertical relationships nearly often lead to oppression and tyranny.


There are various relationships to classify relationships, but the two most prevalent are horizontal and vertical. A vertical relationship is one in which one party is more powerful or more knowledgeable than the others, whereas a horizontal relationship is one in which all relationships are on equal footing.

Horizontal relationships are characterized by democratic principles, the spirit of collaboration, and the spirit of reciprocity, whereas vertical connections are marked by their hierarchical nature and benevolence.

The downward spiral of a relationship begins when once-friendly horizontal connections deteriorate into hostility and competition, while the upward spiral of once-friendly vertical connections becomes authoritarian and dominating.