A “friends with benefits” (FWB) relationship usually means that a couple are sexually involved on top of an existing friendship with qualifying themselves as a full-fledged couple.
They may have an agreement that they can see other people, or they might want to keep the whole relationship on the down-low. It could stem from an existing friendship. Alternatively, two people may meet and settle on this arrangement.
However, in truth, FWB relationships are simply unclear sexual arrangements. While they may seem fun and strings-free at first, those blurry boundaries can lead to disarray further down the line. They’re a risky setup, especially for couples who’ve added sexual intimacy to an existing friendship.
If you’re in a “friends with benefits” relationship, you’ve either overcomplicated a friendship or avoided fully committing to building a stable platform together. It’s arguable whether these types of relationships are simply casual sex under a different name.
I’m going to walk you through the uneven terrain that accompanies an FWB relationship, its complications, and how to firmly set the boundaries. I’ll also have a look at how these can sometimes blossom into a real, lasting connection.
It’s Complicated: How Being Friends With Benefits Can Create Problems
FWB relationships have sell-by-dates. By their very definition, those “benefits” will come to an end once either party loses interest, wires and intents get crossed, or someone moves on to a more committed arrangement.
Before considering an FWB, you’ve got to calculate whether the risk is worth the reward. This applies in triplicate for those FWB couples who already had a strong bond.
One recurring thread throughout these arrangements is that when they end, it’s generally a clean break without further contact. When the “benefits” overtake the friendship, the dynamic will change.
Without mutual expectations, it’s easy to pull the rug from under the other person without thinking. Ghosting is a likely outcome, and it can be pretty painful for all involved, especially in situations where one person started to fall for the other.
In an exclusive relationship, people have expectations and obligations. It keeps them on their toes, working to further the relationship.
This type of dynamic may be one you’ve always wanted to explore, in which case, carefully weigh up what you might lose if you try it. Consider whether it has to be this particular friend or whether you might prefer a one-night stand with someone else.
Applying labels: Are we just friends with benefits?
Labels aren’t always helpful, and people are becoming more and more keen to just see how the relationship progresses.
However, there will come a crossroads for every pair of friends with benefits. Here, they must decide how they truly feel and make a decision on how to frame the relationship from that point forward – or whether to head your separate ways.
An FWB agreement will either end or transform, but the dynamic isn’t a sustainable one. Casual sex won’t hold either of you over forever. And if you get on well, have great sex, and don’t want to stop, then make the sex part of a greater whole.
Public displays of affection are a significant indicator. If these start to creep in, even just briefly holding hands as you walk together, it may suggest that you’re both ready to change the way you think about each other.
More than friends: Moving forward and starting a relationship
When a casual sex arrangement starts complicating, you may feel a little disconcerted. However, with clear communication and honest statements of intent, you can orient yourselves towards a more controlled path.
This may only become a problem if one of you doesn’t feel the same as the other. Otherwise, friendship is a superb platform for a relationship.
If you already get along and talk about deeper topics, have values that align, and have already broached the boundaries of physical intimacy, a relationship might not be a bad call. Thinking ultra-long-term isn’t necessary just yet.
As long as you redefine the dynamic in a healthy way and communicate while you both adjust to its new terms, starting an FWB might be amongst your better ideas.
Collateral damage: Ending it without causing too much pain
A bitter end can accompany the muddy waters of a poorly defined relationship. However, it doesn’t have to conclude on malicious terms.
Ending the “benefits” side needn’t cancel out the friendship side (although it can be tricky to maintain). You have to assess whether you’re fine casting your partner aside fully. If it fills you with pangs of longing and you figure that you’d prefer to keep the friendship going, make sure you convey that.
Careful choice of language can help your partner feel special without giving them false hope.
“I’ve really enjoyed exploring this side of life with you, but I’d prefer not to get too romantically involved. Hanging out with you is still amazing though, would you be comfortable staying friends?”
Sometimes, there may not be a depth of friendship present that warrants maintaining as a part of your life. That’s completely normal. A clean break might be what’s best for both partners, and using tact and diplomacy is the best way to leave you both in good spirits and ready for the next adventure, as opposed to feeling resentment.
Keep it fun
The allure of a friends with benefits relationship lies in freedom from commitment while you enjoy the sexual and personal elements of a longer-term dynamic.
While feelings are likely to enter the fray without communication, keeping the arrangement light, fun, and sensual can help you get the most from an FWB relationship.
There can be a strange pressure to move the connection forward. However, this doesn’t need to apply. You can leave things where they are and walk away without guilt, should you choose to. Those are the terms of an FWB relationship.
Don’t force your dynamic beyond its limits. If your relationship progresses naturally, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you’ve got a whole world of options waiting.
You either get on with the idea of being friends with benefits or you don’t.
Clear communication and expectation setting are vital for getting around the simple yet complicated nature of the FWB relationship.
However, you could argue that most people in marriages and long-term relationships become friends with benefits. They engage sexually but form a deep emotional bond. The only difference between this and ongoing casual sex is exclusivity.
If the thought of your friend with benefits hooking up with someone else makes you feel rotten, it might not be the right arrangement for you.
Master all types of relationships and how to meet new people in my virtual Impactful Connections workshop.