A Therapist Gives You 3 Tips To Navigate A 'Friends With Benefits' Relationship
The sweet spot between friends and lovers might actually exist.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | May 21, 2023
In the ever-evolving world of modern relationships, the concept of 'friends with benefits' isn't perceived to be as untenable as it once was. On paper, it is the best of both worlds – a chance to explore your sexual desires with someone you are familiar and comfortable with while steering clear of the responsibilities and complications of long-term commitment.
A friends-with-benefits arrangement can foster a sense of freedom, exploration, and physical satisfaction. It might even work better than a traditional monogamous partnership when time constraints prevent serious dating. However, it can easily spiral out of control, leading to unforeseen challenges rooted in miscommunication and preconceived notions.
Maintaining a healthy friends-with-benefits dynamic requires caution as you are treading tricky terrain. In this article, I'll discuss three tips you can use to handle a platonic relationship with a sexual component.
#1. Open communication and clear boundaries
Clear and open communication is a fundamental pillar of any healthy bond, but it carries even more importance for a friends-with-benefits relationship.
It is crucial to establish and discuss boundaries, expectations, and intentions from the start. By engaging in an open conversation about emotional availability, exclusivity, and the potential implications of the relationship, you can minimize misunderstandings and reduce the risk of emotional turmoil.
A study published in Emerging Adulthood suggests that relational communication including discussions about the nature of the relationship, expectations, and appropriate behavior, is crucial for successfully navigating a friends-with-benefits relationship.
Consider reflecting on the following questions to gain clarity on expectations:
- Are we allowed to see other people?
- Do we need to inform each other if we engage with someone else intimately?
- How often should we communicate?
- Should we disclose our activities to our friends?
Clarifying these details in advance can minimize confusion and potential conflicts. If you still feel uncomfortable expressing your thoughts and feelings openly with your friend, it may be worth reconsidering the arrangement.
#2. Establish clear rules
Because of their ambiguous and fluid nature, friends-with-benefits arrangements can vary greatly, ranging from purely physical connections to emotionally involved relationships.
It is important to set guidelines specific to your situation and to communicate openly and consistently, especially if your feelings start to evolve or change. Even better, discuss and determine the conditions under which your friends-with-benefits setup might come to an end, even before it begins. This will help ensure that both parties are on the same page when the time comes to part ways.
Despite its seemingly flexible nature, a study published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour found that people in a friends-with-benefits situation prefer sexual exclusivity for basic commitment and trust but struggle to balance emotional closeness with a casual, non-committal arrangement at the same time, highlighting the complex nature of such relationships.
Therefore, be mindful of the following points and establish ground rules for easy maneuvering:
- Carefully check in with yourself before jumping into this situation. Reflect on whether you would be able to part ways if necessary.
- Touch base with your emotions and understand your motivations for pursuing such a relationship. Make sure that you are engaging in such an arrangement only when it aligns with your personal values and desires.
- Consider putting an end to it if you see that this relationship is no longer serving its purpose and your needs are not being fulfilled.
#3. Regularly revisit and re-evaluate
As with any relationship, it is essential to regularly reflect on your feelings and emotional state in a friends-with-benefits relationship. Ask yourself if the arrangement still aligns with your long-term goals. Be flexible and willing to make changes if necessary.
If you find that the arrangement is no longer beneficial to you or that it is hindering your personal growth, it may be time to reevaluate. Discuss your concerns and feelings with your partner, and warm up to the possibility of adjusting the terms or ending the arrangement if it is no longer serving either party's well-being.
The allure of a friends-with-benefits relationship lies in its promise of ease and comfort along with the thrill of novelty. If the relationship gets progressively difficult to keep up with, then it may be a clear sign that it is defeating its own purpose.
Friends-with-benefits can be both exciting and challenging, with potential impacts on mental health. By remaining cognizant of these techniques, you can foster a healthy friends-with-benefits situation. Remember, prioritizing your mental well-being is paramount, and honesty is the key to creating a sustainable and fulfilling relationship dynamic.