3 Things To Know About Being Friends With Benefits

Being in this type of relationship is different for different people.

Perhaps you have a friend you've always secretly found attractive—and you end up casually hooking up with that person. Labels may be a thing of the past, but in that situation, you still may fall into the category of being friends with benefits.

The idea of friends with benefits entails the above situation but without any romantic ties, according to a Journal of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness study published in 2021. But being friends with benefits actually can be healthy—if you're careful about it, said Holly Richmond, PhD, a certified sex therapist in New York City.

In fact, for some people, FWB relationships work even better than more traditional monogamous relationships, Richmond explained. For example, if you're at a point in your life where you don't have time to date seriously (say you're putting in extra hours at work to get a promotion), starting a casual relationship with clearly defined guidelines—emphasis on the guidelines—could be smart.

Here's more about some of the ins and outs of being friends with benefits.

Communication Is Crucial

As with all relationships, communication is key to keeping things calm in a friends-with-benefits situation. So if you're not comfortable being overly communicative with your friend, then you might want to rethink things. "I absolutely have a lot of clients where [being] friends with benefits have worked beautifully," Richmond said, "but only because they have communicated well and both targets have been on the same page."

Thus, people need to understand what the other is hoping (or not hoping) to get out of the relationship. The authors of a Sexuality & Culture article published in June 2018 noted that any differences concerning the relationship and mutual commitment can make for a negative experience. It might seem obvious, but if one person is only in it because they think the arrangement will eventually turn into something more serious, while the other has absolutely no intention of that happening, then that's a problem.

Richmond also advised asking questions: Are we seeing other people? Do we have to tell each other if we go out with someone else? What about if we sleep with another person? How often should we expect to talk—every day, or less frequently? Are we telling our friends that we're hooking up? Basically, the more answers you have up front, the less you'll have to guess or worry about later.

Guidelines Are Also Important

Few friends with benefits relationships look the same, per an Archives of Sexual Behavior article published in July 2020. For example, some are purely physical, while others are more emotional. That's why it's important that you set guidelines specific to your situation—and then communicate openly and consistently, especially if your feelings start to change, Richmond said.

Unlike most traditional relationships, you can actually discuss if and when your friends-with-benefits setup will need to end before it even begins. It may seem strange, but Richmond said establishing this beforehand will help ensure you're on the same page when it's time to part ways. Maybe it'll be when one person begins seeing someone else seriously, or perhaps when one of you feels like you're starting to have feelings for the other.

Regardless, a telltale sign that it's time to break it off is that the relationship no longer meets your needs. Do you want a more emotionally supportive partner? Or one you can show off in public and isn't seeing anyone else? If you answer yes to any of these, it's time for a sit-down. "Yes is a fine answer," Richmond said, "but that has to lead to a conversation with the other person involved in the situation."

Coming to that conclusion and then having the end-it conversation takes some emotional maturity (elevated emotional control and expression at a suitable level, per the American Psychological Association [APA]). But again, you should seriously think about your needs and wants from a friends-with-benefits relationship before you get into one in the first place. You'll need to know if you would be able to part ways if necessary.

The Relationship Can Get Complicated

Being friends with benefits isn't always a bad idea. But as most people know from experience, they aren't simple. Even when you go into them with set guidelines, the boundaries can get blurred. It's natural to have feelings for the people you're intimate with. If that happens, and you find yourself wishing your "friend" was more than a friend, then you owe it to yourself to speak up about those feelings.

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