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Friends with benefits: How it works and what to keep in mind

A psychologist and a therapist weigh in on the pros and cons of a friends with benefits relationship, and list a few things to keep in mind

People engaged in a friends with benefits relationship should also work on their friendship, and keep an open dialogue going.
People engaged in a friends with benefits relationship should also work on their friendship, and keep an open dialogue going. (Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash)

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Friends with benefits (FWB) are usually non-committal and non-monogamous. Most often, people involved in a FWB relationship clearly enjoy spending time together, but their relationship isn’t romantic and has no strings attached. Before considering or entering into one, it is important to understand what this kind of casual connection truly means and entails.

There are various reasons FWB may work for some people. For some, it can feel safe/fun to explore their sexuality with a trusted friend; for others, who don’t want a committed romantic relationship, this can serve as an alternative; for yet others who may have strong romantic feelings for a friend, it may be a starting point of evolving into more. In some FWB relationships, expectations may change over time. For example, one person may want a more serious long-term relationship, while another person may want to stay in the FWB.

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When such expectations arise, people can feel confused, disappointed or angry. Quite often it’s also possible the friendship may change, or even end. Given these possibilities, it is important to introspect when you are getting into a FWB relationship.

Lounge has Dr Roma Kumar, co-founder and chief psychologist of Emotionally, and Anshuma Kshetrapal, psychotherapist and drama and movement therapist, weigh in on the pros and cons of a FWB relationship.

To start with, one must consider a few parameters, and oneself some questions before getting into an FWB relationship:

What are my needs/wants/expectations in a FWB relationship?

Is it going to be a trial for future commitments?

Am I using an FWB to transition out of an exclusive relationship?

Will my friendship/companionship change if it becomes a FWB relationship?

How may I feel if my relationship with my friend ends?

How may I feel if my friend starts a relationship with someone else?

Am I ready to talk to my friend(s) about things like sexual health and consent?

How will I take care of myself in a FWB relationship (e.g. how will I protect myself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy (if applicable)?

Now, the pros of a FWB relationship.

No pressure: It’s a great way to ensure you have company, but on your terms.

Non-committal arrangement: Clearly defines boundaries especially if you’re focussing on some other aspect of your life such as your career growth. You then don’t feel obliged that you have to give time to this arrangement.

Needs are met: You continue to feel desired and uplifted.

Scope for exploration: There are no restraints such as the ones that traditional monogamous relationships can put on you, so if you want to explore multiple relationships you can

Minimal hurt: Less chances of getting hurt because of the set expectations and clarity

While these advantages seem great, here are some negatives to keep in mind:

Feeble emotional support: You cannot expect the same intensity of emotional support as in a committed, monogamous relationship. Since this arrangement relies on the principle of boundaries and freedom, emotional support may not be available when you need it.

Unreliable: Unless clarified explicitly, these relationships can be in the grey area when it comes to accountability and being reliable, since neither person has a future expectation for the relationship.

Uncertainty: Lack of clarity and uncertainty can be the main culprit of such an arrangement. Unless clearly communicated, feelings can be quite destructive to the underlying friendship.

Emotional complications: For many people, physical intimacy can bring about emotional expectations, jealousy and vulnerability. Unless these are communicated and worked through, this can corrode self confidence over time.

Monotony: Like most relationships do over time, FWBs can also get monotonous unless the people engaged in it keep also working on the friendship. Often times, people fall into a rut of just sex, and that can lose its charm rather quickly.

Now that the pros and cons have been listed, here’s a look at what makes for a healthy FWB relationship.

Fully understand and accept the dynamic: If you want to be FWB with someone, it’s important that you enter into this kind of relationship with full understanding and acceptance of what this means for both of you. It’s important to recognise that the actions and expectations demonstrated by a partner in a committed relationship (like attending family events, formal dating) will not exist. For feeling safe and secure, try to set expectations from the start and keep the conversation open and ongoing to ensure you're both in sync with each other.

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Set ground rules and boundaries: Don’t be clingy. Keep an open dialogue about mutually agree upon what sexual behaviours are accepted and what are off-limits. In order for a FWB relationship to work out, it has to fulfil everyone's expectations. You may enjoy being intimate, but these types of relationships can only be successful if you’re both completely content with the arrangement.

Communicate openly, honestly and thoroughly: To avoid confusion, hurt feelings, and misread signals, you should be totally forthright and on the same page with each other about the nature of your relationship.

Have safe sex: Get full clarity around other casual sexual partners. If you’re thinking about entering a FWB relationship, it’s important to keep in mind that your connection may not be a monogamous one. In fact, either of you is free to date more people, have other FWB relationships, and/or play the field as much as you’d like. In addition to protecting your physical health, it’s important that you protect your emotional health by understanding that your FWB relationship can end at any time and for any reason. You might need to set parameters around the use of protection, and get tested regularly for STIs.

Agree on duration of relationship, and exit: This will save you from any painful or awkward moments later on. Will you terminate your FWB relationship once one of you finds a long-term connection? Discuss the possibility of dissolving the relationship without any hard feelings if it doesn’t make you feel emotionally fit.

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Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist

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