Can We Keep it Casual? 15 Friends With Benefits Rules For Success

Updated March 26, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Sleeping with a friend can seem like an ideal scenario for busy singles—in theory, there's physical pleasure without serious commitment and socializing without the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. You can meet every weekend or whenever it works for both of you. However, many people may not be compatible with this type of relationship.

A friends with benefits setup can be exciting and fun—but it can also be messy and potentially lead to heartbreak if both people aren't careful and honest about their expectations. Both people considering a friend with benefits arrangement should weigh the pros and cons carefully before they introduce sex into the relationship.

What does friends with benefits mean?

Relationships can be confusing

First, let's make it clear what an FWB situation isn't. Friends with benefits should not be seen as a stepping stone toward a committed relationship. Even though relationships do sometimes develop out of what originally started as a casual sex partnership, that isn’t viewed as the end goal in a healthy friends with benefits situation. However, if one or both of the friends with benefits start to develop feelings while they are still under the FWB setup, then that's something they should talk about.

What do friends with benefits do? A friends with benefits situation involves two people with a preexisting friendship sleeping together without any additional commitment. Romance is not involved in the equation, even if you hang out regularly. A friend with benefits is typically there for sex and fun and little to none of the emotions. You are still both allowed to date whomever you want and meet other people outside of the FWB setup.

Friends with benefits are different than one-night stands in that there is more time spent together and the friendship is ongoing. You can think of it as a step up from casual hook-ups, but below a romantic relationship in terms of intimacy and commitment.

Friends with benefits rules

If you decide that an FWB relationship may be right for you, consider the following rules to give it the best shot of being a positive, rewarding experience. Know that you can also put a stop to the situation at any time if you're not comfortable. Keep the lines of communication open for the duration of the relationship.

Make your boundaries clear beforehand

When it comes to sex, hazy fwb boundaries and unclear rules can be a recipe for disaster. A friend with benefits is not the same as a stranger you have a one-night stand with. When you're seeing someone over an extended period and being intimate with one another, you should know exactly what both of you expect out of the situation.

Ideally, you and your FWB partner should sit down and discuss your ground rules before anything happens. What are you both expecting? Just sex, or do you still want to spend time hanging out as friends together? That way, each one of you can set your boundaries without conflict. Ask about the “why” as well. Why aren’t you looking for a relationship? Can we sleep with other people? If so, should we talk about the other dates with each other. 

Manage your expectations

If you have feelings for someone, but they want a casual FWB situation, you might later end up feeling used or unsatisfied. While you may think you'll be able to convince them to change their mind over time, that usually is not the case. You may even push them away further if they're looking for something strictly no-strings-attached.

If you know that you're looking for a long-term relationship, FWB fun can be a temporary way of getting your needs met with someone you like but are not serious about. However, don't expect the situation to become anything more than that as those expectations may lead to disappointment.

Keep jealousy at bay

Part of a friends with benefits arrangement is that it's normally not exclusive. Both you and the other person are likely allowed to date whomever you want, at any time. Neither of you normally has any say over what the other person does. You don't have to reveal anything to each other outside of what is going on between the two of you.

Now's the time to be honest with yourself. Has jealousy been a problem for you in past relationships? If so, then it may also rear its head during an FWB situation. If you consider yourself the jealous type, FWB might not be for you.

Guard your emotions

You ought to be honest with yourself about whether you're the type of person who becomes easily emotionally attached. Not everyone can separate feelings and sex, and that's okay. Don't try to talk yourself into the situation or you could be setting yourself up for failure. For an FWB situation to work, both people should be open and honest with themselves and each other.

Think twice if it’s a long-time friend

If you've been close friends with someone for a while and you're both single, what could be the harm in getting between the sheets together a few times? Sleeping with a friend might not sound harmful if both of you would be very clear about the arrangement, what to expect and where the boundaries are.

Well, if you value the friendship, you must give it careful consideration and make sure you're both looking for the same thing. There are two main possibilities: it could be an extremely satisfying and fun arrangement that lasts for a time before you both move on and go back to being just friends, or it could turn sour and break the friendship apart. Sometimes it's possible to go back to being friends without the benefits, but there can also be hurt feelings and unrequited attraction that could make that impossible or difficult.

Cut out the cuddling

Cuddling, especially after sex, can cause the release of oxytocin-also known as the "bonding" neurochemical-in the brain. This is a process that can happen on a subconscious level. It can cause us to start to form an attachment with the person we're affectionate with-which could lead to problems when you're attempting a strictly friends-with-benefits situation.

Hugging and other forms of non-sexual physical touch with someone we're attracted to can feel good because of this oxytocin rush. But if you’re not careful, it can lead to emotions blossoming for your FWB partner.

Don't be afraid to date someone else

The whole point of friends with benefits is that there are no strings attached. Just like there's no room for you to be jealous of the other person, the same goes for them. If you meet someone else that you're interested in, don't let your FWB arrangement stop you from pursuing that interest.

Be honest if you develop feelings

Relationships can be confusing

It might not be fair to yourself or the other person to harbor unspoken feelings and still participate as though you don't. If you develop feelings for the person beyond mere friendship, it could be best to lay them out in the open as soon as possible. Sometimes, the other person will reciprocate. But other times, it may be best to end the relationship to avoid any hurt feelings or false hope.

Are we more than friends with benefits?

Perhaps the most important rule of a friend with benefits arrangement is to keep emotions out of it. Still, if you've participated in a friend with benefits relationship with someone for an extended period, even if you follow the FWB rules listed above, there may come a time when you ask yourself this question.

Every once in a while, an FWB situation organically develops into a romantic relationship. The best way to determine if your relationship has blossomed into something more serious is to have an honest conversation with one another.

Signs that they like you more than an FWB may include:

  • They start casually probing if you're seeing anyone else.
  • They give you gifts or run errands for you on the regular.
  • You catch them staring at you, then looking away.
  • They make hypothetical comments about you dating them in the future.
  • They make every excuse to spend extra time with you.

What if a FWB situation doesn’t work out?

No matter how much we may promise ourselves that we won't get emotionally entangled when we're having sex with someone, sometimes it can't be helped. It's not always possible to prevent developing feelings for another person, especially if you're getting intimate with them regularly. If the other person doesn't reciprocate or is not interested in taking things to the next level relationship-wise, it can be hard to deal with the fallout.

As previously mentioned, these situations may not be right for everyone. Many people can end up in a FWB situation only to wind up negatively affected. If you have experienced a FWB that ended poorly, it can have painful ramifications that can resemble a bad breakup, including lowered self-esteem, negative thinking, and even depression in some cases.

Discuss friends with benefits challenges in online therapy

A counselor can help you process the reality of a breakup, unrequited feelings or a friend with benefits, providing emotional support, clarity, and understanding. With a counselor's guidance, you can transform the situation into a learning experience that can lead to more positive relationships in the future. Regain offers online counseling to assist you in working through past hurts and steering you to your future goals. Studies show that online therapy is often just as effective as in-person therapy in treating various mental health disorders. It’s also more affordable. And in terms of couple’s counseling, the vast majority of people who seek out online couple’s counseling say that they were helped by the process.

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