Expert Insights

Friends with Benefits Relationship: Dos and Don’ts

Highlight reel (TL;DR)

  • Starting a friends with benefits (FWB) relationship involves ditching traditional relationship scripts and asking yourself what you want and need.
  • FWBs can empower you to meet your needs and learn more about your sexual self. 
  • It’s important to be selective when choosing a f-buddy and communicate wants, needs, and limits.
  • Be cautious of moving forward if the relationship has an imbalance of power, if the setup doesn’t meet your needs, or if you’re using the setup to avoid something.

Friends with benefits (FWB) is an arrangement where sex occurs outside of a committed relationship and without the goal of commitment. The glue that usually holds this type of relationship together is sex. People may also refer to this type of relationship as “fuck buddies” or “no strings attached” sex.

Read on to learn more about the dos and don’ts of a friends-with-benefits relationship.

Is it okay to be friends with benefits?

Over the past few decades, people have become more accepting of alternative relationship styles. But there’s still some stigma surrounding FWB. 

The increased visibility of people who practice non-monogamy has allowed people to consider that relationships can happen outside of traditional expectations. This is good news because it means fewer people will try to contort themselves into making a relationship work based on what they think they should do rather than what really makes them happy. 

This tension of trying to make something like a monogamous marriage work when it isn’t authentic to you is a common source of infidelity, heartbreak, and dissatisfaction. And so, with more permission to custom build relationships, FWB can be a fantastic way for you to meet your needs — emotionally and sexually. 

Friends with benefits relationship dos and don’ts

People who are emotionally mature and communicative tend to have the most success in these arrangements because they handle complicated feelings like jealousy and anxiety with care and empathy.

As a couples therapist, I strongly believe that clearly communicating needs and setting expectations is something we should all engage in — monogamous or otherwise. 

The following are additional suggestions for making your FWB arrangement as satisfying and respectful as possible.

Do: Be picky

Choose your partner with intention. One of the most appealing reasons to enter a friends with benefits arrangement over a casual hookup is to spend time with someone who knows you and has an ongoing investment in your well-being. 

Your f-buddy should be someone you enjoy spending time with, who makes you feel comfortable and treats you respectfully. They should be interested in your pleasure as well as their own.

Do: Set boundaries

Avoid making assumptions about each other’s expectations. The term friends-with-benefits is vague and can mean different things to different people. 

There’s no standard around how frequently to see each other or communicate. There’s also no playbook about how to move forward if one of you catches feelings. You’ll have to decide on your own unique boundaries.

Do: Get to know yourself more intimately

Just because a FWB relationship may be more temporary or casual doesn’t mean it can’t be a very rich experience. 

It can be a fantastic opportunity to learn more about your sexual self. A FWB arrangement is based in pleasure — use it as a playground to explore and have fun.     

Do: Communicate when sober

If you want to start a sexual relationship with a pal, do so with a clear head. Be wary of the tendency to bypass vulnerable conversations by getting drunk and going for it. 

It might feel easier, but it can complicate things later when trying to preserve the friendship. 

Don’t: Use it as an excuse to avoid intimacy

In my practice, I’ve seen how a FWB relationship can be a convenient excuse to practice avoidance. I’ve seen clients struggle in a FWB setup when they’re not honest about what they want. 

Sometimes people initiate a FWB relationship to avoid deeper emotional connections or because they fear rejection. 

Ask yourself if this FWB arrangement is a “hell yes,” or if given a choice, you’d rather be in a committed relationship.

Don’t: Engage if there is an imbalance of power

An imbalance of power might exist if there’s a significant age gap between you and the other person if you work together or if there’s a gap in what either of you wants. For example, if you know the person has feelings for you but you only want something casual. 

These dynamics aren’t necessarily abusive, but it’s important to consider whether indulging in what you want might hurt the other person. 

Follow long-time sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s campsite rule. Leave your partners the same, if not better, than when you first met them.

Don’t: Forget self-care 

Remember to take care of yourself. When you’re excited about a relationship, letting it consume your thoughts and schedule can be tempting. 

Continue the practices that make you feel grounded, such as seeing your friends, engaging in your hobbies, and nourishing your body with food and rest. 

If you hope to eventually find someone for a long-term relationship, ensure your schedule still has space for you to date. Fit this FWB relationship into your life in a way that’s proportionate to the level of commitment you’ve set together. 

Don’t: Play it cool

One of the biggest issues I see in therapy around FWB relationships is when people go into this type of arrangement hoping it’ll turn into something else. They usually get hurt when it doesn’t work out. This happens when people aren’t honest about what they want. 

Sometimes it’s because they feel they should be chill to avoid scaring someone away. As a result, they settle for something less than what you truly want. 

Reflect on your expectations. If you start to notice disappointment when the person doesn’t get you a birthday present or doesn’t want to come to your family gathering, it may be a sign you’re looking for more than a FWB.

Final word

There’s often a temptation to go with the flow and skip communication in FWB setups. I often see this approach end in disappointment and heartbreak. 

People with the most successful FWB arrangements have discussed and clearly understood each other’s capacities and limits. If you’d like to start a FWB relationship, take some time to lay down ground rules, like how often you want to hang out, talk, or text and if and how much you want to know about the other person’s dating life. 

Like any other relationship, FWB arrangements take work. But A FWB relationship can also be a healthy and empowering experience for consenting adults. 

Erin Davidson, MA, RCC, CST
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Erin Davidson (she/her) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Certified Sex Therapist working in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is a firm believer in the healing power of pleasure and being kinder to ourselves. Erin is the author of two books Break Through the Breakup and Thriving in Non-Monogamy. She is most proud of her new fluffball Marv who recently graduated top of his class in puppy preschool.