The term “Friends with Benefits” is well known these days, and is recognised as meaning a relationship that has no strings or commitments, with sex as an added bonus. While this may sound appealing to some, this kind of relationship rarely works out well. You have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages when entering into a friends with benefits relationship, and it is very easy to convince yourself that there won't be any negative ramifications for either party. However, no matter how emotionally detached and resilient you may imagine yourself to be, very often, either one or even both partners eventually realise that the “benefits” of this relationship don't really benefit them in the slightest. So if you are thinking of becoming involved in this kind of relationship, or have just begun one, here we outline some of the longer-term consequences you need to consider, before it’s too late.

Losing a friend

One of the most obvious issues in this kind of relationship is that you will lose your actual friendship. Over time, the friendship shared between you will alter dramatically, and can never be as sweet again. You will start to find that you can no longer talk freely about everything in your lives, especially when it comes to your love life. You will no longer be able to turn to your friend in whom you could once confide your innermost insecurities and feelings. One day, nothing will be left in your relationship except sex, and then when you meet someone truly special, you will experience guilt for breaking off your relationship with your friend. The connection that the two of you shared will probably be lost forever, and it will be “goodbye lover” as well as “goodbye friend” once you pursue a relationship with a new romantic partner.

Jealousy and offense

No matter how hard you try, it's likely that at some point in the relationship, feelings of jealousy and offense will come to the fore. At times you will feel that you are not being paid enough attention, that your ‘friend’ doesn't listen to you anymore, and that they have more interest in their other friends. While this type of behaviour was acceptable in the past before you were sexually involved, as you had no problem with your friend talking and paying attention to others, now you find that you're jealous over little things, and it could happen any time. You will develop expectations of your friend, much as you would towards a lover, that your needs and emotions should be their priority.

Feeling lonely and lost

If you have friends all around you who are enjoying stable and happy relationships, and are celebrating those futuristic steps together like getting engaged, getting married, and having babies, you are bound to start feeling left out, lonely and used. Observing friends who are happy with romantic partners and progressing with their lives, you will be reminded that your relationship cannot compare. Even when your “friend” is by your side, you will have no relief, still feeling lost, alone and unworthy of joining the happy couples, as you are aware you can have no chance of any future, or marriage, or children with that “friend”. This will build up into underlying resentment towards them as you will start to believe that they are trapping you into a deprived lifestyle with no hint of happiness. You will lose sight of the fact that you both mutually agreed to your relationship, and you will project hostility and blame onto them for your sadness and frustration.

An end to self-esteem

When you are this kind of relationship, you will be settling for less instead of looking for a fulfilling relationship that has a future. You know inside that your friend is not really interested in you romantically, and this will greatly affect your sense of your own desirability and appeal to others. It can be especially destructive for your self-esteem when you are giving yourself sexually to this person, only to be confronted with the harsh reality that your friend could easily let you go as soon as you decided to end things between you. Don't throw your time away on someone who cannot truly love you.

One sided love

Humans are genetically driven to love another person, but in a “friends with benefits” type of relationship, it is very unlikely that you both will have the same strength of feeling about the other. Usually, one partner will have much stronger feelings than the other, and will start to hope for more than the status quo. If this is you, this will lead you to act in different ways, looking for more from your relationship, only to experience the pain of rejection. The hurt you experience will result from unrequited love. This will build into anger and explosive moments which will cause you much shame and upset. Shortly after that, loss of self-respect and dignity are sure to follow.

Missing out on finding true love

What would happen if you met someone who you wanted to be with forever? Would you be able to be sufficiently detached from your “friend” to realise that this is the person you have been waiting for? There is the danger that your judgement will be clouded and you will fail to notice that perfect person who has appeared in your life. If you think that someone special has entered your life, but you are confused and mixed up, you can read my article on the qualities you should search for in an ideal partner at this link, to check out if this new person meets some of the essential criteria.

If you should indeed think about getting involved with someone else, there follows more uncomfortable questions and issues to be raised. How can you explain to your new partner your existing relationship? And how can you tell your “friend” that you have found somebody else and want to leave your current relationship? And on the other hand, what if this situation occurs with your “friend”? How will you feel if they find someone special? Can you cope with your feelings? How will you rise above the overwhelming sentiment that you are being passed over for another person when you have been so intimate? You must be prepared for whatever may happen because, however it goes, your current relationship must eventually end.

A lack of give and take

The partner in the relationship who experiences less emotional attachment will be doing all the taking and no giving. If you discover you want more from that “friend”, you will find that you can never get it. Whenever it is your birthday, will you be happy to receive a dull non-romantic gift, or perhaps, no gift or card at all? On Valentine's Day, will you hold out for a bouquet of roses and be forever disappointed? Will you be counting the weeks and months you have been together and hoping for some acknowledgement of an anniversary milestone or an anniversary gift? For a “friends with benefits” relationship to work, it must involve an equal amount of give and take on both parts, and you must both be agreeable about the boundaries of give and take. In reality, there can be no romantic occasions to celebrate or buy special presents for, and the two people in this type of relationship will never be on the same page with their expectations.

The loss of mutual friendships

When inevitably a problem arises between you, your mutual friends must choose a side, and if they refuse to do so, you will discover you have nobody to approach for advice and comfort when it all goes wrong. Mutual friends can no longer be there to help you as they were if you were having issues with another partner, and once your relationship with your “friend” finally ends, as it must, which of you will your friends stay in touch with and invite to their social events? Will you be comfortable to attend social events when your “ex friend” is there, and possibly with a new partner of their own?

Stress and loss

In conclusion, if you are involved in a “friends with benefits” relationship, you are going to experience a lot more stress than you would in a standard relationship. You will both lose out in various and major ways and there can be no gains made over a long term period.

If you need more motivation to end this kind of relationship, or help to refrain from entering into one altogether, you should check out my article here on what truly counts in a relationship, to remind you of what you need from someone to bring happiness to your life and future. Whilst this article focuses on the actions and behaviours that are most appreciated by women in general, the article is certainly relevant to both men and women when assessing the value of the partner in their life. If your current partner isn't making any effort to behave in ways that are described in this article, then it's time to move on and search for someone who will love you and treat you well. 

I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have about this post.

Yours sincerely,   

Dr. Carissa Coulston, Clinical Psychologist

BSc(Hons), MPsychol(Clinical), PhD, MAPS