The psychology of 'friends with benefits'

The preferred relationship of our generation

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Screenshot from YouTube

The concept of "friends with benefits" – the relationship of our generation – is something we see in movies, TV shows and even in our friend groups. But is this set-up actually as beneficial as the name implies? What’s the driving force behind this common partnership? 

According to New York Magazine, the actual definition of friends with benefits (FWB) is when people who are friends decide to “fool around” in the bedroom, but don’t consider that they’re going to be part of a romantic relationship. This offers partners the benefits of both a caring friendship and a sexual relationship that doesn’t involve the work, time or effort of a romantic commitment. This also tends to means there’s a lack of romantic love and a deep bond that often comes from a committed relationship.

This type of relationship has become increasingly popular amongst people of our generation. As reported by Psychology Today, as many as 50 per cent of people in their 20s have had some sort of FWB situation in their lifetime. However, researchers are still unsure about how or why these relationships are formed and maintained.

The main speculation behind why this relationship is formed or preferred is because it requires almost no commitment with all the benefits of a sexual relationship. For some, this doesn’t work because this lower level of commitment can also mean a lower level of desire or intimacy for some couples. However, new research has shown that couples in FWB relationships are actually just as happy or satisfied in their partnership as monogamous couples. Further, this satisfaction doesn’t differ significantly between men and women.

So how are people in these relationships so satisfied? The easygoing atmosphere of friendship, sexual desire and a low level of commitment offers a relaxing and fun environment in which partners are able to have fun and be open with each other. This isn’t to say romantic love is a negative construct, but simply that it can be difficult to maintain. People in their 20s are often busy with school, work and social responsibilities, and to add a romantic relationship on top of that can sometimes be overwhelming, making a FWB relationship a convenient and positive alternative.

Unlike a committed relationship, a FWB arrangement doesn’t prevent partners from searching for other potential sexual or romantic partners which, in a world of social media with options for partners constantly available, people may prefer.

A friends with benefits relationship isn’t the right option for everyone and isn’t necessarily something that can be maintained for the majority of someone’s life. One of the major difficulties of FWB is that one partner usually develops romantic feelings for the other that aren’t always reciprocated, often marking the end of the unique relationship. If you’re someone who strongly values communication and commitment, this type of relationship might come as a struggle.

Considering we live in a time where we’re arguably more professionally ambitious and cognizant of the world around us than the older generation, it makes sense that this kind of relationship is so prevalent and preferred in our age range.

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