Open relationship vs friends with benefits: What are the differences?

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We all know that definitions are everything in a relationship. But for a lot of people, defining a relationship can get very complicated and confusing.

It may be easy to understand more traditional types of relationships like exclusive ones. But when it comes to more unconventional cases such as open relationships and friends with benefits, it can get a bit more ambiguous and vague.

If you want to understand what these terms mean, we’ve listed a few key differences for you below.

So what do these terms really mean?

The basic definition of an open relationship is that it is not monogamous. Both of the people involved are open to being with others as well. Not only can they have sexual relationships with other people, but they could also form deep emotional connections that may even resemble romantic relationships.

A friends with benefits relationship is exactly how it sounds like. The very foundation of the relationship is a solid friendship, but there’s also a physical or sexual aspect to it.

Now that the basic definitions are clear, let’s start getting into the nitty-gritty of their differences.

The reasons for starting each relationship may vary

There are many reasons why people would choose to have these kinds of relationships. We’ll be sharing with you a few examples for each type.

If someone is in an open relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t ever see himself in an exclusive relationship.

It’s quite possible that he does see potential in their connection, but he just needs more time to decide if they’re really compatible. Once they have established a deeper bond, they may choose to enter into a more committed relationship.

Or if this isn’t the case, it might be because they are also interested in other people, and they are still gauging which relationship actually has the chance to work out. Basically, those in an open relationship may not want to limit their options just yet.

If an originally exclusive couple finds themselves transitioning into a long-distance relationship, they may also consider an open relationship. Given the distance, they may think this type of setup would make more sense. 

If a person enters into a friends with benefits situation, it may be because they are craving more intimacy with others BUT they feel that they still aren’t ready for a serious relationship.

These people simply want a friendship, but with all the perks of having a physical relationship. Generally, they want something more casual and occasional.

There are differences in the level of commitment

People in open relationships are usually committed to their partners long-term. The couple may consider themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend and they may even be married.

Again, they are allowed to date and have emotional or sexual relations with other people. They don’t consider this as cheating as long as at the end of the day, they still come home to each other.

On the other hand, friends with benefits aren’t committed to each other at all. Unlike open relationships, there are no expectations or strings attached.

There are no emotional obligations at all because they don’t owe anything to each other. One doesn’t have the right to be jealous or to accuse the other of cheating because these expectations were not set in the beginning.

There’s a different kind of connection involved

For an open relationship, there is definitely more of an emotional connection compared to a friends-with-benefits situation.

Couples in this type of relationship are very passionate about bonding over the same interests, growing together, reconciling conflicts, and being genuinely concerned about the other person’s wellbeing.

In a friends with benefits agreement, they only have a physical and sexual relationship on top of them being friends.

The people involved may not have romantic feelings for each other at all. It is seen as a relationship where there is very little emotional investment. Because of this, the people around them only see them as friends and they are not expected to act like a couple.

There are also no expectations to have big dates or fancy dinners. The possibility of love and marriage are not things that friends with benefits would likely discuss.

Also, there is no “next level” to go to in these kinds of relationships. To understand this better, let’s contrast this with an exclusive relationship where there are multiple levels and stages for growth.

As we all know, a serious relationship first starts with the introductions or the getting-to-know stage. If they are both attracted to each other, the couple will then start dating.

Once it gets a bit more serious, they may introduce each other to their respective family and friends. And later on, marriage and kids may be a common next step for them.

However, for friends with benefits relationships, there is only one level. There is no growth to be expected in this kind of relationship. You are only there for the occasional physical connection.

These relationships could result in different outcomes

Some people may just prefer to continue an open relationship for the rest of their lives. But not all open relationships are like this.

If the relationship isn’t working out anymore, the couple would have to break up similarly to how it would be in exclusive ones. They would discuss the issues at hand and make it clear that they are ending the relationship.

Another possible outcome is that some may opt to move into a more exclusive relationship from an open one. After truly getting to know each other, they may want to prove their commitment by ending all their other relationships.

On the other hand, friends with benefits situations may end up with someone falling in love or developing real emotional feelings.

If they are both in an agreement that an exclusive relationship is more favorable, then that would be great news for everyone.

But if only one of them wants to take their relationship to the next level, this can potentially result in a lot of tension and heartbreak.

And even if no one falls in love with the other, those who engage in this type of relationship know that their connection has some kind of expiration date. In other words, it’s no secret that this relationship is only temporary or for the short term.

And once they do decide to end the relationship, there’s no obligation to formally bring it up and discuss it.

One shouldn’t be surprised if he sees the other in a serious romantic relationship. Because there was no commitment in the first place, the understanding is that they can both just start dating without the other’s consent.

You could get hurt in different ways

Although a couple may have initially consented to an open relationship, they should still regularly affirm whether or not they want to stay together in this way.

Complications may arise if there are any misunderstandings between the two of them or if one isn’t being honest. This can cause a lot of emotional pain and can have serious negative effects on their relationship.

This is very similar to a friends with benefits situation. The only difference is that having friends with benefits may be an even riskier decision because there is no commitment at all from the get-go.

So if one finds himself falling in love with the other, there may be a greater chance of getting rejected.

Dating is complicated

As we’ve shared with you, there are certainly a lot of differences between having an open relationship and having friends with benefits.

But as you’ve probably noticed, there have been quite a few similarities as well. Entering both types of relationships means that you’re not fully ready for a serious and committed relationship with another person.

Just take note though that even after we’ve made the similarities and distinctions clear, the terms of the relationship will still heavily depend on what the couple wants and has specified for themselves.

Different people may interpret definitions and terms in unique ways so as a rule of thumb, each relationship should be evaluated on a case-to-case basis.

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