So you’ve decided to “keep things casual” with your FWB, but now you’re wondering how you’re going to make it work so things don’t get messy (no situationships here). Setting boundaries is vital for making sure you and your not-so-partner(s) stay on the same page throughout the casual relationship (or -ships). Is this is a strictly sexual relationship, or is emotional intimacy expected as well? Do you wish to go on dates together when you’re not hooking up, or are dates out of the question? How often will you text and call each other when you’re not hanging out together? These are all things to consider when setting down your ground rules.
Since there are no hard-and-fast “rules” for any relationship — every relationship is unique and specifically catered to the needs and wants of those involved — there’s no tried-and-true “how to” for how to set boundaries in a casual relationship. Nevertheless, there are some good tips you can follow for setting the boundaries you and your casual partner feel most comfortable with (spoiler alert: open communication is at the top of the list).
Elite Daily spoke with relationship experts about setting boundaries when you’re keeping things casual. They also offered a list of some good boundaries to set so you and your casual partner can have a hot (read: mutually fulfilling) time.
How To Set Boundaries In A Casual Relationship
First things first, why are boundaries so important in the first place?
“When considering boundaries in any relationship, not just romantic or sexual, it’s important to remember that boundaries are how we teach people how to be in a relationship with us,” licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri tells Elite Daily. Boundaries teach the people you are intimate with how to engage with you sexually, physically, and emotionally, so that you feel safe, loved, and cared for. It’s for this reason that when a boundary is crossed by someone you trust (even a boundary you didn’t know you had), you feel so violated.
Boundaries are especially important in casual relationships because it’s so easy to feel taken advantage of if there’s no clear communication from the get-go, says Dr. Balestrieri.
In order to set boundaries with a casual partner, you first need to get clear on what your boundaries are. To get acquainted with your own personal protection bubble (aka your boundaries), take some time to think about what you want the relationship to look like and how you want it to evolve (or don’t want it to evolve), says couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want, Yana Tallon-Hicks. Are you hoping to have a serious relationship with this person in the future, or just keep things casual for as long as you’re together? Are you strictly looking for a hookup buddy, or do you want someone you can vent your frustrations to as well? Get clear about your expectations for the relationship so you can relay that information to your casual partner, and then they can set their own expectations and boundaries moving forward.
“One helpful way to think about boundaries in a casual relationship is to consider three classes of boundaries: sexual, relational, and personal,” Lovehoney scientific advisor, social psychologist, and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute Dr. Justin Lehmiller tells Elite Daily. For sexual boundaries, you might consider asking yourself: Are you comfortable with your partner having sexual partners outside of the relationship? For relational boundaries, think about whether there are certain behaviors (e.g. spending the night, PDA) or activities (e.g. dates) that are off-limits. For personal boundaries, are there limits to how often you communicate with each other? (Is texting all day OK, or are you only in contact when you’re wanting to meet up?) These are all things to consider when setting clear “rules” for your casual relationship, says Dr. Lehmiller.
Once you know what your boundaries are, then it’s time to clearly (emphasis here) and directly communicate your boundaries to your casual partner. You want to get as specific as possible about your expectations to avoid any miscommunication. “For example, saying ‘I’m looking for a relationship that involves weekly one-on-one time and sporadic (not daily) texting in between that’ is more clear and recognizable than ‘I’m not looking for anything too serious right now,’ as ‘serious’ and ‘casual’ can mean different things to different people,” explains Tallon-Hicks.
Good Boundaries To Set When Keeping Things Casual
So what are some good boundaries to set when keeping things casual? As Dr. Lehmiller explains, there are three main classes of boundaries: sexual, relational, and personal. Below, the experts share some questions to consider when setting all three.
- How often would you like to have sex?
- What kind of birth control or barriers do we want to use during sex (e.g. condoms)?
- Where are you willing (and not willing) to go sexually?
- Are there certain activities or behaviors during sex that you’re not comfortable with?
- Are we allowed to have other sexual partners? If so, how will we protect each other’s sexual health?
- Are you comfortable getting tested every few months and sharing those results with each other?
- Is it OK if I spend the night after we have sex, or is that too intimate?
- Is it OK if we continue dating other people?
- Are you comfortable going on dates together?
- How do you feel about PDA?
- When we do go on dates, do you want to split costs or go halves on meals?
- Are there certain activities or behaviors that you’re not comfortable with when dating each other?
- Are we keeping this relationship between us, or is it OK if we disclose it to other people?
- How often would you like to text or chat when we’re not spending time together IRL?
- At what times of the day is it OK to call or text you?
- Are you comfortable FaceTiming each other?
- Are you comfortable introducing each other to friends and family?
- Are you comfortable attending social events together (e.g. graduations or weddings)?
What To Do If Someone Oversteps A Boundary
After you communicate and set your boundaries, the most important part is sticking to them. Meaning, if either you or your casual partner oversteps that boundary — accidentally or intentionally — acknowledge it and correct it, says Tallon-Hicks.
For example, maybe you set a boundary that you will only text each other a few times a week, but you catch yourself texting them every single day just to chat. To reestablish that boundary, you might say something along the lines of, “I noticed that I’ve been texting you every day and that’s been violating the relationship boundary we have set, so I’m going to shift that behavior and text less.”
At times you might want to reassess certain boundaries entirely, especially as the relationship evolves. It’s totally OK to redirect, as long you’re talking openly about that process. Maybe you find that you actually really like texting each other every day — about mundane things or to share exciting life updates — so you will have a conversation about changing that boundary.
Boundaries aren’t meant to be these scary, rigid “rules,” but merely firm expectations set by you and your casual partner so you can both feel safe and fulfilled in the relationship. (How hot is that?) As a wise person once said: Communication is sexy… and boundaries are even sexier.
Dr. Kate Balestrieri, licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist
Yana Tallon-Hicks, couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Lovehoney scientific advisor, social psychologist, and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute