Situationships: What They Are and How to Avoid Them


Last Updated: January 3, 2024

Relationship Advice

The term “situationships” isn’t that old, but the phenomenon has been around for many, many years. The good news is now that we have a name for it, we might just be able to put it to rest for good!

Let’s take a look at what situationships are, why they’re not the healthiest form of dating, and what you can do to guide your love life in a different direction.

What are situationships?

The most basic definition of a situationship is when two people are romantically or physically involved but they haven’t clearly defined what they mean to each other. Are they friends with benefits? Are they dating?

In other words, there’s definitely something happening between these two people. But exactly what that something is hasn’t been properly discussed.

Here are a few signs that you might be in a situationship:

  • You’re not sure when you’re going to see this person
  • Your communication is sporadic
  • You’re not sure how they’ll respond to you being emotionally vulnerable
  • You haven’t met their friends or family (or if you have, you were introduced in vague terms)
  • You don’t see them as someone you can rely on for help
  • One or both of you are seeing other people.
  • You don’t make future plans together
  • You don’t celebrate relationship milestones or anniversaries together
  • One or both of you avoid conversations about the future or the relationship
  • They make it clear that they’re not interested in something more than the current relationship

Situationships versus other types of casual relationships


So, one thing that you might have noticed about situationships is that they’re a form of casual relationship. And not all casual relationships are bad! In fact, being in a relationship without traditional romantic expectations can free you up to focus on your career, travel, and explore your physical desires.

But, there’s a key difference between a situationship and other forms of casual relationships like friends with benefits, sugar relationships, and the like: definition. Situationships are not verbalized, which makes it hard for many people to feel empowered or enthusiastic about being in one.

Why situationships can be hurtful

If you’re in a situationship and feeling anxious, bad about yourself, and frustrated, you’re not alone. You may feel like you go through periods of feeling stagnant, rejected, excited, hopeful, and confused. These are all emotionally draining experiences that, while unavoidable in early dating, are usually resolved as the relationship develops and your partner demonstrates their commitment. In a situationship, however, you never move past this phase of finding your ground in the relationship.

There’s something else at play here too: the fear of the unknown. You might be avoiding confronting your partner about the relationship because you’re not sure if they’ll reject you. But, as scary as potential rejection may be, the fear of the unknown may actually be more psychologically taxing. In fact, many psychologists define the fear of the unknown as a fundamental fear, alongside the fear of injury, abandonment, or death. And the longer you sit with this fear, the stronger your anxiety may feel as a result.

Techniques for taking back control over your relationships


If you find yourself in a situationship or simply want to avoid being in one in the future, there are a few habits that can help:

  • Get specific about what you want. One reason why new relationships get stuck in a situationship slump is a lack of clarity about what you want. You don’t have to feel self-conscious about wanting to be in a traditional relationship. And it’s also okay to want a casual relationship. But being unclear about what kind of relationship you’re looking for makes it infinitely harder to create the kind of connection that would satisfy you.
  • Focus on building a life apart from your romantic life. Sometimes, people settle for situationships because they are afraid of losing someone who has become so central in their world or they think they can’t be happy alone. If this is a mindset you struggle with, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, focus on building up your life outside of your romantic pursuits. Having a strong social network, hobbies, and personal goals will help you keep things in perspective.
  • Take things slow, but notice when it becomes stagnant. There is no set time for when you should transition from dating to a relationship. So, you’ll need to decide for yourself what kind of pace feels right for you. You don’t want to take things too fast, as intense emotions at the beginning of dating someone can lead you to set aside your reasoning skills. But, you don’t want to get stuck in the situationship phase, either. A good rule of thumb is that when you start to have deeper feelings for someone, that’s a good moment to check in about what kind of relationship you want.
  • Talk yourself through the unknown. As we mentioned, the fear of rejection can make you hesitant to define the relationship. And, the fear of the unknown can be even worse. One strategy you can use to deal with both types of fear is visualization. This is the practice of thinking about what it will feel like to have the conversation and coaching yourself through possible outcomes. For instance, you might visualize yourself telling the person you’re dating that you want to become exclusive and them responding by saying they don’t want to see you anymore. To be sure, this would be a painful outcome. But, your inner coach will be there to remind you that you’ve dealt with pain before, and you can deal with it now, especially if it will lead to the end of an unsatisfying situationship. In order for visualization to work, you’ll need to bring a healthy amount of positive self-talk! Don’t want to go through this process alone? If you have a supportive, kind best friend, they can help you with your visualization process!
  • Have the “defining the relationship” talk. When you do think it’s time for the relationship to move on to the next step, the only thing to do is rip off the band-aid and have the conversation. You’ve already done the hard work of deciding what kind of relationship you want and visualizing yourself talking about your needs. So, you’re prepared for this!
  • Be kind to yourself. Never forget that the person who is best able to take care of you is you! And, when you’re ready to break the cycle of situationships, it’ll be up to you to be kind to yourself. Of course, being kind doesn’t mean avoiding pain. So, if you need to walk away from this situationship in order to be kind to yourself and seek out a more satisfying connection with someone else, do it!

Situationships can be hard, but they don’t have to be forever

Situationships are common, but that doesn’t mean that we should let them become the norm! No matter what kind of relationship you want, be it a short-term fling or a dedicated monogamous partnership, defining the relationship is an important first step in moving beyond situationships, for good!

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