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What Makes a Relationship Different from a Friendship?

by Megan Sheckells

‘So, what are we?’ This is a question that takes some guts and courage to voice. But long before we get the nerve, it’s likely already on our subconscious mind. ,his question needs to be discussed so we can decide once and for all what it is that makes a relationship different from a friendship?

We have all been there, whether we’re in an untitled situationship—where boundaries are not defined—or something else. Perhaps, we’re speaking to someone and we’re unsure if they like us as more than a friend. When we aren’t sure of the distinctions of friendships and relationships, we tend to find ourselves in situationships.

According to Urban Dictionary, a situationship can be defined as “A relationship that has no label on it... like a friendship but more than a friendship but not quite a relationship.” This definition is interesting, because it’s essentially about a lack of definition with someone we’re interacting with. Essentially, a situationship is the purgatory of the relationship vs friendship world. One good way to settle this internal debate and uncertainty is to think about the distinct interactions of friends vs. significant others.

It’s easy to chalk it all up to what you call it and whether or not you are sexual partners with someone. Yet then we have friends with benefits, and couples who choose to hold off on sex for their own reasons. So clearly the difference is not a physical one, but a mindset instead.

In an article titled “What does a healthy Relationship Look Like” Clinical Psychologist Andrea Bonior lists the following things as being key to relationships: Trust, communication, patience, empathy, affection and interest, flexibility, appreciation, room for growth, respect, reciprocity, healthy conflict resolution, individuality and boundaries, and openness and honesty. That’s a long and completely agreeable list. But aren’t those things we want for our friendships, too?

It seems like the biggest difference is that all these things apply but on a much smaller scale in our day to day lives. With friends we want to have mutual traits like patience too. However, it is much easier to be patient with a friend as the topics to be patient on are less demanding. When you’re in a relationship you can’t simply be patient to a degree of letting your whole life be pulled around by the other person’s indecision. If a friend is unsure, it has less effect on our life path and decisions.

Furthermore, boundaries aren’t as pertinent. While we all should have boundaries in regard to the people around us, it is easier to enforce a boundary by removing yourself from that situation with a friend. When you’re in a relationship if the boundaries are not maintained it gets in the way of your daily life much more.

The reason for these traits impacting you more deeply in a relationship comes down to one thing. Commitment. Even when we have close friendships the level of commitment is not as high as that of a relationship. We tend not to plan our entire future around a friend. A significant other, however, is a potential life partner.

Thus, our interactions with a significant other hold more weight on our mental health and life path. We are more committed, and our lives are more deeply intertwined. Whether that be with long-term plans for the future, like marriage and a family, or simply moving in together and appearing as a couple in social situations.

So, when you ask the ‘what are we?’ question, make sure to ask yourself, how committed am I to this person? This is not to say all relationships are deeply committed or even intended to last a long time. But for the time that they do exist there is a deeper emotional connection that is just not the same as with that of even close friends.

We unload different baggage on partners, and we tend to expect a different degree of emotional and physical intimacy than we do with friends. So, if you find yourself in a situationship, consider what level of commitment and intimacy you both expect from each other as compared to your other friends.

This question of friendship vs. relationship is so common because bottom line, the typical traits seen in relationships and friendships aren’t all that different. It’s good to remember that no one can label a friendship or relationship except those people that are taking part in it. We all come from different backgrounds so our definitions may vary. What’s important is that you know where you stand and what you expect.



Bonoir, Andrea. “What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?” Psychology Today, 28 Dec. 2018.

“Situationship.” Urban Dictionary, 05 Apr. 2014.


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