What do you think about when you hear the term 'platonic relationship'?
Friends? Long-term colleagues? People of the same sex or the opposite sex? Here, we are exploring platonic relationships, what they look like and what happens when a relationship with a romantic partner begins to feel more like ‘just good friends’.
Throughout our lives we’ll engage in many different types of relationships. Some will of course be familial relationships, some will involve romantic feelings, sexual attraction and physical intimacy, others a deeper emotional or spiritual connection. A connection that is mental rather than physical.
It’s these relationships that you might term simply a strong friendship. The intense adolescent friendships that see you through the difficult times, or the friends for life that support one another throughout the different phases of their lives. Platonic relationships, or platonic friendship, is defined by the close bond shared in the absence of sexual intimacy.
Of course, there’s nothing to say a platonic relationship won’t ever develop into something more. Physical attraction can change and sexual feelings grow. In fact, in some cases, where it’s particularly important to you that a relationship remains purely platonic, it might be important to make that clear from the outset.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to keep our romantic feelings in check. What starts as friends might evolve into something else. One kiss could lead to more, perhaps a ‘friends with benefits’ type arrangement or even a longer term romance.
Perhaps you find yourself in a transitional situation, whether intended or unintended. A romantic relationship between friends where sex is not on the agenda. Maybe you have identified someone you feel sexually attracted to, but you know they’re not open to that at the moment. So you settle for friendship and hope it changes.
And, of course, things can also ‘transition’ the other way. It’s not uncommon for lovers to lose their romantic connection, to decide that they’re not ‘the one’ for each other and that they’re better off as friends. That’s not to say that sex is completely off the agenda. There might be a comfort in knowing what one another likes. Even though the relationship is relatively platonic, they might see their partner as safe, dependable and a low risk of rejection.
We can see that these things are complicated. Between platonic friendships and romantic relationships, the lines can be blurred. And we absolutely should not judge other people for this. A healthy relationship is one where both parties are able to give and receive what they need. The emotional intimacy in a true friendship can be as deep, or even deeper and more valuable, than that in a sexual relationship.
If your previously sexual relationship transitions into ‘just friends’, don’t discount it. Try to rise above the hurt or rejection you might feel and embrace the possibility of a new dynamic. Platonic doesn’t mean unhealthy. We can enjoy close, valuable platonic relationships alongside our primary romantic one, offering us balance and perspective on life.
When a long-term romantic relationship begins to transition towards the platonic, it can feel like a cause for concern. If your life partner or spouse is beginning to feel more like a friend than a lover, it may be time to at least open the channels of communication a little.
In itself, a short-term reduction in sex or intimacy should not cause alarm bells to ring. It is natural to experience an ebb and flow in libido and desire over time. Modern life subjects us to a wealth of daily stresses. From parenting worries to job concerns, emotional news stories to general anxiety. We might be dealing with hormonal changes, physiological changes, health issues, both physical and mental. It’s not surprising that sex and intimacy manifest in different ways depending on what’s going on around us.
The good news is that in many cases this is temporary, we move past it.
Sometimes, though, this dry spell, or rough patch, might pose more of a challenge. If you start to notice something is missing, or it seems as if your partner’s feelings towards you have changed without an obvious explanation, it can quickly lead to feelings of insecurity or resentment. And over time, those romantic feelings can grow to feel distinctly platonic, whether in one or both directions.
So what can you do?
Of course, it’s worth saying that if you and your partner are both happy with your relationship the way it is, there is no need to change it. It’s important never to judge your own relationship against those around you. Or your perception of those around you. For some people, a non-sexual romantic relationship can feel exactly right for them.
However, if you are concerned about the loss of sexual intimacy or you’re not happy to live in a non-sexual relationship, it’s worth looking at your options. Just as things can swing in one direction, it’s perfectly possible for them to transition back the other way.
Begin by talking to your partner about what’s been going on. Find out their thoughts and try to understand their feelings about the situation. If you’re not used to talking about sex and your relationship, it can be difficult but will ultimately have many positives.
If you think there may be a physiological reason for your partner’s reduced libido, make sure you visit your family doctor or physician to rule out any possible causes. Alternatively, it may be worth exploring the idea of Sexual Desire Discrepancy, or mismatched libido. This occurs when the amount, and / or type, of sex you both want doesn’t match up within your relationship. When one of you seems to want it a lot more than the other.
Where issues of emotional disconnection are involved, Sensate Focus from Blueheart can be a lovely way to start taking steps in the right direction. This is a sex therapy technique that is scientifically proven to boost bonding and intimacy through a bespoke plan of touch exercises. Designed to gradually build confidence and connection. The idea is that by helping to reduce the stress and anxiety around sex you’ll be able to truly focus on the sensations and being in the moment.
It can be a great way to help you transition back from the platonic relationship you’ve found yourself in, into the romantic relationship you remember.
As long, of course, as that’s what you both want to do.