Navigating Through Mutually Exclusive Situationship: Rules and Red Flags

In this ever-evolving landscape of modern relationships, the term “situationship” has emerged, encapsulating those complex, undefined romantic engagements that are more than friendships yet not quite official relationships. This nebulous territory can often be confusing, filled with uncertainty, and complicated to navigate. In this guide, we will explore the concept of situationships, establish some ground rules for those finding themselves in one, and identify situationship red flags that signal it may be time to reassess the situation.

What’s Situationship?

A mutually exclusive situationship refers to a romantic relationship that falls somewhere between casual dating and a committed partnership. It often involves a level of emotional and physical intimacy without the labels of being boyfriend/girlfriend or partners. Situationships can be murky, confusing, and emotionally risky. Here are some key things to know about modern-day situationships:

  • There is an intimate connection beyond just a casual, physical relationship. You talk frequently, confide in each other, and may even say, “I love you.”
  • It is not clearly defined. You have not had a discussion about being exclusive or committed to each other long-term.
  • It allows for ambiguity. One or both people may be hesitant to be tied down, so things stay intentionally vague in mutually exclusive situationship.
  • It leaves room for interpretation. You may view the relationship differently from your partner in terms of level of commitment or future intentions.
  • There is uncertainty about longevity. With no defined path, the end date or future of the relationship is unknown.

Dating vs Situationship

date as a type of situationship

Dating involves going on romantic outings with someone new to get to know them. It is casual and non-exclusive in the early stages with no commitment. A situationship takes this a step further with consistent, intimate time together and deeper emotional connection. However, it stops short of exclusivity, family introductions, public posts, and other “relationship milestones.” 

Situationships exist in the grey area when you are more than dating but less than official partners. Dating lightly explores a new romance. Exclusive situationship get highly involved without the labels and expectations of a real relationship.

Why Do Situationships Develop?

There are a few common reasons why situationships tend to form instead of committed relationships:

  • Fear of commitment. One or both individuals may have hesitancy about commitment due to past relationship failures, not feeling ready, or valuing their independence. A situationship feels “safer.”
  • Uncertainty. You may be unclear about what you really want out of dating someone new. Testing the waters through a situationship allows you to get to know someone without fully jumping into a relationship.
  • Casual dating culture. With the prevalence of casual dating apps, exclusive situationship have become common. They allow for intimacy without commitment.
  • Hope for more later. Sometimes, one person hopes the situationship will evolve into more over time, so they accept the ambiguity.
  • Emotional unavailability. If one person cannot provide the emotional intimacy of a real relationship, a situationship may be their limit for closeness.

How Do You Know if You Are in a Situationship?

how to know if you are in situationship

Determining whether you are being in a situationship rather than a committed relationship can be tricky. There are often ambiguous signs that point to the arrangement being undefined and casual, despite intimacy.

  • First, take note if you frequently spend time together and have not established exclusivity.
  • Do you avoid referring to each other as boyfriend/girlfriend?
  • Have you failed to meet each other’s family and friends or post about each other publicly?
  • Does it feel like something is intentionally being left unsaid about the relationship?
  • Do you feel anxious about bringing up the future or asking for clarity?

All these situationship signs indicate it dynamic at play. The lack of direct communication about expectations and the fear of “ruining things” by asking questions also reveals you are not in a committed partnership. If your time spent together involves physical and emotional intimacy without further defining the relationship, you are likely in a modern-day situationship, for better or worse. Have an open discussion before resentment builds.

Setting Situationship Rules and Boundaries

Since situationships can often feel ambiguous and chaotic, setting clear situationship rules and boundaries is important to avoid hurt feelings. Here are some suggested “rules” to discuss:

  • Define your expectations. Are you both on the same page about the level of commitment and future of the relationship? Do you have different expectations?
  • Discuss your emotional needs. What makes each person feel cared for? What intimate behaviors (cuddling, saying “I love you,”etc.) are okay or off limits?
  • State dating and physical boundaries. Are you comfortable with each other dating or sleeping with other people? Should you tell each other if that occurs?
  • Agree on the frequency of contact. How often will you communicate? How much is appropriate? Unwanted contact or needy behavior can cause issues without setting situationship rules.
  • Decide on a potential end date. Are you comfortable leaving the situationship open-ended? Or should you re-evaluate the relationship after a certain timeframe?
  • Check on emotional health. If one person catches deeper feelings, how will you handle it? Should the relationship end if that occurs?

Regularly discussing boundaries avoids feelings of jealousy, hurt, or resentment when someone behaves in a way you did not expect or want.

JUST FYI: 5 Famous Situationships 

  1. Drake and Rihanna: This on-and-off duo was intimate for years but never officially dated or committed, despite rumors and collaborations.
  2. Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez: They had a tumultuous relationship full of ambiguity about their status, resulting in a long term situationship.
  3. Chris Brown and Karrueche Tran: Karrueche was caught in a love triangle with Chris Brown and Rihanna, with Chris refusing to commit fully to Karrueche.
  4. Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello: After denying romance rumors, this musical pair had a vaguely defined friendship/relationship full of PDA and intimacy without labels.
  5. Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik: The supermodel and singer dated, broke up, got back together, and broke up again multiple times, epitomizing hot and cold situationship behavior.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

Situationships, especially long-term, have the potential to turn unhealthy and detrimental. Here are some key situationship red flags to watch out for:

One person wants more

If one partner starts wanting a committed relationship, but the other resists, resentment can build.

This can lead to a one-sided relationship, where one person is always trying to push the other into something they are not ready for. It’s important to communicate openly and honestly about your expectations and boundaries when being in a situationship.

Pushing for more when the other person does not want it spells trouble.

It can lead to feelings of pressure, guilt, and discomfort for both parties involved. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to have a conversation with your partner about their intentions and what they want from the relationship.

The situationship is no longer meeting both people’s needs.

As time goes on, wants and needs can change. If one person feels like they want more commitment or exclusivity, but the other is content with how things are, it can become a source of tension and disappointment. It’s important to reassess and communicate regularly about each person’s needs in the situationship relationship.

dating couple sitting at restaurant

Possessive or controlling behavior

Trying to control who your situationship partner sees or jealousy about their other relationships is a bad sign.

In healthy relationships, both partners trust and respect each other’s boundaries and independence. In situationships where there may not be clear expectations or commitments, jealousy and control can become more prevalent. It’s important to address these issues early on and establish healthy boundaries.

Obtaining “couple privileges” without a commitment is unfair.

Sometimes, one person, when being in a situationship, may start expecting or demanding privileges that are commonly reserved for committed relationships, such as being exclusive or introducing them to family and friends. This can create an unequal power dynamic where one person is taking advantage of the other’s feelings. It’s important to discuss and set boundaries around these types of expectations.

Possessiveness has no place in an undefined relationship.

Feeling possessive over someone in a situationship can be a red flag that things are becoming unhealthy. It’s important to address and communicate any feelings of possessiveness and jealousy before they escalate.


Lying about dating or sleeping with other people breaks trust in a situationship, despite the ambiguity.

When being in a situationship, there may not be clear boundaries or expectations around dating and seeing other people. However, if one person is dishonest about their actions and relationships with others, it can create feelings of betrayal and mistrust in the relationship. Honest communication is key in any type of relationship to maintain trust and respect.

Dishonesty violates any relationship, committed or not.

Lying about important things, whether it’s your emotions or actions, can be a major red flag in any relationship. In situationships where there may not be clear commitments or expectations, it’s even more crucial to have open and honest communication.

If you feel the need to hide your behavior, that indicates it would upset your partner.

If you find yourself hiding or lying about your actions while being in a situationship, it may be a sign that you know your partner would not approve of what you’re doing. This is a clear indicator that there are trust and communication issues that need to be addressed in the relationship.

Falling into relationship tropes

If you find yourself acting like and treating each other like a boyfriend/girlfriend, it may be time to define the relationship.

While being in a situationship, it’s easy to fall into traditional relationship roles and behaviors without having the clarity of a committed relationship. If you find yourself doing things like celebrating anniversaries or spending all your time together like a couple, it’s important to have a conversation about what these actions mean and if there are any expectations for the future.

Letting the lines blur too much can lead to false expectations and assumptions.

Without clearly defining the relationship, it’s easy for both partners to develop different expectations and assumptions about what the relationship is. This can lead to disappointment and hurt feelings when those expectations are not met. It’s important to regularly check in with each other and discuss where you see the relationship going.

Making assumptions about commitment without discussing it directly is risky.

Assuming that your situationship relationship partner is on the same page as you without actually communicating about it can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It’s important to have honest conversations about what each person wants from the relationship and make sure you are both on the same page.

couple sitting on date night

Physical and emotional abuse

Any relationship with controlling, toxic, or abusive dynamics needs to end immediately, situationship or not.

Physical and emotional abuse is never acceptable in any type of relationship. In situationships with a lack of clear boundaries or expectations, it’s important to recognize and address these issues early on before they escalate into something more dangerous.

Gaslighting and manipulation have no place in a healthy relationship.

In a situationship where there may not be clear commitments or expectations, gaslighting and manipulation can easily occur. These behaviors are signs of an unhealthy and potentially dangerous relationship and should not be tolerated.

Never continue being in a situationship if it becomes dangerous, emotionally damaging, or unhealthy.

If a situationship is causing you harm or affecting your well-being, it’s important to end the relationship and seek support from friends, family, or professionals. Your safety and mental health should always be a top priority.  

Overall, while situationships can be enjoyable and fulfilling for some individuals, they come with their own set of challenges and potential pitfalls. It’s important to be aware of these potential issues and have open and honest communication with your partner to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship, whether it’s a committed one or not. Remember, you deserve to be in a relationship where you feel respected, valued, and safe. Don’t settle for anything less.  

So rather than jumping into a situationship relationship without thinking about the potential consequences, it’s important to have open and honest communication with your partner about what you both want and expect from the relationship. This will help avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and potentially toxic behaviors that can arise from unclear boundaries and expectations.

Consistently unhappy

If you find yourself chronically frustrated, dissatisfied, or unhappy with the arrangement, listen to your instincts.

If being in a situationship is causing more negative emotions than positive ones, it may be a sign that the relationship is not meeting your needs. It’s important to trust your instincts and prioritize your own well-being.

Don’t feel pressured to stay in a situationship if it’s no longer serving you.

Just because others may view a situationship as a casual and non-committed relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in it if it’s no longer making you happy. You deserve to be in a relationship that brings you joy and fulfills your emotional needs.

Keep an open mind about the potential for the situationship to turn into something more serious, but don’t wait around indefinitely.

While situation relationship may have the potential to turn into something more serious, it’s important not to wait around forever for that to happen. Keep an open mind and communicate with your partner about your desires and expectations, but also be realistic about what you want and need in a relationship. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.

Your needs are not being met. Do not drag it out, hoping for change.

Speak up and make your needs clear. If you find yourself constantly compromising your needs and wants in the situationship, it’s important to speak up and communicate with your partner. Don’t stay in situation relationship where your needs are not being met or consistently ignored. It’s important to advocate for yourself and ensure that your emotional well-being is a priority in any relationship. 

No relationship is worth prolonged misery and sacrifice of well-being.

At the end of the day, your happiness and well-being should always be a top priority. If being in a situationship is causing constant unhappiness and distress, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship and consider ending it for your own sake. No relationship, no matter how casual or non-committed, is worth sacrificing your mental and emotional health for. Always prioritize yourself and your needs. 

Healthy Ways to Navigate

couple holding hands

If both parties are on the same page, situationships can be ethical, mutually beneficial arrangements. Some tips for navigating thoughtfully:

  • Check in often about expectations to prevent misaligned assumptions.
  • Understand that a situationship may have an expiration date if it needs to change.
  • Do not rely solely on one person for all emotional/physical intimacy needs. Maintain a full, balanced life.
  • If jealousy and controlling behaviors emerge, address them seriously or walk away.
  • Know that uncertainty brings risks. Draw clear boundaries to protect yourself emotionally/physically.
  • Do not drag it out once it no longer feels right or healthy for you.
  • Seek affirmation and intimacy from sources beyond just your situationship partner.


Being in a situationship requires open, candid communication and continuous checking in to avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings. While they may seem like a viable dating approach, they also have real risks if not carefully navigated. Know your needs and limitations. Set clear parameters to protect your emotional health. And if it no longer serves you positively, value yourself enough to walk away.

Sarah Mayers

Sarah Mayers is a relationship blogger based in LA. With a psychology degree from UCLA and experience at a couples therapy clinic, Sarah provides research-based, compassionate advice to nurture relationships. She shares practical tips on her blog "UsOasis"

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