3 Signs Your Relationship is Just Physical—and 2 Ways to Go Further

Great sex is awesome, but it's not enough to sustain a relationship.
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
Heather Bien - The Knot Contributor.
Heather Bien
The Knot Contributor
  • Heather contributes wedding, honeymoon, travel and relationship content for The Knot and WeddingWire.
  • Heather also writes for publications including Apartment Therapy, StyleBlueprint, MyDomaine, HelloGiggles and The Everygirl.
  • She holds a degree in Art History and Architectural History from the University of Virginia.
Updated Oct 27, 2021
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You're in a new relationship. Things are hot and heavy. You're counting down the hours until you see your new flame again. From making out to going out, it's all about physical attraction, flirtation and the anticipation of what might happen later between the sheets.

You begin wondering, Is our relationship just physical? At what point does a committed relationship need to go deeper? Are we relying a little bit too much on physical chemistry rather than diving into a deeper emotional bond?

We spoke with relationship experts to learn about the top three red flags that could indicate your relationship is just physical, as well as how to determine if the potential is there to go further into a lasting, meaningful relationship.

Every Relationship Needs Balance

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice says both physical and emotional intimacy are wonderful and necessary in healthy relationships. "Relationships have both a physical and emotional connection," she says. "However, the physical connection should be an extension of key categories rather than a category in and of itself. Loyalty, honesty, genuineness, flexibility and transparency are core assets that need to be assessed and addressed as building blocks outside of the physical."

A romantic relationship cannot rely on physical intimacy alone, but it is an important component of a balanced and healthy long-term relationship. Both types of intimacy should grow and evolve as you two grow and evolve as partners.

But what happens when they don't? Let's look at the signs that a relationship is just physical.

Three Signs Your Relationship Is Just Physical

Your sex life is critical to your relationship, but it can't be everything. If you notice your time with your partner is trending toward just casual sex rather than spending quality time together, you might want to consider whether this is the type of relationship that's built to last.

Of course, there may be times when this is exactly the kind of relationship you want. If it is, establish those parameters at the beginning of a relationship so no one is left in the dark about where things are headed in the short-term or the long-term.

Ask yourself these three questions to determine whether your relationship is just physical.

1. Do you feel comfortable opening up?

If you only feel comfortable bringing up vulnerable conversations while cuddling post-sex, that may mean your relationship is grounded too firmly in the physical. "There are many signs that your relationship is just physical, but the first sign would be that you cannot have a deep conversation with your partner because there is no emotional connection," says therapist Ana De La Cruz. "It's hard to empathize with someone on a deeper level if there is no connection."

Romantic partners should be able to talk about heavy and consequential topics without concern for whether it's going to upset the balance of their relationship. If that's not how you feel with your partner, it's time for a conversation about opening up—or time to look elsewhere for someone who cares for your day-to-day and long-term well-being and can offer the emotional support you need.

2. Do you actually want to hang out with them?

One of the hallmarks of deep romantic love is that you want to spend time with your partner. You want to date them, explore with them and spend lazy weekend days with them. If you only want to hang out when there aren't clothes involved, then this may be an exclusively physical relationship.

"You only desire to be with that person for physical reasons—to have sex or to see them physically," De La Cruz says. "You want them, but not necessarily because you enjoy their company, their conversation or their energy around you."

3. Does taking out the physical create tension?

True love should be able to last during periods of time when sex may not be on the table, whether that's due to distance, sex drive, health or another reason. "With a relationship that's too heavily centered around the physical connection, there's a pretty good chance that we notice tension when we take the physical out of the equation altogether," Rice says.

How to Go Further

All relationship advice should be looked at as something to build upon, and a strong sexual attraction is an awesome starting point. If you're reading through this article concerned your relationship has veered into just-physical territory, don't assume it's all over. Both of the relationship experts we spoke with offered advice on how to determine whether this is something worth pursuing.

Rice recommends removing the physical component, albeit briefly and intentionally, in order to focus on addressing whether there could be a stronger emotional foundation present. "For clients who are debating the fit of a relationship, I often recommend abstaining from anything physical," she says. "It allows them to zero in on and tackle other key components in a more effective way."

Meanwhile, De La Cruz advises exploring whether there is an untapped emotional connection that could be expanded upon. "A good way to decide whether or not you want to pursue something more is to try to build an emotional connection in the first place," she says. "If that connection is there, then why not try to go deeper? But if there is no emotional connection in the first place, then perhaps it's a dead zone and you should look somewhere else."

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