Not long ago, relationships largely followed a traditional narrative. They had fairly predictable stages and expectations — dating, marriage and a shared household, all bounded by set, often unspoken, rules.
However, a new wave of acceptance and open-mindedness is ushering in an era where love isn’t bound by convention. The recognition and acceptance of same-sex couples, once a taboo in many cultures, is now largely celebrated. Similarly, open relationships, once whispered about in hushed tones, are finding vocal proponents. Furthermore, living-apart-together marriages challenge the age-old belief that marital success is rooted in cohabitation.
A combination of factors, including cultural shifts, increasing global connectivity and a strong desire for personal authenticity seem to be driving this change. As people are exposed to diverse cultures and ideas, there’s a growing realization that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to relationships. Moreover, with mental health and individual well-being taking center stage, there’s a heightened focus on relationships that truly cater to emotional needs rather than fitting a societal mold. The beauty of this evolution is that it paves the way for more authentic self-expression — which is where the concept of a “fluid relationship” comes in.
Compared to other types of relationships, both traditional as well as non-traditional, a fluid relationship has two key characteristics that make it an attractive option for people who want to settle down without having to settle down.
1. It Prioritizes The Independent Emotional And Physical Needs Of The Partners
Unlike open relationships, where there’s often an explicit understanding about external partners, fluid relationships aren’t primarily defined by the presence or absence of other sexual or romantic partners. The bond between the primary partners may transcend these factors, emphasizing emotional connection, mutual growth or other unique dynamics tailored to their needs.
For example, if the relationship is going through a dead-bedroom episode, consensual non-monogamy is an option the partners are willing to discuss in a fluid relationship. In a traditional relationship, perhaps the focus would be on working through the lack of intimacy with each other via therapy. While this is effective, it’s a process that can be slow and time-intensive. The other option, which unfortunately happens in such cases, is infidelity.
Opening up a relationship, while it may sound like a recipe for disaster, carries less risk than you might think as long as you and your partner are on the same page about why you are doing it. A 2020 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that opening up a relationship did not necessarily lead to decreased life satisfaction or relationship quality in couples who did so primarily because they were sexually incompatible with their partners.
2. There’s A Deep Emphasis On Being Flexible And Adaptable
The very essence of a “fluid” relationship is its capacity for change. It acknowledges the ebb and flow of life, ensuring the relationship remains relevant and supportive. Whether it’s navigating through temporary long-distance phases, changes in life priorities or personal growth trajectories, a fluid relationship is resilient, molding itself to the evolving needs of the partners involved.
A 2020 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science found that people who were inflexible often had poor relationship outcomes. They were more likely to have weaker bonds with their partners, have poorer sex lives and resort to unhealthy relationship behaviors like shouting, screaming and domestic violence.
With a fluid relationship, both partners know that the relationship is built on adapting to situations. If either partner encounters behaviors in the other they aren’t happy with, there is a common understanding between them that they are not bound by the relationship to fix the issue. This opens up new avenues to remedy conflict.
While some differences between partners can be worked through, accepting your partner for who they are is a given in fluid relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean partners are given a pass for any and all behavior — and open communication is a necessity in any relationship, fluid or otherwise.
Take the example of the recent incident with Grimes and Shivon Zilis, who are both linked to Elon Musk romantically. Although Grimes has called her relationship with Musk “fluid,” she was upset when she found out about his twins with Zilis in 2021, along with the rest of the world. The two women have since cleared the air and appear to be on good terms with each other, judging by their interactions on social media. Grimes’ main gripe seemed to be with how the information was communicated to her, not the information itself.
The episode underscores the premise that fluid relationships, while offering flexibility, also demand genuine work and mutual respect. Relationships, regardless of how they’re labeled, require effort, understanding and, often, a lot of patience.
In the evolving landscape of relationships, the allure of fluidity offers the promise of authenticity and adaptability. However, as with all forms of partnerships, its success lies in the bedrock of clear communication, mutual respect and shared values. At its heart, a fluid relationship isn’t just about being adaptable; it’s about creating a space where both partners feel valued, understood and free to evolve together. Whether or not one opts for this approach, the overarching goal remains the same: cultivating a bond that nurtures and enriches both individuals involved.