HAVE YOU ever loved two people in your life and thought to yourself, “I wish we could all just date?” Well, you can! It’s called being in a throuple. The word, which is a portmanteau of “three-person” and “couple,” is a form of polyamory where three partners are in a relationship with each another.
There are many reasons people might seek out three-way relationships. Often, they form when a person joins a pre-existing couple. “Sometimes, a long-term couple wants to bring new and fresh energy into the relationship,” says Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW, certified sex therapist and director of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health. “Other times, a couple doesn’t want to rely on only one person for their emotional and sexual needs, so having a third allows for that.” Throuples can also form when one person falls in love with two individual people and wants to be with them both. (Of course, everyone involved needs to consent to the arrangement.)
Throuples can take various forms, says psychotherapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, who helped break down the most common three-way relationship styles.
Common Throuple Relationship Styles
♥ Open Triad
In an open triad, three people are in a committed relationship with each other while remaining open to relationships with other people. “The individuals in the triad may want to date or play individually with other people, or go off in a dyad (two people), or even all three people date or play with the same person/people,” Wright says.
♥ Closed Triad
A closed triad “is basically what folks would consider a monogamous relationship, but between three people instead of two,” Wright says.
♥ V Relationship
Wright also describes a “V Relationship,” where one person is involved with the two others, but two others are not involved with each other romantically or sexually. “The one person involved with both others is called the ‘hinge partner,’” Wright says. “Technically, the other two people are metamours, but depending on the relationship set-up, they may consider themselves platonic partners, turning them into a throuple.”
What to Know About Being in a Throuple
Every relationship style has its own unique challenges, including three-way relationships. Jealousy is a big obstacle to prepare for. While every relationship is prone to produce insecurity from time to time, people in throuples may experience it more if two people in the relationship have a long history of togetherness while one is more recent. “It’s also more likely that one person will be left out on any dyad dates,” Wright says.
The potential for feeling left out is why it’s super important—as with any kind of relationship—to maintain additional close relationships in your life, “whether those be platonic, romantic, or sexual,” Wright adds.
Then there are logistical and structural issues throuples run into because the world is built for two-person relationships: marriage, taxes, health insurance, plus-ones—you name it. “So, when there are three—who goes? Who [in a throuple] is married, if anyone?” Wright asks.
Even though throuples are undoubtedly a lot of work—after all, most of us struggle dating one person—they don’t always end with outrageous drama and a brutal break-up. The key, like all other relationships, is communication and honesty.
We asked real people what it’s like being in a throuple.
Respondents shared how they found themselves in this non-normative relationship, what they love about being in a throuple, how they navigate jealousy, along with the biggest misconceptions about their relationship style.
Here’s who you’ll hear from:
♥ Annie Wylie, 28, content manager, previously in a throuple for 1 year
♥ John Smith*, 43, sales, currently in a throuple for 8 years
♥ Asher Gelman, 35, director/playwright, currently in a throuple for 3 years
♥ Thomas Keen, 34, furniture maker, currently in a throuple for 2 years
♥ Nicole Everett, 28, footwear designer, currently in a throuple for 2 years
(Note: Thomas and Cathy are married, and Nicole is their partner.)
How did you end up in a throuple?
Annie: My girlfriend (at the time) and I were on Feeld swiping for male threesome partners. We’d had mild success and then we met Jack*. Somehow we all just fell in love. None of us had been in or even entertained the idea of a throuple before.
John: My wife and I started out as a couple in the swinger community. Around September 2011, we stumbled upon an online profile for a cute, young single guy who was advertising that he was looking for a married couple and that he was also bi. After a couple months of hooking up and hanging out, both my wife and I started to develop feelings for him, eventually falling in love. We didn’t plan on being in a throuple, and at first didn’t know that what we were doing was even a thing.
Asher: My husband and I had been together for seven and a half years when we met our current partner. He came over one evening for a threesome and we quickly fell into an intimate relationship, though it would take us the next two and a half years to acknowledge that it was a romantic relationship.
My husband and I had a bad experience with polyamory a few years prior (I wrote my play, Afterglow, based on that experience) and he, in particular, was staunchly against opening our relationship romantically again. Despite our partner spending the night once a week, our doing almost everything with him, including going on multiple vacations together, and the genuine love the three of us shared for each other, we didn’t realize we were dating our partner for the first two-and-a-half years of our relationship because we were so afraid of the ramifications of being polyamorous.
Thomas: Cathy and I have been in an open relationship for 8 years. I met one of Catherine’s friends, Nicole, one night at an event and there was a spark. Catherine arranged a meeting between us and things progressed from there.
Cathy: Thomas and I are married but in an open relationship. We had a couple of other relationships before we met Nicole, and Nicole was seeing a couple before she met us. I feel like the fact we all had previous experience made it easier for us to navigate a three-way relationship successfully.
Nicole: Cathy and I met through work. After meeting her husband, Thomas, and recognizing there was serious chemistry, Cathy invited me along to a three-way dinner date. She left Thomas and I to carry on the evening “getting acquainted.” A few months later, Cathy and I also started having a relationship.
“We didn’t plan on being in a throuple. At first we didn’t know what we were doing was a thing.”
What type of throuple did you opt for?
Annie: It was closed, though to be honest, we never really discussed that. I think when you’re in a throuple for the first time, it’s hard to navigate other relationships as well as trying to figure out what the throuple looks like, too. Plus, we literally spent ALL of our time together!
John: A poly triad, meaning that we are in love with each other, both collectively and individually, and that we were exclusive unless we all approved some sort of “extracurricular activity.”
Asher: In addition to me and my husband being primary partners, our partner has his own primary partner—his boyfriend who lives in on the west coast. Our throuple is the only relationship I’ve ever been in that has never had any rules; we’re all just really decent to each other.
Thomas: We are not closed. Nicole has been seeing another guy for a few months. Catherine and I are always open to meeting and connecting with new people.
Cathy: If one of us becomes attracted to another person, we discuss it, make space for it, and support it.
Nicole: From the get-go we always established ourselves as open. We’ve all had other partners over the time we’ve been together, although our three-way relationship is always the first focus. At the moment, I have a separate male partner.
What do you like the most about being in a throuple?
Annie: I loved having two people to care for and support and to be cared for and supported by them, too. I loved introducing new perspectives and experiences to everyday conversations that I typically would have just had with my partner, and I loved that my regular sex life was just constant threesomes!
Asher: I like the way it has forced me to grow and to let go of my need to be included in everything. I like the fact that I am able to give my love to two wonderful men, both of whom reciprocate it in very different ways. I love that being in a throuple has strengthened my marriage. I love that I have extra date options. Also the sex is really fantastic.
Thomas: I enjoy seeing how close Catherine and Nicole are. I also enjoy being able to be intimate and affectionate with someone else in a different way. I feel like it brings out another version of me.
Cathy: Nicole brings such a beautiful, balanced, and warm energy into our relationship as a whole. I feel like the intimacy I share with her is not something I could get from Thomas and vice versa, and so the two really complement each other.
Nicole: I know this sounds corny, but the “togetherness” and a sense of community within your relationship. You’ve always got a third party to discuss topics and ideas, not to mention a mediator when there’s disagreement.
What do you dislike the most about being in a throuple?
Annie: Wanting to have sex when they didn’t, and subsequently feeling incredibly rejected. Also, my male partner wasn’t out about our relationship to his friends and family. Not being involved in his life outside of our relationship was heartbreaking and made me feel small and unwanted.
John: I dislike having to check in with the other two. I have long been a very strong-willed and independent person, so making a unilateral and comfortable decision is easy for me. But I often have to check myself to make sure I’m aligned with what benefits us as a triad.
Asher: Logistics—our society is built for pairs. I get plus one invitations all the time, and have to decide whether or not it’s worth it to ask for an additional invitation. Incidentally, Disney World is totally built for throuples (two parents and their kid). We went there a year-and-a-half ago and were pleasantly surprised by how many activities the three of us could participate in as a unit.
Cathy: Having to defend our relationship when we come up against negative judgement.
Nicole: Being the third person coming into an existing relationship, people always assume that I’m being misled or coerced, which isn’t the case at all.
What is/was the hardest part about being in a throuple?
Annie: There wasn’t anything inherently hard about being in a throuple vs duo. Navigating boundaries took a little extra communication, though.
John: The hardest part of being in a throuple is not being out to everyone. Each of our three mothers knows about us. Our closest friends know about us. But we live in a somewhat Red State, and my job, specifically, relies to a great degree on popular opinion. We have to be guarded in public situations.
Asher: The hardest part about being in a throuple, like any relationship, is communication. It’s really important to manage expectations and to be open and honest with each other. Like any relationship, it requires maintenance, which takes time and energy.
Thomas: Time management is the hardest part about being in a throuple. Sometimes sleeping arrangements can be a bit inconvenient.
Cathy: I wouldn’t say it’s “hard”—but having an extra person’s experience to consider requires more time than when you’re in a couple relationship.
Nicole: Having to dedicate extra time to communication because there are additional feelings to take into consideration. However, this communication has allowed us to connect on a deeper level.]
How have you and your partners overcome issues surrounding jealousy?
Annie: First off, I’m not a jealous person. Second, jealousy isn’t automatically damaging, it all depends on how you handle it. Having really open dialogues, checking in especially when something is new (i.e. solo sleepover), and being okay with feeling a little crumby—knowing that it doesn’t mean the end of the relationship—is really important.
John: I am less jealous than my wife, but we both experience it. We have had episodes of legitimate jealousy, and we have talked ourselves through it. It’s all about the communication.
Asher: We talk about our jealousy issues when they arise. Additionally, when the two of them are connecting and I’m not involved, my gut tells me to get in there and join and be a part of it. I resist that urge to always be included because it’s important to give the other two space to work on their own connection to each other.
Thomas: Not that jealousy hasn’t been a problem in the past, but in this relationship it isn’t because being open and honest is prioritized, plus we each give each other the freedom to live our lives in the way we would like to, which creates very little friction. Jealousy in the past has occurred because of an imbalance of power and lack of honest communication.
Cathy: I feel like jealousy is a fear of loss for me. Nic met someone back home in Australia last year and I felt a bit jealous because I thought she may not come back to the U.K. I was just honest with her about it and saying it out loud made me feel better. I don’t think you can ever completely avoid jealousy in relationships, regardless of their structure. But feeling empowered and able to speak truthfully about your feelings stops it from becoming an issue.
Nicole: You need to approach jealousy head on. Speak about it the moment the feeling arises. Establish what has stirred those feelings and be understanding of your partners’ views.
People often think that two people will inevitably become closer in a throuple, and the third person ends up feeling left out. Has that happened to you?
Asher: Absolutely, though not necessarily in those terms. The best lesson I’ve learned from being in this relationship is that it doesn’t always have to be about me and that I don’t need to take their relationship with each other personally; it’s not a commentary on me. It’s great for me to understand that resisting the urge to always be included in everything strengthens all relationships involved.
Thomas: I wouldn’t say that anyone has felt left out in our relationship, but two of us getting closer has happened before. (Nic and I were closer when we first met, then over time Cathy and Nic became closer.) But like most relationships, things continually change and we adapt accordingly.
Cathy: I’ve never personally felt left out, but we have gone through stages when two of us have been closer. When Thomas and Nicole first met they would go out partying together and I would stay home, but I really valued that time because I have a family and a very demanding job, so time alone is super rare.
Nicole: In our relationship we’re all compersion weirdos. [Compersion is the feeling of vicarious joy associated with seeing one’s sexual or romantic partner having another sexual or romantic relation that brings them joy. Think of it as an antonym to sexual or romantic jealousy.]
What are some other misconceptions people tend to have about being in a throuple?
Annie: That it’s overly complicated. Love, be loved, be open and honest, and any relationship structure can work for you. Also, that you must be super kinky.
Asher: I think a lot of people think it’s primarily about sex, and while our throuple certainly began with an incredible sexual connection, it quickly evolved into a much more significant and meaningful relationship. I think there is also a misconception about commitment. We’re not exclusive, but the three of us are definitely committed.
Thomas: There’s always this idea that I’m this straight dude at the center of the relationship being serviced by Catherine and Nicole; that they are somehow my possessions and there to please me. Also I identify as pansexual and am attracted to people regardless of their gender identity, so it’s likely that our throuple relationship will evolve again at some point.
Cathy: That it makes us bad parents. We have an 8-year-old son who absolutely adores Nicole (Aunty Nic) and understands that both Thomas and I love her. We feel that being completely transparent with him is healthy and allows him to understand that relationships and families come in all shapes and sizes.
Also our relationship choice came about because we all watched our parents struggle to stay together (all of our parents are divorced) due to lack of communication and/or infidelity. We wanted to try and do things differently and prioritize being honest with one another. For us, it felt like a much healthier lesson to teach a young person.
Nicole: People often think that because you’ve got multiple partners that you’re easy or up for anything sexual.
*indicates a name change to protect anonymity
Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment.
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