WTF Is a Throuple Relationship, and How Do They Work?
Growing up in the modern Western world leaves most of us thinking humans are meant to find their match and hold on for dear life until the bitter end, but history has something else to say about that.
Historically, most non-monogamy has been in the polygamous context of a man with many wives, but that’s more than enough evidence to show humans have never actually been married to monogamy. Hell, even the Bible regales us with some of history’s sluttiest men, from Genesis on down to the town trollop Solomon and his 700 wives — all purportedly sanctioned by God themself.
As for throuples, the concept certainly predates our recent social awareness — because the queers have always been ahead of our time, obvs.
The gay liberation movement in the 1960s laid much of the groundwork for our modern approach to non-normative relationships. Now, thanks to growing visibility in the media, it seems like everybody and their mama is curious about breaking out of the confines of their monogamous relationships.
Whoever said three’s a crowd clearly didn’t learn that the triangle is the strongest shape — and they were probably straight, bless their heart.
Understanding throuple relationships
What are they? How do they work? And who’s doing it?
The partners in a throuple might be bisexual, pansexual, gay, queer, or otherwise, and any beautiful combination of genders you can imagine. Gender and sexuality don’t limit poly relationships, so any three-person relationship that is consensual, balanced, and committed qualifies as a throuple.
The throuple pocket dictionary
Like Neapolitan ice cream, throuples come in various flavors. Here are some essential terms to help you understand them:
- Closed relationship: No matter how many people comprise the relationship, they are sexually and romantically exclusive with each other. If there are more than two partners, this is called polyfidelity.
- Compersion: Joy from witnessing other people’s joy. It isn’t quite anti-jealousy, but it is a beautifully selfless balm for when jealousy naturally creeps up.
- Ethical non-monogamy (ENM): Also called consensual non-monogamy, this is an umbrella term for dating and relationships where partners are not exclusively committed to one person.
- Open relationship: Under the non-monogamous umbrella, an open relationship is when the members consensually pursue sexual connections outside the confines of their committed relationship.
- Polyamory: Polyamorous partners are free to pursue more than one committed relationship at a time, often becoming emotionally, romantically, and sexually involved with multiple people. Not to be confused with polygamy.
- Threesome: Sex between three people — simple as that.
- Throuple: A relationship between three people characterized as balanced, committed, and non-hierarchical. “Three” + “couple” = “throuple” — and that’s called queer math.
- Triad: The common term for a throuple within the polyamorous community.
- Unicorn: A third person brought into a pre-existing two-person relationship. The unicorn is usually there for a primarily sexual relationship and doesn’t have equal footing compared to the other two. It’s rare (almost mythical) to find someone who’s cool with that setup — hence the name.
Misconceptions and stereotypes about non-monogamy
Mainstream society has a less-than-flattering opinion of poly practitioners, feeding close-minded views to even the most forward-thinking individuals. Let’s dispel some popular myths.
- Are throuples just swingers? Nope, swingers are usually couples who bang other couples.
- Isn’t it cheating? Also, nope. Infidelity happens when a partner breaks the rules of their specific relationship. If they’re all in it together, it’s totally kosher.
- Is it strictly about sexual gratification? Nope again. These intimate relationships may celebrate more than sex. Hell, sex might not even enter the equation. The arrangement all depends on what works best for everyone.
- So, they never get jealous, right? Wouldn’t that be nice? Turns out jealousy is just one of those common human experiences that only a rare few don’t feel. The trick is to manage it with maturity.
- Won’t somebody always feel left out? If they’re communicating well, then definitely not. A tricycle has no designated third wheel; it needs all three to stand on its own.
If you’re considering a triad, don’t let stereotypes get you down. Humans and our relationships come in all shapes, sizes, and combinations. If you’re doing life in a way that works for you, then you’re doing it right.
Benefits of throuplehood
They say three is a magic number, and these benefits make us inclined to agree:
- More support: Finding romantic companionship with one person is a beautiful experience, and a healthy triad relationship can offer emotional support times three.
- Better communication skills: All three partners must work extra hard on their communication and negotiation skills to keep the boat afloat. Clear communication will inevitably improve all facets of their lives.
- Lighter financial/labor burdens: Throuples get to split shared responsibilities three ways and pool their resources. Lower rent and fewer chores? Sign us up!
- More fulfilling sex: All that communication and emotional intimacy can bring sexual satisfaction to new levels, plus an extra body keeps things interesting in the bedroom.
- Expanded worldview: You have more diversity of perspectives and life experiences to share, keeping conversations interesting.
Joining a throuple isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Here are ways they can make your life more complicated:
- Jealousy and insecurity: These emotions affect all types of relationships, but more people invite more opportunities for insecurities to flare up.
- Tougher communication: Boundary-setting is crucial in all facets of life, so a throuple has to be extra diligent to ensure everyone is heard and respected.
- Societal pressure: The outside world’s influence is often the most challenging part of a non-traditional relationship. Social outings might garner stares or awkwardness. Because all three people can’t legally marry, there will be obstacles when it comes to assets, children, and healthcare.
- Less time for yourself: Holding onto independence in a two-person relationship isn’t always easy. A triad has to work overtime to ensure everyone’s individual needs are being met.
Doing throuplehood right
Interested in entering a trinity of affinity? Here are some tips to make a triad work for you:
Picture us with a megaphone up against your ear so these words rattle your brain and infuse into your DNA. Communication (underline, bold, exclamation point!!) is the only thing that can make a throuple work. Communication is actually the only thing that can make any relationship work.
Schedule time for all of you to check in with each other. Open, honest, consistent, and compassionate communication is the absolute baseline for a healthy polyamorous relationship. Everything else falls apart without it.
Boundaries and rules
Set your boundaries, respect everyone else’s, and check your expectations if they’re unreasonable. Figure out your logistics. Do all three of you sleep together, apart, or rotate through different combinations? We recommend three separate blankets for temperature regulation if you’re smooshed together in one bed.
Do you all go out together for date night? Maybe sometimes it’s all three of you, and sometimes two of you do dinner so the other person can have some healthy alone time.
Stay ahead of conflicts as best you can. If you wonder, worry, or feel jealous, ask your partners about it. If any part of the triad dynamic isn’t working for you, bring it up immediately. If one of your partners raises an issue, meet them with curiosity and care instead of judgment or defensiveness.
Seek help from a pro
Don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance and counseling either pre-emptively or as needed. More and more therapists specialize in LGBTQ and alternative relationship structures every day.
Don’t forget to celebrate your individual and collective milestones. Your partners are your community, and you should lift each other up in support and celebration as often as you can.
Choose your own adventure
Communication, consent, and commitment are the foundational building blocks of any throuple relationship. Beyond that, you’re free to determine how you approach your relationship. You’re already throwing convention out the window, so there’s no need to follow a prescribed model or fit your relationship into something normative.
And whether the throuple lasts forever or not, there really is no such thing as a “failed” relationship. People come and go from each other’s lives; if you learned, grew, and loved in your time together, the end of a relationship can’t take any of that away from you.