You’ve heard that two’s company and three’s a crowd. But throuples are here to prove that three—yes, three—is where the party’s at.
As you may have guessed, a throuple is a romantic relationship between three people. And while the term might be new to you, Ann Rosen Spector, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, insists there’s nothing new or unusual about the concept.
Why? Because “it’s totally possible to be in love with more than one person at one time,” she says. (You heard it from her.)
Here’s everything you need to know about throuples, whether you just want a better understanding of the nontraditional relationship or are considering starting one yourself.
1. A throuple isn’t the same as an open relationship.
First things first, a little clarification on exactly what a throuple is and is not…
A throuple is:
- A balanced, consensual, and committed relationship between three partners
A throuple is NOT:
- An opportunity to be in a relationship and have sex with people who are not their partner
- A threesome, or merely sex between three people
Thanks to the recent increase in visibility of the entire sexual spectrum (hooray!), the throuple (“three” + “couple”) is gaining more and more recognition, as are other forms of polyamory, the umbrella term for relationships involving more than two people.
2. A throuple doesn’t have any “formula,” aside from involving three people.
Throuples can be made up of people of any gender identity and any sexual orientation who choose to be together, Spector says. (Love is love, right?)
That said, Spector says that most of the the throuples she’s seen involve a married couple or long-term twosome who choose to add a third person—typically a man and woman who then bring in another woman. Some consider themselves straight; others call themselves bisexual.
She also sees throuples made up of people who don’t conform to any gender, folks who consider themselves pansexual, and those who identify as entirely homosexual. But labels aren’t important, she notes. (Cosign.)
3. A throuple has legit advantages.
Sometimes a throuple begins as a purely sexual pursuit, to spice up a twosome, and then evolves into its own relationship with mutual feelings among the three parties.
But other times—and often times—people in a relationship who love each other but don’t want to be monogamous choose to add a third person to round out their bond.
Which has definite benefits, Spector says: When you have a third person involved, chances are you’ll expose yourself and your original partner to qualities that both of you may want but can’t offer each other.
A third partner can also serve as a buffer or mediator when scuffles come up between the other two, Spector adds.
All that could make for a much more satisfying relationship. Because just like couples, throuples love each other, elevate each other, argue, have sex, live together, and—yep—may even have children.
4. Throuple-hood could make the relationship a little harder, though.
The dynamics within a throuple can differ drastically from a typical duo. First, there’s the jealousy part, a potential side effect of a three-way relationship if one person feels like there’s an uneven split of attention or commitment.
The best way to avoid this is to have everyone voice their needs and concerns at the start of the relationship—and be honest if and when those needs and concerns change, says Spector.
Second, when it comes to conflict, having a third person in a relationship leaves room for taking sides—an unhealthy tactic that can put the bond on shaky ground, Spector explains. (That can be avoided if each party can master the aforementioned mediator role.)
Like in any relationship, a throuple requires tons of communication so that everyone feels heard and no one feels left out.
A few ways to make sure that happens, from Spector:
- Be super specific about your needs.
For example, say: “Since we’re all in a relationship together, while I’m comfortable with you and our partner kissing, I’d prefer if we only had sex as a threesome.”
- Eliminate secrets.
Open communication is even more important when there’s three people involved. So always check in with both partners—and yourself.
- Speak up if your feelings change.
Try: “I know you’re happy in our throuple, but this isn’t something I wanted for the long term. I’d rather go back to our relationship being just the two of us. Thoughts?”
5. A throuple can be a totally healthy and balanced relationship.
Entering throuple-hood can enrich your romantic life if everyone shares similar interests, values, and ideals, Spector says, but make sure you can handle coupledom before bringing in a third person.
If you feel like you’re fully ready and wanting to add a third, Spector suggests letting your current partner know by gauging their interest.
Say something like: “I’d like to invite someone else into our relationship. How would you feel about having X join us and becoming a throuple?”
As long as they’re on board—and all three of you are willing to put in the work—go ahead and get that party started.