Throuple Relationships Prove That Sometimes Good Things Really Do Comes in Threes

Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection/Zackary Drucker and Alyza Enriquez
If two heads are better than one, then three heads are better than two, right? Well, that’s exactly the thought process behind a throuple. A portmanteau of the words “couple” and “three,” a throuple is a three-person relationship where all people involved are intimately connected, explains sex and polyamory educator Dedeker Winston, co-host of the Multiamory podcast. (That typically means they’re involved both romantically and sexually, though it’s worth noting that people who are asexual and/or aromantic can be in throuples, too.) Understanding how a throuple works and why people might engage in one can help you figure out if you’d benefit from this relationship structure.

Experts In This Article
  • Dedeker Winston, relationship coach, sex and polyamory educator, and co-creator and co-host of the Mutiamory podcast
  • Leanne Yau, polyamory educator, advocate, writer, and influencer

Generally, the term “throuple” is synonymous with words like “triad” and “threelationship.” However, in some scenarios, the use of the word “throuple” implies that the relationship is closed, according to Leanne Yau, the educator behind Poly Philia, a social media project dedicated to education and entertainment on polyamory and non-monogamy. This means that the people in the throuple are not available romantically or sexually to other people, she explains (more on this below). That’s because the term “throuple” is derived from and sonically similar to “couple,” which typically implies a closed, monogamous dynamic.

People in a three-way relationship who wish to avoid the assumption that their relationship structure is monogamous, or closed, may opt to use the term “triad” instead.

Wait, who can be in a throuple or triad?

From TikTok to television, media representation of throuples typically consists of two cisgender, bisexual women and one cisgender, straight man. “That’s because this structure is appealing to a majority straight and monogamous audience,” says Yau. After all, “many men fantasize about dating or sleeping with multiple women, and some even [wrongly] believe it elevates their status as a man,” she adds.

But, a throuple can be made up of three people of any gender, sex, and/or sexual orientation, so long as the three individuals all consent to the dynamic.

Other types of relationship structures involving three people

Vee relationship

A vee relationship can look similar to a throuple or triad in that it includes three total people, but in this case, two of those people are in individual relationships with the same third person (who is known as the hinge, point, or connector partner), but are not involved with each other, says Winston. These two people may know each other well or even communicate often, but they don’t have a romantic or sexual interest in each other and aren’t involved in a relationship, as they would be in a throuple.

Unicorn relationship

If two people who are in a committed relationship seek out a third person to join them (in other words, engage in a form of non-monogamy that involves opening up to the same third person), the person entering the preexisting partnership may consider themselves a “unicorn.”

This person may join the couple for sex (whether for a one-night stand or consistent threesomes), or they may eventually form a romantic throuple with the former couple—but the dynamic of one person joining an existing dyad (as opposed to three people meeting and dating) is typically where the “unicorn” terminology is used.

Open relationship

An open relationship is any kind of intimate relationship between two people that is sexually non-monogamous, meaning both people involved agree to being open to having sex with other people. This kind of arrangement could certainly bring a third (or fourth or fifth… ) party into the mix of your existing relationship, if you and a partner choose to open up your relationship together; or, you could mutually agree to develop individual intimate relationships with others and share (or not!) any level of detail from those relationships with each other.

The differences between being polyamorous and being in a throuple

When someone is polyamorous, they are naming that they have the capacity to love multiple people at once and be in simultaneous relationships with them.

Many polyamorous folks view polyamory as their relationship orientation, much as being bisexual is a bi+ individual's sexual orientation. For these folks, their polyamorous nature is not dependent on their actual relationship status, the structure of that relationship (if they’re currently in one), or the number of partners they may have. (At the same time, there are also folks in polyamorous relationships who do not view polyamory as their relationship orientation, but instead are actively choosing it as their relationship structure.)

A throuple is, by nature, a non-monogamous relationship structure and not a relationship orientation. Some people in a throuple relationship may be polyamorous by orientation, while others may be choosing a three-person relationship structure—without identifying as polyamorous—because it makes the most sense for them, their heart, and their current wants and needs. In other words? Just because someone is in a throuple does not inherently mean they are polyamorous, says Winston.

Whether people in a throuple are polyamorous or not can also affect its dynamic. Typically, when the folks in a throuple are polyamorous by orientation, they will have an open throuple, according to Yau. “Polyamorous people usually don’t explicitly agree to close their dynamic, and instead make a decision as individuals whether they have the time and emotional capacity for partners or not,” she explains. Whereas, those who are in a throuple and aren’t polyamorous may opt for a closed triad, such that all three folks agree to only be intimate with one another.

Why you may want to be in a throuple relationship

Much like the benefits of being in a couple, the upsides of being in a throuple are as diverse and multifaceted as the people who choose to be in them.

Some people who are polyamorous actively seek out a throuple structure because they enjoy watching their partners interact or like to see their partners give or receive love or pleasure to each other, says Yau. “Just like it can be really appealing to see two of your friends get along with each other, the same happens for some polyamorous people who really enjoy seeing their partners love each other,” she says. (It’s important to note that not every polyamorous person feels this way; there are some polyamorous people who like to keep their relationships entirely separate from one another, which is an equally valid choice.)

“Just like it can be appealing to see two of your friends get along, the same happens for some polyamorous people who enjoy seeing their partners love each other.” —Leanne Yau, polyamory educator

Other people, regardless of relationship orientation, are interested in being in a throuple because they are social extroverts, says Yau. “Someone who enjoys spending time with multiple people that they care about at the same time, and who thrives off that group energy, would be well-suited to a throuple dynamic,” she says.

It’s also true that others may seek out a throuple relationship structure (involving sex) because of a predilection for threesomes and group sex. “If the primary draw of being in a throuple is the possibility of group sex, that's totally okay,” says Winston. After all, group sex can be hot!

Just remember: Group sex experiences are also possible in non-dating contexts, too, such as through a hookup app, play party, or swinger's club. “Don't jump into trying to find a committed triad relationship unless you're totally sure you're also ready for the emotional responsibility that comes with it,” adds Winston.

How to be in a healthy, happy throuple relationship

1. Learn about polyamory

If polyamory (or non-monogamy in general) piques your interest, Winston suggests exposing yourself to the wide array of different ways that people practice it before diving into a triad. After all, while triads are one way that people engage in polyamory and/or non-monogamy, they are not the only (nor most common) way.

“Social media tags can be great for learning,” says Winston. Through hashtags, you can learn about the experiences of triads of different gender identities and sexualities, swingers, relationship anarchists, polyamorous people, and more. “Take note of which things spark your excitement and which things make you feel nervous or unsure, and take your time with gathering that information as that will help you when it's time to sit down with a potential partner(s) to discuss what type of relationship you're interested in,” she says.

2. Acknowledge that there are *four* relationships at play in a throuple

“For a triad to function well, there has to be an awareness of all the different dynamics at play,” says Winston. A’s relationship with B is different from B’s relationship with C, which is different from C’s relationship with A, which is different from the relationship dynamic all three of them share together (A+B+C), she explains.

All four of these relationships need to be nurtured in order for the throuple as a whole to be healthy. For that to happen, Yau suggests making time for one-on-one dates in addition to group dates.

3. Talk about “worst-case scenarios”

“You want to make sure that none of the relationships [in a throuple] hinges on the success and continuation of the others,” says Yau. If person A and person C decide to end their one-on-one relationship, that will naturally end the throuple—but it shouldn’t also automatically end A+B’s one-on-one relationship or B+C’s one-on-one relationship.

If you do not name and establish the independence of each of these relationships from the get-go, “there is a high risk that someone feels coerced into staying in a relationship they don't want to be in, in order to maintain their other relationship,” says Yau. Besides, nobody wants to be in a position where prioritizing their own needs causes a domino break-up effect.

4. Prioritize equity over equality

While equality in a relationship means that everyone gets treated in the exact same way (regardless of individual needs or differences), equity, on the other hand, means that everyone is treated in the way that best meets their personal needs.

“Even when two people are dating the same person, they will each have a fundamentally different relationship with that person because they are separate and unique people.” —Yau

As far as throuples go, it's important to take the pressure off achieving equality within those relationships, says Yau. “Even when two people are dating the same person, they will each have a fundamentally different relationship with that person because they are separate and unique people,” she says. Indeed, how one person wants or needs to be shown love can vary depending on who they are dating.

“There is absolutely no way to control the pace and intensity of each individual relationship, and trying to make everything equal constantly will just lead to a lot of resentment,” says Yau. If someone in a throuple wants to write one of their partners a love letter, for example, they shouldn't feel like they have to do the same for the other individual they’re dating—especially if that other person doesn’t necessarily appreciate receiving love in that way.

Rather than attempting to equalize everything, a better approach is for everyone in a triad to offer love to each of their partners in the ways that they each prefer to receive it.

5. Have regular check-ins

One of the best ways to keep a triad thriving is to schedule regular check-ins, according to Winston. Here, you can take the temperature of how everyone is feeling, talk through needs that are being met (or not), and come up with an action plan for continued closeness and care.

“Do this often at the beginning of a relationship, maybe as often as once a week,” says Winston. “Each time, do your best to create a safe, supportive environment where there aren't any negative consequences if someone makes a request or wants to make a change.”

It’s important to acknowledge that the more people there are in a relationship, the harder it may feel for people to speak up for fear of rocking the boat, adds Winston. To ensure no one feels like they have to keep their concerns to themselves, “keep channels of communication open as much as possible,” she says.

6. Learn how to communicate in relationships

We aren’t taught how to be in a loving relationship in school. So, people of all relationship orientations and structures may benefit from spending some time learning how to communicate in a relationship—and unlearning any non-generous relationship patterns they may have adopted.

Because being in a throuple entails being in multiple relationships at once, however, it is especially important to become a student of love and communication if you’re in (or entering) a triad. A few books that can serve as helpful starting points: The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory by Dedeker Winston, The Polyamory Break-Up Book by Kathy Labriola, and Polywise and Polysecure by Jessica Fern.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...