What's A Throuple And How Can You Engage In A Successful One?

Have you ever wondered why people tend to form relationships in pairs? According to the BBC's Science Focus, humans became largely monogamous because parents divided responsibilities, and bonded parents had an easier time raising offspring. However, strict monogamy isn't ideal for everyone despite the theoretical advantages. Research estimates between 4% and 9% of American adults are involved in non-monogamous relationships (via CompareCamp). For some, non-monogamy could look like an open or swinging marriage. For others, it could mean engaging in polygamy, polyandry, polycules, or a throuple.

If you've ever felt caught in a love triangle or listened intently to stories about your friend's sexual escapades, you may have heard about the concept of a throuple. The term "throuple" comes from a combination of the words "three" and "couple." Now you might be thinking, "We could be splitting chores and the rent into thirds? Sign me up!" But before rushing out the door to find your other two Musketeers, let's deep dive into what it means to form a throuple and what you'll need to ensure your relationship succeeds. 

What is a throuple?

Sex educator and Queer advocate, Lateef Taylor, told Healthline, "A throuple is a relationship between three people who have all unanimously agreed to be in a romantic, loving, relationship together with the consent of all people involved." A throuple is one form that polyamorous relationships can take, where people open themselves up to romantic or sexual experiences with more than one partner. A throuple is not the same thing as a threesome, although sex is often involved. Threesomes are often brief and strictly sexual encounters, but a throuple is a committed partnership. This style of relationship is also different from one person having multiple spouses or a "side partner," known as polygamy. In a throuple, all three people love each other equally.

There are two main ways that throuples happen. Firstly, three partners may launch into a throuple together at the same time. This might happen when friends realize they all share mutual feelings, or when people intentionally seek out a polygamous relationship. The other common way a throuple may form is when a couple decides to add a third person to their relationship. Unfortunately, there isn't much research available about how throuples develop and operate through everyday life, especially because three or more people can't legally marry.

Proposing a throuple

The first step to forming a throuple is to determine whether your prospective mates would actually make good candidates. For example, if your existing partner has told you they want to be strictly monogamous, a throuple might not be a good fit for them. People who have very jealous or possessive tendencies may not thrive well in this relationship style either. According to psychologist and sex educator, Liz Powell, throuples generally appeal more to Queer, bisexual, and pansexual folks, as the structure provides multiple ways to experience love and connection (via Healthline). Ideally, partners should be flexible, communicative, and accepting of non-conventional romantic bonds.

Proposing a throuple can be nerve-racking — things could even get explosive if your assumptions are incorrect. But if a throuple sounds like an intriguing option to you, there are a few ways you can go about starting the conversation. If you're already in a couple but interested in adding a third, try to approach your partner and gauge their feelings on non-monogamy first. If they seem receptive, be honest about your desire to find a third. However, if they decide they aren't interested in a throuple, you'll need to let it go or reassess the relationship. It should go without saying, but don't cheat on your partner. For single people proposing a throuple to two new partners, ask each person individually about their feelings first. If both seem receptive, treat them to a nice dinner together before you pop the question.

Setting healthy expectations

Once you've decided to start your three-way relationship, you'll need to have some important conversations. Johns Hopkins University identified a total of 12 essential qualities to maintain a healthy relationship, including communication, boundaries, trust, support, and fun. These qualities apply to throuples just as much as they do couples. Communication prevents partners from getting hurt, minimizes jealousy, and ensures that everyone feels comfortable launching into this nontraditional relationship style. 

Here are some examples of crucial questions to ask at the start of your throuple relationship: How much time do we plan to spend together every week? Can two members go on a date without inviting the third? What should communication look like? Can we all agree to only text in the group chat? Are we a sexually open or closed throuple? Are we telling our families yet? Are we sharing on social media yet? Are we interested in moving in together someday? Are we on the same page about wanting children? What might raising kids together look like? 

"Any conversation about the boundaries of the throuple needs to take place with all people involved," said psychologist and sex educator Liz Powell (via Healthline). Regular meetings are extremely helpful to keep throuples on the same page, so plan on setting aside at least one night per month to revisit these questions and reconnect with your partners.

Dealing with jealousy

The big J-word that looms over every throuple: jealousy. The fact of the matter is that everybody gets jealous; singles, couples, throuples, and polycules alike. That's because jealousy says a lot more about us as individuals than it does about our partners. According to Psychology Today, jealousy most often correlates with low self-esteem, possessive tendencies, high neuroticism, and fear of abandonment. The key to having a successful throuple is to not let your jealousy get the best of you or your partners. But how do you handle getting jealous when time spent together feels unequal? How do you avoid feeling self-conscious and comparing yourself to your partners?

When you're part of a throuple, sometimes your partners will do things without you. You'll have to accept that they might watch a movie, go grocery shopping, or even have sex when you're not home. Of course, if partner favoritism is happening often, you'll need to voice your concerns in an open conversation. Try saying something like, "I love watching you two get along, but lately I've been feeling left out." Try to propose group solutions like a group movie night every week. Good partners can also be proactive and prevent jealousy by planning out their time and attention. For example, if two partners go to the gym for an hour every morning, they should set aside equal time in the evening to cook or hang out with the third partner. 

Navigating in the bedroom

So things are heating up in your throuple household; that's great! Before you get too carried away, it's good to have some boundaries in place to keep everyone feeling supported, safe, and satisfied. Sex and love academic, Justin Lehmiller, advises people to talk about sex in relationships as soon as possible. "Establish trust and intimacy first with easier conversations, say about consent or contraception," Lehmiller said (via The Guardian). "You can then move on to what feels good, and what doesn't, and go from there."

After consent, STD protection, and contraception, some important things to discuss could be how often you each like to have sex if, you want to have group sex, or when it's okay for two partners to have sex without inviting the third. Some throuples may learn that they don't particularly enjoy threesomes, or one partner may have a lower sex drive, leaving the other two to fend for themselves. One person could also have fantasies or kinks that another partner doesn't want to participate in, but the third partner will happily oblige. Negotiate how to make sexual attention fair so that no one feels left out, i.e., giving the partner with a low sex drive plenty of kisses and cuddles. There's no right or wrong way to navigate sex in your throuple. As always, open communication is the key to success.

Coming out as a throuple

After surviving the ups and downs and sticking together as a throuple, there may come a day when you're ready to show your love to the world. Your family may have picked up on your partners' presence in your life, or you might want to move in together or start raising children. Opening up to the world about your non-conventional relationship can feel scary, especially if you're concerned about your family's reactions or social consequences. But it doesn't have to happen all at once; sometimes coming out can look like a slow process as you develop trust in those around you. "Someone could be out with friends and family, but not at work if they feel their workplace would discriminate against them due to their identity," said sex therapist Casey Tanner (via Healthline). 

When you're in a throuple, it's important to let your partners come out to their families in their own time. Encourage each other to work on acceptance, self-love, personal growth, and confidence. No matter what happens after coming out, throuples can rely on the great support system they've built within each other.