How Does a Throuple Work?

A throuple sharing a laugh on urban rooftop

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A throuple is a romantic relationship between three people. The word is comprised of "three" and "couple" put together. Generally referred to as a triad within nonmonogamous and polyamorous communities, throuples are more common than they used to be.

One in six people express an interest in polyamory and one in nine people have engaged in it at some point, and alternative relationship models have inevitably become more frequent. While it may be more common, a throuple or triad can still lead to complications. With strong communication and clear rules and guidelines, it is possible to maintain a healthy relationship when you are in a throuple.

What Is a Throuple, Exactly?

A throuple, or a triad, is a three person relationship. It's not the same thing as having a threesome, which just involves sex, or unicorn polyamory, in which a couple add a third person to their relationship. It's also different from an open relationship.

What sets a throuple apart from unicorn polyamory or an open relationship is that in those models, the couple takes priority. Conversely, in a throuple, three people all have equal footing. Even if two people were already together and added a third partner, there isn't a hierarchy involved. The term throuple, or triad, implies automatically that the three people are all equal partners.

There are many different ways that throuples can be set up. For example, three gay men might decide to be in a relationship together. Or one lesbian, one bisexual woman, and one straight man might choose it for themselves.

Being in a throuple implies you are all romantic together and you all enjoy doing life activities together, but not all three people in every throuple neccessarily have sex with each other. That's possible because sexual relationships and romantic relationships often overlap, but not always.

Just like with two person relationships, there are no hard and fast guidelines that must be adhered to in order for a throuple to "count" as a real relationship. Three people deciding they want to be in a relationship is all that is needed in order for a throuple to exist.

Is It OK to Be in a Throuple?

Provided you enter a relationship based on your own personal choices to be in one, any relationship type that feels right for you is perfectly ok. A throuple is no different.

That said, there are definitely people who don't think a triad relationship is "right." Even though a full third of Americans believe that their ideal relationship would be something outside of monogamy, that still leaves two thirds of people who don't feel that way.

Our modern society was founded on a colonial belief system in which a relationship equals one man and one woman. This viewpoint, now understood as heteronormativity, is not necessarily the "right" one just because it was the most accepted at one point in history.

If you have decided to enter into a relationship with two people purely because you want to and all parties have consented, then yes, it is completely ok to be in a throuple.

5 Tips for a Successful Throuple

If you are entering into a triad relationship, it's natural to seek guidance about how to be successful in a new situation. Here are some tips for how to thrive in a throuple.

Understand That Jealousy Happens

You may have noticed that sometimes when you hang out with two friends, it seems like they are bonding together more than with you. In turn, your feelings might get hurt. Or, in life you may have experienced jealousy when your partner flirted with someone else.

Knowing that jealousy happens is vital to doing well in any relationship. It isn't a matter of trying to get rid of that feeling, but rather, of working through it in a way that leaves you feeling confident and safe. How to do that? Follow our next step.

Communication Is Critical

As with all relationships, being forthright about how you feel and what your wants and needs are is the best way to ensure that your relationships go well. This is true no matter what type of relationship, be it friendship or romantic. If it feels challenging to align your schedules to check in as a group regularly, you can set aside an ongoing time that is dedicated to doing that.

Making time regularly for discussing how everyone is doing can help communication stay clear and in a good place.

Create Rules as Needed

What are the rules of a throuple? That's for you and your partners to decide! You'll want to set up groundwork in advance of entering the relationship, but it's impossible to know ahead of time how everything that could possibly happen will make you feel. Because of that, allowing for flexibility is important.

Create new rules as needed, when discussions lead in a direction that warrants them. Let go of old rules that you don't feel are serving you, or that you all feel are holding you back from enjoying life in the ways you want to.

Choose a Sleeping Arrangement Everyone Enjoys

Some throuples sleep in a bed together; some sleep alone; and some rotate between sleeping alone, sleeping with one partner, and sleeping as a triad. How you all sleep best should be a big factor in determining your sleeping arrangements.

Additionally, how much space you have plays a large role in deciding on sleeping. Not everyone has the option of three bedrooms, for example. By discussing this, and checking in with your partners about how they are doing as time goes on, everyone can get a proper night's rest as well as the intimacy they need.

Make Time for One Another—Alone and Together

Just as setting aside time to check in regularly will help you be successful together, having intimate time with your partners will too. Everyone needs alone time, so date nights between two people in which the third person gets to be alone can be a "two birds, one stone" situation.

Scheduling date nights for two of you so that closeness and aloneness are possible, and setting group date nights to keep the dynamic of the three of you as close, will help you all thrive together as a triad.

What's the Difference Between Polyamory and A Throuple?

A throuple is a form of polyamory. That's the case because essentially any relationship that is not exclusively monogamous between two people can be considered under the umbrella of a polyamorous relationship.

However, a throuple is different from a "poly relationship" in that the throuple may be fully committed to one another and not date other people at all, ever. When that is the case, a throuple is actually more similar to a monogamous couple than it is to a polyamorous one.

Some throuples may be polyamorous all together and create a polycule, some may have one member who is and two who are not, and some may all date outside the relationship individually, as solopoly people.

As we are still developing language for various relationship styles, we may yet come up with a term for the relationship model of a throuple that is not considered polyamory at all.

Complications of Being in a Throuple

All relationships have challenges, but entering into a relationship with two people may present some new ones that you aren't accustomed to. Here are some things to expect:

  • Judgment about your relationship from friends and strangers
  • The need to explain your relationship style to help others understand, which may feel like emotional labor
  • Feelings of jealousy or insecurity that arise more often than in coupled relationships
  • More time needed—on an ongoing basis—to keep your relationship thriving
  • Lots of extra feelings to deal with, because you're dealing with two people instead of one
  • All three people may not agree on the same rules or have the same lifestyle habits

If Your Throuple Is Struggling

Any relationship can benefit from therapy, and throuples are no exception. If you're experiencing difficulties in your relationship with two people, or even if you just want to make it better, trying therapy may be an excellent choice. There are numerous therapy practices that provide services for varied relationship models.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Moors AC, Gesselman AN, Garcia JR. Desire, familiarity, and engagement in polyamory: results from a national sample of single adults in the united states. Front Psychol. 2021 Mar 23;12:619640

  2. How many Americans prefer non-monogamy in relationships? | YouGov

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.