There are so many ways to be intimate — platonically, spiritually, romantically. So, why limit yourself to just one person?

While it can definitely be intimidating to deviate from social norms, practicing consensual nonmonogamy — maybe in a throuple — can be fulfilling, liberating, and fun. Especially when it’s done with intention and compassion.

Below, we explain how throuples work, how they relate to polyamory, what it feels like to be in a throuple, and advice on how to make it work.

Throuple, defined

As you’ve probably figured out, “throuple” is a combination of the words “three” and “couple.” The term refers to three people who are linked in some way by a romantic or sexual relationship or both. Other words for throuple include triad, three-way relationship, or closed triad.

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Let’s put it this way: There isn’t a standardized throuple rule book. Like any relationship, the design and parameters are determined by the people in it. So, it’s up to you and your partners to decide what the rules of your relationship will be.

There are a ton of different ways to organize a three-way relationship. Here are just a few examples of what it might look like:

  • A married couple invites a third person into their relationship.
  • Much like the shape of a V, two people date the same person but they do not date each other.
  • All three people agree on a “closed” relationship where they commit to only dating each other
  • Three people form a committed relationship and also date, have sex with, or participate in relationships with people outside their trouple

Folks of all genders and sexual orientations participate in throuple relationships. Folks may also have different romantic orientations, meaning they could have romantic feelings for folks within their throuple, but not sexual feelings. This can also happen in the reverse.

Despite the common assumption, just because it’s a three-way relationship, doesn’t mean there are threesomes all abound. Everyone has physical limitations and different libidos, after all!

Polyamory stands for “many loves.” It describes people who openly participate in concurrent sexual and romantic relationships, (with the consent of all parties involved.) By this definition, a throuple is a polyamorous configuration. But polyamorous relationships can include any number of people while throuple refers to a relationship between three people.

We should also note that not everyone who participates in consensual nonmonogamy identifies as polyamorous. Ultimately, it’s up to the individuals involved to define their relationship.

What’s a unicorn?

Many people use the term “unicorn” to describe a bisexual female who joins a heterosexual couple. Often, these couples are called “unicorn hunters.” While unicorn hunting isn’t inherently unethical, it’s gotten a reputation for being deceptive and predatory.

A good rule of thumb, when searching for your unicorn, is to make sure you’re treating them like an equal part of the equation. Couples inherently have more power due to the two-against-one nature. So, make sure the person you’re adding to your relationship feels as safe and comfortable as possible!

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“For me, it felt like being a triad WAS the best way for me to be in a relationship with EITHER of these people… because we were simply better as a relationship TOGETHER as a unit versus as a duo.” — Rachel B., 25, NYC

“Being part of a triad is definitely like polyamory. There were a lot of things I loved about being in a triad: The group dynamic was super loving and supportive, and we had lots of awesome sex.” — Amanda L., 30, Chicago

“When it worked, it was brilliant. There were hands for child minding, someone to work, someone to stay home. I had just lost my mother when we started the triad, and the feminine nurturing energy was so wonderful. I was also postpartum and having someone else to love on my man while I tended to the baby was some kind of glorious.” — Laine P., 31, Canada

Whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous, relationships take a lot of work. Throuples aren’t inherently more work than any other relationship types, but communication becomes incredibly important in these arrangements. Here’s how others have made it work in the past:

“We made time for communicating our concerns, needs, dreams, crushes and meeting our partners’ partners by scheduling it into our dates and relationship. Any new person we met would meet the triad and was informed of our relationship structure.” — Rachel B, 25, NYC

“When you shove things down, they come up elsewhere and it’s usually a lot louder to get your attention. Look underneath jealousy. Recognize jealousy is a composite emotion. Be honest, make respectful choices and stretch slow, always checking in with everyone.” — Laine P., 31, Canada

“I’d be more careful about entering into a relationship that wasn’t totally solid next time. That caused a lot of issues for us. Also, a red flag would be one partner placing limits on the other. There’s no need for each side of the triangle to be “equal” regarding sex, emotional depth, or time spent together.” — Sibley A., Albuquerque

“Focus on equity over equality. Attempting to make all relationships involved is an impossibility and it can be a super huge downfall attempting to make that happen.” — Amanda L., 30, Chicago

Here are the most important points to know about throuples:

  • Throuples require a lot of communication, honesty, and intention to work out in the long term
  • Throuples can be a number of configurations, and not everyone is always sleeping together!
  • Don’t be a creepy unicorn hunter. Just look for people to date and treat them like they’re more than something to tick off your bucket list.
  • Throuples are just love times three, and hey, doesn’t that sound nice?