With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I wondered what to write about for my blog. Over the past 18 years, I’ve written all kinds of articles about love, marriage and sex. With them, I’ve helped couples rekindle the flames of passion. A Valentine’s Day Primer for Couples who want more Romance in their Marriage. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)
This year I wanted to do something different and write about a relationship topic that was trending on social media. Surprisingly, one item jumped out. TikTok recorded 34.5 million views on something that I had never heard of before: throupling . What Is A Throuple? The Three-Way Relationship, Explained (womenshealthmag.com)
To be clear, despite the current flurry of social media attention, the actual number of throuples is small. Those who are represent only a tiny percentage of the total number of folks who are in committed relationships, 5%. Polyamory is More Common Than You Think – Public Health Post
If the number of throuples is so small, why is it getting so much attention ? My sense is that the image of a throuple taps into and expresses not only our curiosity for the unusual but also our forbidden erotic fantasies. While fantasies are okay, my concern is that couples understand the pitfalls of actually getting involved in this kind of relationship.
To be clear, throuples encounter some major psychological, logistical and even legal problems. So, if anyone is curious about this arrangement, here are some things to know:
What is a throuple ?
For those like me who were not familiar with the term, a throuple is a three-person intimate partnership. It’s sort of like marriage except that it’s made up of three people, not two. You’ve probably heard of couples “tying the knot”. The graphic (above) illustrates the concept with three individuals. This may be a knot that you don’t want to get tangled up in.
Technically, a throuple is a form of polygamy and, thus, is illegal in all of the United States of America. Nonetheless, throupling is increasingly popular in the polyamory (non-monogamous) community.
All throuples are not the same. Some are exclusive triads. Others are not. Two members of the relationship typically have a bi-curious sexual orientation which is a major motivation for the structure of the relationship .
Although the term is new, throupling is not a new phenomenon. A committed menage a trois has been around for centuries. It was first documented in English in 1862. Beware of throuples – history shows that three is often a crowd (inews.co.uk). The “sexual revolution” of the early 70s included the short-lived phenomenon of “open” marriage. Open Marriage (book) – Wikipedia
This type of partnership (except for Mormonism in the late 19th century) has been religiously taboo. Beyond the social and moral objections, the data regarding the longevity of such multi-personed partnerships is consistent. Not surprisingly, without societal support, they just don’t last. Here are some reasons why:
Communication even between successfully married couples is difficult. Maintaining the necessary transparency to keep a relationship well-oiled takes a lot of effort. There are all kinds of practical implications and agreements that need to be hashed out for a partnership to work.
Even happy throuples report that the effort needed to avoid miscommunication is exhausting. For example, just keeping simple agreements and plans straight is an ongoing hassle. According to throuple member accounts, the effort often becomes overwhelming and a source of major conflicts .
2) FINANCES and HOUSEHOLD WORK DUTIES
The rubber really hits the road when it comes to figuring out who is paying for and who is doing what. Running a household smoothly requires having a clear understanding of who does what for things like cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.
Without a solid commitment to the relationship, a sincere willingness to negotiate and compromise and clear agreements, monogamous relationships can fail. The complexity of the throuple structure is exponentially greater.
3) SEXUAL BOUNDARIES
Just like working out the details of sexual boundaries between a couple is difficult it is even more so in a throuple. Even when deals are struck, they often don’t last.
For example, throuples report that, although they initially agreed on the rules of the relationship, over time serious problems developed. Things like who sleeps with whom and when, privacy and/or other sexual partners eventually create resentment and hostilities.
In addition to all of the complications listed above, human insecurity is perhaps the biggest obstacle facing a throuple. Indeed, jealousy was the number one reason cited for the failure of the “open” marriage experiment. Folks who thought they were beyond feeling jealous, in fact, were not.
It seems inevitable that, over time, non-monogamous relationships tend to experience relationship-killing jealousy. While it may be too soon to know for certain, my guess is that throuples will experience this same fate.
5) What happens when the relationship ends?
One final fact, a three-person marriage is not recognized by law. Therefore, what happens to the assets when the relationship ends is undetermined. There are no equitable distribution laws for throuples and thus the chance for economic chaos and exploitation is high.
As we think about Valentine’s Day and all of the challenges of conventional relationships. considering the complications involved with throuples may help us to better appreciate traditional marriage.
In general, it is better to sublimate fantasies than attempting to act them out. I think that this advice is especially true in relationships.
Attaining and sustaining romance and sexual excitement in marriage is a marital challenge. While we may fantasize about having sex with others, at the end of the day, exclusive pair-bonding seems to works best for most intimate relationships.
Point, despite its frustrations and challenges, don’t take your marriage for granted. Take time this Valentine’s Day to appreciate and give thanks for it. Celebrate the joys of your partnership and re-dedicate your efforts to nurturing and protecting your relationship.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC 2 4 2024