Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Trouble with Triads

I’ve seen a couple of situations lately where a poly relationship has been ended as a result of the insecurities of a primary partner about her/his metamour. In each case, the assumption has been that the relationship is ‘not working out’ because it is a V, and the couple plan to go on to look for (see Desperately Seeking) a triad relationship in which they can both ‘share’ the same lover. Leaving aside all the issues of intrinsically monogamous thinking enshrined in the protection of the original couple against any external threat, and the assumption that any human being would be happy to be ‘shared’ (as a plaything) by a couple (the ‘real people’) for any length of time, this assumption that triads are necessarily ‘easier’ than Vs is fatally flawed.

It seems logical to assume that a triad would be easier to manage, emotionally, than a V. And it is certainly an assumption I made myself. After all, you all love one another, so you should all want one another to be happy. You can rely on your partner’s partner loving you, because s/he is also your partner, so why would s/he want to persuade your mutual partner to leave you? This is all perfectly true, and there are genuinely a lot of (well documented) advantages to living in a triad situation, both emotional and material. But, as I have discovered through personal experience and through watching others work through (or autopsy) their triad relationships, it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In a straightforward V, one person is the hinge, trying to meet the needs of two partners, which can definitely be tricky. The arms of the V have their own issues to face; mostly fears of abandonment and loneliness when their partner is with the other arm of the V, but they only have one romantic relationship each to nurture. This is not to dismiss the difficulties that can be inherent in developing a friendship with a metamour, but it is a different challenge than maintaining two romantic relationships. By contrast, each partner in a full triad has three romantic relationships to nurture: the relationships between themselves and each of one of their partners, and also the relationship entity that is the triad as a whole. The emotional, intellectual and sexual dynamic within the triad relationship can differ from that within each dyad. And, of course, the dynamic within each dyad will differ from the others.

And those fears of abandonment and loneliness? They can still exist within a triad, as one or more people can fear that they are dispensable to the others; that their partners would be very happy together without them. In a culture where monogamy is the norm, it is easy to assume that you are an optional extra when you see your partners happily in love with each other. And it is double the pain, when you fear losing both partners you love.

There is so much to say about the differences between Vs and triads – and about why triads can actually be a whole lot more difficult than Vs – that I’ll be continuing to address this topic in more depth, element by element, in subsequent posts. Not every triad will face the all of the difficulties I’ll be describing (we certainly have not faced even most of them – and I hope we never will), but every triad is likely to face some, at some point in its evolution.

I hope that identifying the problems in advance may help those seeking triads to be more aware of the difficulties they may face before they start a triad relationship, and triads to recognise the roots of the problem they are facing and so facilitate communication and resolution. I hope also that others will post problems they have experienced, or that they have seen other triads experiencing, together with solutions where possible, either on poly forums or here. Information shared may help prevent needless breakups.


  1. Hey, sis.
    What do you think about this? A V, yes, but emotionally a triad?
    For example, sexually we are both involved with him but emotionally she is my best friend and confidante, just as he is.
    Is that possible??
    I'm not in this YET (lol) but perhaps it would hurt me if I lost either of them, and it would hurt them if they lost me and one of them.
    Perhaps I'm asking for too much in a V. I'onno.

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the heads up. We are going through exactly this right now. My poly partner is trying to find a local "friend" and he seems to be having most luck with bi-sexual women. Of course I am assuming that a relationship like this is going to be easier to handle than a V relationship. It's not easy for polyamorous men to find secondary women.

    I can't get my typepad url verifieed so here it is if you're interested

  3. Hi Dreamgyrl,
    Yes, that is totally possible. It worked brilliantly well for me for four years and ended about 9 years ago due to nobody's fault. We are all still friends and regard ourselves as extended family.

    In my opinion, the intimacy of close friendship in a relationship is *much* more important than the sexual side of things, and can outlast it.

    *Losing* either or both of your partners - yes, that would really hurt. Especially if it was served with a side order of rejection...

    Best of luck to you all!

  4. Hi Sage,
    You're welcome. And thank you for your comment.

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