Saturday, 11 September 2010

All Together Now... (The Trouble with Triads 2)

Well, that was a much longer delay than I was expecting. Life foiled my plans yet again!

So... Ahem.

One reason I am focussing so much on the difference between Vs and triads right now is that all of my past experience has been with Vs. Actually, strictly speaking, all of my past experience has been as one arm of a V. Two relationships, one lasting four years and the other lasting two, spread out over 15 years. Consequently, I feel that I know my way around Vs pretty well and I understand what makes them work. But for the last year I have been in a polyfi triad. A permanent commitment to both other people in my relationship. Group marriage, if you will. And it turns out that that is a whole different ballgame.

Poly internet forums are a rich source of information on how poly works in practice. I am truly grateful to all the people who have posted about the issues they have faced and are facing in their triad relationships, as it is amazingly helpful. It is so very much easier to see to the heart of an issue and to see a solution when it is Somebody Else’s Problem than when it is your own problem, because you are deeply emotionally immersed. Analyzing other people’s problems can help us to avoid the same problems in our own relationships, as we can usually see them coming when we know what to look out for.

So. Togetherness...

In a V relationship, when your partner is with you, s/he is with you. By which I mean that you are the sole focus of each other’s attention as partners. Relationship-wise, you have little to concern you at those times beyond your dyad: each other. When you have a relationship conversation, it is usually just the two of you involved (though there should always also be conversations involving everyone in the V, particularly when it involves scheduling time with the hinge of the V, or any relationship issue that involves or will affect everyone). At these times, you only have each other to please or to consider – at least, once the workday is over and any children you have are in bed.

Conversely, in a triad, you are often all together. Your attention is usually divided between both your partners, and your partners’ attention is usually divided between you and each other. This can be tricky enough in a social situation with friends; it can be much trickier when you are dividing your attention between your two partners.

Our monogamous-minded society has trained us to expect our partner’s undivided attention. This is usually not what happens in a triad, and it can be difficult to come to terms with that. It is easy to feel overlooked or neglected by both your partners even when you know that it is not actually what is happening, especially if they are strongly focussed on one another; for example, if they are discussing an interest which they share and you do not.

It is also much harder to paper over the cracks in a triad than as a couple or in a V situation which is essentially functioning as two completely separate dyads. If a person is prone to emotional manipulation of a partner, however mild, it is likely to be picked up and challenged by the third partner, even if the partners concerned were themselves totally unaware of this dynamic. If two of you have been arguing, you can’t leave the argument unfinished and sulk at each other for the next few days as the third partner is likely to be crushed by the atmosphere and demand a resolution. Even lazy household habits, such as a poor diet or bad housekeeping, are more likely to be challenged when there are three adults sharing space. It is also much harder, if you are inclined that way, to continue to be abusive, to be an enabler or to be co-dependent, unless you all have a spectacularly damaged dynamic. On the whole, then, this is a Very Good Thing. But it is not necessarily always a comfortable thing. And everybody gets to take their turn at being criticised. You have to try desperately hard not to respond defensively, and to listen carefully and mindfully to what is being said.

Being all together for much of the time can, in some ways, make it more difficult to resolve some issues. This is because it is harder to state (however gently) a criticism of a partner when your other partner, whose opinion you are not certain of, is part of the discussion. It feels uncomfortably like – well... being mean or selfish. It is just as hard when you are certain that the third person agrees with you, because then it feels as though you are ganging up on your mutual partner. And yet, we all need criticism to develop. Similarly, it is much harder to take criticism when there is a witness, even when that witness is your other partner. Perhaps especially if your other partner agrees with the criticism.

And yet, if you wait to have these discussions one-to-one, then whoever is left out of them feels... well... left out. Of their own relationship. When they might have had a valid opinion or solution to the problem. Feeling rejected can hurt as much as physical pain. So you all have to work a lot harder on your communication skills, and on addressing issues in a non-judgemental way. Which is a Good Thing of course. But three-way relationship conversations can take an awfully long time.

I suspect it is probably best to choose in advance which hobbies you are going to drop, at least for the first few years of a triad relationship, while you are all working things out. Honestly, the benefits are worth it, and as with any relationship, a half-hearted effort is almost as bad as no effort at all, and is just as likely to lead to a break-up.

And just so I don’t end on a note of total doom and gloom, I want to emphasize that there are huge benefits to togetherness in a triad. Sharing good films, TV series and books. Good conversations. Silliness and hysterical laughter. Shared hobbies. As much affection as you could possibly need. Support in the rough times. Ultimately, close friends who don’t have to leave at the end of the day to go back to their own homes, because they are already home.


  1. Loved this post, Deorccwen. I can relate to many of these issues!

  2. I am not in a poly relationship myself, as you know, but I loved this post. I admire anyone who is in poly relationship and is making it work. It takes a lot of effort, as does any relationship mono or poly. And you are right to be able to take criticism in order to grow is very important. Communication is the key and what I have lacked in so many relationships. Thanks for another great post x

  3. Thanks very much for the comment, Ducarl. :o)