Adding a Third to Your Relationship

The More the Merrier...Maybe?

The First Step to Adding a Third to Your Relationship: Don’t Do It

Yes, I said it. Don’t add a third to your relationship.

“But you’ve been in triad relationships before!” you may cry.

You certainly know a lot about my personal life, and yes, I’ve been in a number of triads, both MFM and FFM. It wasn’t easy, but I loved it every time. I loved cuddling on the couch and playing video games, a partner on either side of me. I loved taking silly, flirty selfies with one partner to send to the other partner we had in common. And of course, what’s not to love about playful, steamy threesomes?

If it interests you, I highly recommend trying out a three-person relationship. But don’t add a third to your relationship.

Confused? Don’t worry. It all comes down to basic shapes.

The Triangle and the T

When you imagine a three-person relationship, or triad, it’s easy to picture a triangle. Each side of the triangle is solid, and together they are able to support the weight of the entire structure. The same is true of healthy triad relationships — each “leg” of the triangle has space and support to grow into individual relationships. Each relationship in the triad may not be totally equal, but each one does need one-on-one time in order to thrive.

More often than not, when a couple seeks to add a third to their relationship, they are aiming for a T-shaped structure rather than a triangle. The established couple acts as a single unit perched at the top, expecting the third to just plug in and perfectly complement their relationship as a couple. There are often pre-determined rules about who is allowed to have sex with whom and how often the third is allowed to spend time with either member of the couple. It is this imbalanced power dynamic that sabotages the triad before it has even begun.

This is apparent in the very language that many couples use: “We want to find someone who will be our girlfriend.” Even by saying, “We want to add a third,” there are unsavory implications. The third (never the “first” or even “second”) ends up being “added,” like a trendy accessory. It is unlikely that this third will be seen as an equal player in the relationship with equal decision-making power.

When a foundation like this inevitably crumbles, many thirds leave the relationship feeling hurt by not having their needs met or being granted any autonomy, and couples are left frustrated that they can’t find anyone to fit the rigid and pre-fabricated slot they have crafted up for their third.

“But we would be nice to our third!” you may insist.

I don’t doubt that you would! Few couples are seeking a third because they want someone to abuse. But remember that you can treat someone like a princess while still keeping her locked in a tower, robbing her of her agency. It’s an uncomfortable realization, but many couples are seeking a third that will be more like a pet than a person — play with us, cuddle with us, keep us entertained, but at the end of the day, it’s clear who’s the boss around here. The ubiquitous and persistent force of couple’s privilege has sabotaged more multi-partner relationships than you can shake a stick at.

Right Thing, Wrong Channel

So if you and your partner have already been talking about adding a third, where do you go from here? It’s time to ask yourselves some hard questions about what may be motivating your desire to add a third person to your relationship.

  • Do you want someone who will be a friend with benefits?
  • Do you want someone who will have a threesome with you?
  • Do you want someone to watch you and your partner have sex?
  • Do you want someone you can have sex with while your partner watches?
  • Do you want someone who will fulfill a particular sexual fantasy or curiosity?
  • Do you want to be able to date, have sex with, or develop a relationship with someone who isn’t your partner?
  • Do you want to be single, or be with someone else entirely, but you’re afraid of ending the relationship with your current partner?

Let me reiterate that it’s not wrong to want any of these things. But it can get sticky if you’re pursuing the right things through the wrong channels. If you’re really looking for someone to occasionally watch you and your partner have sex, but you write on your joint dating profile that you’re looking for a closed triad relationship, that kind of false advertising can and will blow up in your face.

Once you and your partner have gotten to the bottom of what it is you’re actually looking for, be honest. If you have a laundry list of kinky fantasies to be fulfilled, there is no shame in sharing them, especially if you’re respectfully engaging with sex-positive or swinging-focused communities. If you are curious to explore having multi-partner, polyamorous relationships, there is no harm in being honest and up-front about that, not only with your current partner but with potential partners as well.

The Litmus Test

By now, you may be saying, “I’ve gone through your list of questions and had lengthy conversations with my partner about this. We really do like the idea of a loving triad relationship. You’re right, T-shapes suck! We love triangles!”

I’m glad you have done the work to figure out what it is that you want! Now it’s time for the litmus test that I give all of my clients who are seeking a triad.

Close your eyes and imagine the ideal third person that would make up your triad. Now imagine your current partner going on a date with this third person, but they are heading out the door without you. Imagine your current partner having sex with this new person, but they are doing it without you. Alternately, you can also imagine going out on a date or having sex with this new person while your partner stays at home.

Check in and see what feelings arise. If the idea of this third person having an independent relationship with your current partner turns your stomach, you may not be ready for a triad relationship. If one of the conditions of having a polyamorous relationship is that you and your partner can only date the same person at the same time, then you may not be ready for polyamory.

If the idea of an independently-functioning triad doesn’t strike terror into your heart, that’s a good sign. The healthiest triads I have ever witnessed started organically: rather than a couple seeking a third, one person started dating two people separately, both of whom also happened to start dating each other sometime afterward. The difficult truth to accept is that relationships, regardless of their format, can’t be forced into a particular shape. Despite our best intentions and desires, we can end up horribly disappointed or pleasantly surprised by the way our relationships turn out.

Don’t add a third to your relationship. Do the work to figure out what it is you truly want. Do have the difficult but necessary conversations with your partner about what motivates your desires. Do create space in your life and heart for loving relationships to blossom on their own, whether they are dyads, triads, quads, or a complex polycule of intimate connections. I guarantee there will be much more happiness for everyone involved.

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Dedeker Winston
Dedeker Winston was raised to be a wholesome Christian conservative, but later opted to be a a sex-positive polyamory activist, relationship coach, and nude model. She currently provides one-on-one coaching services for people transitioning into non-monogamy and is one of the hosts of the Multiamory podcast. She has been sought out as an expert for Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Newsweek, Vice, Bustle, and also appeared on the FOX television show Utopia. Her book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory: Everything You Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love (Skyhorse Publishing), debuted earlier this year. Please visit Dedeker Winston to learn more.