I get asked questions about triads a lot. This is contributed to by several factors, I think. First, because a lot of mainstream media uses three person relationships as an “easy-to-understand” introduction to polyamory for a monogamous audience. Second, because of the stereotype of couples opening up looking to meet someone to date together - who often reach out to ask questions about how to do this ethically and more reasonably, because they’ve figured out that ‘unicorn hunting’ is no bueno. Third, because triads and quads with significant interrelationship amongst all partners are actually quite complicated and can involve a lot of feelings that folks maybe didn’t consider when they had some warm fuzzy feelings all together and NRE carried them through the first bit of a relationship.
That last part? Is why I don’t often address group relationships too much here on the blog. (You can find when I talked about the ways new triads are hard here.) I haven’t had many good experiences in trying them myself, and have decided to stick with one on one relationships for the foreseeable future. Balancing the combination of four relationships in any given triad (Between Alice and Bob, Bob and Charles, Charles and Alice, and all three together) is actually a ton of work - and if it’s an open triad where they have other partners as well? Wild amounts of effort. In total honesty, I just can’t do it for long, and that combined with the fact that I was a young lady unicorn hunted in the past means I mostly don’t speak on this. I’m going to try to a bit to address some common questions I get.
“What changes to our initial relationship should we be worried about?”
Well, first, I advocate thinking about triads as many separate relationships, so “we” might be the wrong approach to consider here since you’re now in four relationships, but you’re each in three new relationships at once so ALL the changes that come with that apply (actually a ton of changes depending on how you react to NRE and how well you balance each of those relationships). Second, this question often comes to me from people who are getting into (or hoping to get into) triads as their introduction to consensual nonmonogamy and in a way, your first nonmonogamous relationship is the death and rebirth of the relationship with your monogamous partner if you journey together with them into CNM, regardless of how long you stay together. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. I mean that it is utterly transformative of most relationships and it’s okay to need to grieve the relationship you had, even while rejoicing in the new one you’re building. That’s true whether your entry into nonmonogamy is a triad or dating separately - you won’t have the same relationship with a previously monogamous partner ever again, even if you’ll have an equally beautiful and deep one.
I can’t tell you exactly what will happen when you, personally, find someone who is interested in forming a triad with you and a previously monogamous partner - but some pitfalls to look out for generally include:
Throwing all your time into one of your relationships over another because NRE is a spectacular cocktail of brain chemicals;
Trying to balance that out by spending all your time together as a triad and not developing individual relationships with your newer partner and couple privileging them into a corner emotionally;
Playing the comparison game between oneself and the newer partner and letting anxiety take over and mistreating one partner or another over this;
Consider sleeping arrangements carefully if you decide to live in the same place (or if not!) all sleeping together sounds romantic but can be sweaty and uncomfortable - multiple blankets so folks can air out limbs or multiple beds so dyads get alone time can be valuable.
And focusing on “saving” or “protecting” the older monogamous relationship over developing the various newer iterations of relationship.
Also, a friend of mine who was in a triad for several years (that no longer is together) noted that if one dyad or another is having a lot of conflict they have issues resolving without the third partner mediating, they should go to therapy. A neutral party mediating will be healthier for all the relationships and help them manage problems before they become dealbreakers - because adding partners often exacerbates existing issues in relationships.
Another common question I hear is “We’ve had a stable triad for quite some time and now we’re opening up to additional partners - are there concerns we should focus on?”
Again - this is coming from a position of privilege and so basically acknowledging that privilege and moving forward with the intent to be kind and honest with additional partners about any limitations there may be on the relationships you’re entering into with them. It’s not a matter of shame to have limited bandwidth - time is limited and if you’re already in a triad you’re already in a bunch of relationships - but you need to be honest with folks about it as a matter of ethics.
Think about how you want to introduce new partners to your existing partners. This applies to any polycule, not just an opening triad - but it can be extra intimidating for the first couple partners in a formerly closed system. A relatively neutral activity like board games that gets everyone involved and chatting can work very well. But it depends on your interests and preferences - decide among yourselves ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling to make choices after one of you really likes someone.
You probably can’t know ahead of time exactly what kind of polyamory you want to have - until you’re in relationships that aren’t shared among all your partners you won’t know whether you want kitchen table or parallel relationships or something more in the middle. But if some of you have been in other polyamorous relationships before this triad you might have some idea of preference and you can talk about those and your feelings about about what you think or hope for. Best laid plans and all that, but you can have some idea if everyone is close to on the same page to start with and avoid one person thinking they’re bringing someone by for a one-time meeting formality that everyone else thinks is meeting their new best buddy.
“How do we avoid toxic dynamics in arguments in our triad?”
Really, all of the advice for triads is advice that applies to other polyamory but a little more full-on, because you’re doing it in more directions at once, and because there can accidentally be a two-on-one dynamic in disagreements. While this can also happen in other structures (it certainly sometimes happened in my nesting V, with any two of us agreeing about some given issue and the third feeling overwhelmed in a discussion about it), it’s potentially pronounced unless you’re really careful to follow good advice about non-violent communication and generally using I statements and being careful to make sure everyone is working from their own perspective not “teams.” Teaming up, purposefully or accidentally, overwhelms your partner and makes working through issues functionally impossible.
You also avoid the fights that aren’t hills worth dying on, you work together to converse through minor problems so that arguments are only for the really, hugely, importantly worth it issues. It’s not toxic to argue over the things that are absolutely essential to you - but you have to be aware that they are and have thought it through, not snap into it. Thinking things through, together and apart, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt is honestly the biggest thing you can do to be kind to one another and avoid toxicity in any relationship.
I hope that I’ve answered these questions without letting my personal preference against getting into group relationships color it too much. I know I addressed the bad parts, but that’s because that’s what folks write in for advice on! These relationships can last a long time, like all other polyamorous relationships, so long as folks work together for happiness in them.
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