I remember when I learned the term “throuple” on the show Red Table Talk. It’s basically a type of polyamorous (or non-monogamous) relationship where three people love and are committed to each other. It’s like if the show Three’s Company got sexier.
As a certified life coach concentrating on romantic relationships (and one who’s deeply fascinated by social taboos), I wanted to learn more about this in case there was something to apply to my coaching practice. And boy, there was.
I remembered I had a friend/co-worker who practiced polyamory, so I hopped on the phone with him like a 1950s teenage girl wanting to hear the latest gossip. He made the lifestyle sound intricate to say the least, like looking under the hood of a car when you’re a virgin mechanic.
While I argue that turbulent relationships take work and rock-solid ones take effort, sort of like your daily routine, the skills involved in maintaining a relationship can sometimes feel like rocket science. Imagine adding another person to the dynamic, expanding your romantic social web like a spider weaving one to catch flies (only perhaps you’re trying to catch another lover).
Why People Go “Poly”
Comprising one-fifth of Americans (who report they have engaged in a “consensual non-monogamous” relationship at some point in their lifetimes), these people enter a polyamorous relationship for various reasons. For example, my friend said he simply enjoys connecting deeply with multiple people.
Others have a hard time expecting a single person to be “their everything” (which, let’s be honest, can feel like a lot of pressure). Imagine being your partner’s lover, best friend, adventure buddy, therapist, and so on. It’s like the relationship you might have with your smartphone, where it’s your phone, your calendar, your alarm, your GPS, your health tracker, your camera, your blah, blah, blah, only with hormones, emotions, and specific needs.
While some are okay with carrying that weight, others would be perfectly fine with having you unload it on a friend so they can have a day off.
Still, others want to rebel against a social custom or religion (which I totally get, as one who likes to break with most traditions like a wolf leaving the pack).
Finally, some people find themselves in a polyamorous relationship unintentionally. Like, they start as a couple and realize they want to “explore” for one reason or another, adding to their bond like the elements. And I’m sure there’s a plethora of other reasons people go “poly.”
So, What Can We Learn from Polyamory?
You might have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states that we all have to meet our basic needs (such as hunger and rest) before we can graduate to higher levels in the pyramid. Eventually we want to reach “self-actualization,” and that’s where I argue polyamory comes into play.
Throughout history, marriage evolved from being a necessity (e.g., economic reasons) to being inspired by love. In other words, love and marriage moved up the pyramid like a slow-moving elevator, and today, some people see polyamory as a means of self-exploration (self-actualization).
They might ask themselves: What are other ways to express and spread love? What would it be like to share my partner with another person so I can take time for myself? How satisfied would I be if I saw more than one person at a time with all parties’ consent?
Understandably, some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around this. I, for one, am in a rock-solid monoamorous relationship. (The Merriam Webster dictionary doesn’t recognize the term “monoamorous,” but I’m using it here anyway!) Maybe you are, too, or would like to get there one day. But here are a few benefits of going poly:
- Emotional security: The husband and wife who were interviewed with the husband’s girlfriend on Red Table Talk said what helped spawn their new lifestyle was when the husband enjoyed watching other men hit on his wife by a bar while on vacation. When they discussed the event afterward, he claimed he felt secure in their relationship and wasn’t worried about anyone overstepping their boundaries.
His wife realized she felt the same when women hit on her husband. This unexpected turn of events revealed their high self-esteem, and they were able to find an emotionally secure third partner. This story sounded too good to be true, but they all truly enjoyed each other’s company and weren’t all that rattled when one got seemingly more attention than the other (a rarity).
Like we often do in monoamorous relationships, anyone exploring the polyamorous lifestyle may confront a self-esteem test from time to time. Picture the movie Scott Pilgrim vs the World, but instead of having to defeat your love interest’s exes, you have to level up in the self-love department. You learn to leave jealousy at the door, and anytime you experience it, you learn to ask yourself why and take a deep introspective dive. The same can go for monoamorous relationships.
- Consent: Polyamory is a huge exercise in getting consent from all parties, and I’d argue it’s more important than ever to have the skill, given the #MeToo era.
Interested in seeing someone in addition to your primary relationship? Get consent. Want to graduate from a couple to a throuple? Get consent. Want to bone more than one person? Get consent. Everyone needs to be on board with the arrangement. If anyone isn’t, then no deal.
Consent is like a team-building exercise. Anytime you make an important decision, ideally you involve others on your team (your partner, in this case) before you go forth. (You know the expression “happy wife, happy life”?) So, polyamory would give you a chance to stretch those consent muscles like a rubber band (or at least give you little to no reason to fuck things up if you’re in a monoamorous relationship).
- Communication: Obviously, with consent comes communication. Communication is as vital as breathing in any kind of relationship, especially one that’s perhaps as misunderstood as polyamory. It could look like cheating or philandering (particularly to an outsider), so all partners benefit from polishing their communication skills like a shoe shiner.
“Some polyamorists … report that the process of negotiating relationships outside of the norm inevitably fosters emotional intimacy through the amount of communication, honesty, and self-growth that comes with crafting these unconventional relationships,” writes Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CSE.
And with communication, negotiation, and consent comes…
- Boundaries: Polyamorous people can teach us a thing or two about healthy boundaries. They need to negotiate them with at least two others, widening the “contract” like a waistline. Maybe your primary relationship wants you to bring home a negative STD test every few months, while your secondary wants to get down and dirty as a furry. Maybe one partner prefers not to kiss and tell, while the other wants to know everything that happened the night before (like when you were a furry) down to the weediest detail.
These are just hypothetical situations, of course, but the point is that if poly people are willing to go the distance to meet all partners’ needs and promote a safe environment to do so, then monoamorous people should feel empowered to do the same.
In the end, polyamory isn’t for everyone, and neither type of relationship is necessarily better than the other. In fact, this study found no significant difference in relationship satisfaction between polyamorous and monoamorous individuals.
Everyone is a teacher and a student, and we can always learn from other cultures, including one that explores another dimension of love and relationships.
If the time is right and you want to trade in your relationship anxiety and insecurity for peace of mind, then fill out the easy form toward the bottom of this page and I’ll be in touch ASAP.
Interested but not ready to commit to a coaching relationship? Take this “Relationship Insecurity Quiz” to see where you stand romantically, get tailored results, and get a special surprise afterward!