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What Is a Triad Relationship? (And What Are the Rules of Engagement?)
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The movies we watch, TV shows we binge and books we read usually follow the same line of thought when it comes to love: It’s a one-to-one match. Sure, sometimes there are dramatic triangles, but these are usually resolved with a choice of one suitor. But in real life, real people sometimes do find themselves in triangles without the Anna Karenina drama. This is known as a triad relationship. Don’t worry, we’ll explain, with the help of marriage and family therapist Rachel D. Miller, of the Focht Family Practice in Chicago.

What is a triad relationship exactly?

If a typical relationship is called a dyad (two people), then a triad is a polyamorous relationship consisting of three people. Think of it as a subset of polyamory. But not all triads are the same. Miller tells us that triads can take various forms: “All three members of the triad can be in relationship with each other, or one member may be the pivot in a V relationship.” A V relationship (like the shape) means one person (the pivot) is in a relationship with two people, and those two people, although consenting, are not in a relationship with each other.

OK, so why would people form this relationship?

That’s kind of like asking any couple why they’re together—there are myriad reasons for consensual non-monogamy: love, lust, convenience, stability, etc. “Truthfully,” Miller explains, “the reason people form them is often unique to the people involved, but what they have in common is an openness to a nontraditional way to love and be in a relationship.” Here are few of the reasons behind a triad relationship she’s heard over the years:

 1. A couple felt like their union was overflowing with love, and they wanted to share that with another person.

 2. Polyamory felt like an orientation rather than a choice, so a dyad was never part of their vision for a relationship.

 3. A person fell in love with two different people and wanted to maintain relationships with both, and everyone involved was in agreement about the arrangement.

 4. A friend of a couple became more than a friend for one or both partners, and they decided as a unit to expand the relationship to include all of them.

 5. A couple wanted to add some spice to their sex life and, in doing so, discovered another person they connected with on a multitude of levels.

This seems complicated. What are the dynamics of a triad relationship?

Like the dynamic of any relationship, it can differ from polygroup to polygroup. But according to Miller, some common denominators of a healthy triad include genuine love and caring for all involved, large support systems (this can be emotional, financial, etc.) and a desire to remain open to all the types of love that present in their lives. Miller elaborates that within any poly or consensually non-monogamous relationship, the things that need to be present are ongoing consent and the power and ability to renegotiate the terms in order for all members to get what they need from the relationship.

What challenges do people in nontraditional relationships face?

Anything that goes against the grain will face a challenge. Per Miller, some triads have incredibly supportive families who support them and accept their choices with open arms. Others never fully come out to their family and friends because they’re unsure they’ll be accepted. “Society is set up to support traditional ideas around marriage—e.g., only two people in the relationship can be protected by legal marital status,” Miller tells us. The implications of this can can leave one member of a triad feeling less secure or that they have less power within the relationship. The fix? Like any relationship: good communication and open dialogue.

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