April 8, 2020

What's a Throuple?

Three is just more to love.
Written by
Sarah Prager
Published on
April 8, 2020
Updated on
What's changed?
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The term throuple is a relatively new word floating around that isn’t even in the dictionary (yet). The concept seems to be picking up buzz, however, after emerging more in pop culture and in shows like House Hunters, and The L Word: Generation Q. The most famous real-life throuple is probably Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Will’s ex-wife Sheree Zampino. 

But you might be wondering…

What Is A Throuple?

A throuple is three people in a relationship with each other. As you might have guessed, the word comes from “three” plus “couple.”

Sex therapist Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT CST tells O.school that “just like a couple, [a throuple] might share meals together, live together, raise kids together, or not.” She continues: “Throuples vary widely in their structure and people’s motivation to be in them. Generally, members of a throuple believe you can love and commit deeply to more than one person. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jo Eckler adds that “throuples can be closed (no other partners of any kind), or open (members of the throuple can have sexual and/or romantic relationships with partners beyond the throuple).” Tara Skubella, co-founder of Western Slope Poly & Friends and member of a throuple, agrees: “The level of commitment is based on their agreements. Oftentimes, a throuple is also referred to as a triad. Some throuples are exclusive, where others agree to form relationships outside the triad.”

A throuple is not the same as a threesome, which is a purely sexual experience. Throuples are committed partners and a threesome may be a one-time event. The same can be said of “swinging” which is opening up a marriage to more sexual partners; this is not a throuple unless there are three people in a committed relationship with each other.

While people in a throuple are polyamorous, not all poly relationships are throuples. For example, one person might have two partners, but if all three are not dating each other they are not a throuple. 

Why Are People In Throuples?

While this relationship structure doesn’t work for everyone, there are many advantages to having two partners instead of one. Conger says one nice part about being in throuple is that you can have partners with different interests for different sides of yourself: “I can watch hockey with one partner and play scrabble with the other and go to the movies with both.”

Conger also points out it’s a freeing way to express different sides of your sexuality or gender: “If I identify as pansexual and I am in a throuple with a cisgender male and a femme-presenting nonbinary partner, the sexual and gender expression available to me widens exponentially. I don't have to choose to sexually express myself the way I would with only one of those partners. Being in a committed relationship with two people widens the experience I have of my own sexuality, but within the context of a loving relationship instead of hook up culture.”

Dr. Eckler lays out the benefits of splitting responsibilities between three people instead of two. D.r Eckler explains, “Besides the obvious advantage of being with partners whom you care about and who care about you, throuples offer an extra layer of practical support: If one partner is sick, the other two can take care of them; if living together, household expenses can be split three ways instead of two; etc. Emotional labor can also be shared three ways instead of two.”

But also keep in mind that being a throuple can also add to the emotional work: “There are multiple relationship dynamics that need tending, which can take additional time and energy.”

Conger expands on the idea of sharing emotional labor by saying there can be a doubling of emotional support. “If I'm feeling stressed and want to talk about it and one of my partners is on a deadline, they don't have to choose between work and being there for me,” says Conger. “They know I have another loving partner who can hold me and talk. Or, if I'm having a disagreement with one partner, the other partner who loves us both can be a voice of reason and support.”

Whether or not being in a throuple is right for you, it’s great to stay educated on all types of relationship structures and dynamics. What works for some may not work for others, but being open-minded can help expand societal definitions of love and relationships, which will hopefully make for a more inclusive world.  No matter how many people in a relationship, “harmonious” sounds good!

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Sarah Prager is a writer and speaker focused on LGBTQ+ issues and history. She lives with her wife and their children in Massachusetts. Sarah is the author of the award-winning Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World and the forthcoming Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History. Visit her at www.sarahprager.com.

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