Three-Person Relationships

February 28th, 2013 by Steve Pavlina

For the past few years I’ve enjoyed being in an open relationship. This has been a wonderful path of growth to explore. Sure it subjects you to some extra criticism, but most of that gets out of the way in the first day or two, so in the long run it’s negligible. The rewards of this type of exploration are far greater than the drawbacks IMO.

I’m grateful for having tried the monogamous marriage path for more than a decade, but I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life living that way. I feel very appreciative that I’m well along in this new phase of my relationship life now, one that gives me a sense of possibility and abundance.

One area I haven’t explored yet is the idea of three-person relationships. By this I mean a triad of people who consider themselves to be in a relationship with each other to the same extent that a couple might declare themselves to be “in a relationship” together.

As in all relationships, it’s the people in a given relationship who define the scope, structure, and boundaries of that relationship, so just as a two-person relationship could have all sorts of variations, the same is true for three-person relationships.

The two most common forms of three-person relationships are Vs and triangles. In a V-style relationship, one person has individual bonds with the other two partners, but those other partners would not consider themselves to be in a relationship with each other. So the letter V itself is a visualization of that type of relationship, with each person being at one of the three points of the V. A common situation where you might find a V structure is with a couple where one member of the couple also has a lover on the side.

In a triangle type of relationship, all three people consider themselves to be in relationship with each other. You might see such a relationship with one man and two bisexual women, for instance. All sorts of variations are possible, with the structure and parameters being determined by the members.

Polyfidelity is a label that can be applied to relationships with three or more people, whereby the relationship is in some way closed to outsiders. The members of the group may prefer to restrict sexual connections to within the group only, and/or they may not want anyone in the group falling in love with an outsider. This is basically the poly version of a monogamous relationship, so it has its own definition of cheating.

Openness

When it comes to exploring open relationships, some people are passively open while others are more actively open. Passive openness means that you’re not actively seeking out new partners, but if an opportunity comes to you fairly easily, you may be inclined to accept the invitation and enjoy it. Active openness means that you proactively invite new connections instead of only passively waiting for them to show up.

Over the past three years, I’ve oscillated between both of these postures. Sometimes I’ve been pretty passive, mainly enjoying my connection with my girlfriend and enjoying an occasional threesome. Other times I’ve felt like being more proactive, so I put out invites for the types of connections I wanted to experience.

If I want more connections, I can hold a more actively open posture and be more flirtatious and inviting. If I feel like being in my own space for a while, I may switch to passive-open or even closed (where I’d turn down new connections when offered).

People normally switch between active, passive, and closed modes with casual social invites, choosing a posture that gives them what they want, and it’s not difficult to extend this dynamic into less casual connections.

I really like blending the benefits of monogamy with the experience of openness. I love having a stable girlfriend and the love, intimacy, and special connection that we share. I also love being able to connect with other women when the opportunity arises or I have a proactive desire to do so. And I especially love playing with Rachelle and another woman together.

When people ask me about my relationship life, I think they sometimes expect to hear stories of drama and problems due to the openness factor, but the reality is that it’s very easy, flowing, loving, and fun.

Three-Person Relationships

Recently Rachelle and I have been discussing new ways we could continue to learn, explore, and grow together. One idea that we’re certain about is travel. We love going on extended trips together, so there’s no doubt we’ll keep doing more of that.

A bigger stretch we began talking about recently was the idea of experiencing a three-person relationship with another woman. We’ve played with other women together and have quite enjoyed that. What would it be like to share a deeper level of intimacy with someone else for a longer stretch of time? We can’t answer that question since we’ve never tried this.

That said, as we discussed this possibility, we realized that we’re actually in agreement with what we’d want in another partner if we were to be in a triangle-style relationship (a V-style one doesn’t appeal to us). The other woman would have to be vegan, bisexual, compassionate, growth-oriented, smart, cuddly, honest, responsible, mild tempered, playfully submissive, open to lots of D/s play, and have a love of travel like we do. And obviously she’d need sufficient freedom and availability to enter into this kind of exploration with us in person.

Even this short list of criteria will rule out most women, and that’s fine with us. We wouldn’t want to attempt this with just anyone. She’d have to be someone pretty unusual, just like us. :)

We could be more flexible, which gives us a higher chance of finding a match, but Rachelle and I agree that we’d rather not compromise. We need sufficient compatibility in our lifestyle desires and values to give us a good base for connecting, but other differences are fine since that’s where we can learn from each other.

So why am I sharing this? Are we taking applications or something? Mainly I wanted to share this because it helps me lean into it and get comfortable with the idea.

As far as ideas go, this one both excites and scares me. I think it could be an amazing amount of fun and a wonderful challenge for the heart and mind alike. But I’d be very selective about letting anyone into this exploration with us in such an intimate way, and Rachelle is very selective too. I’m not into relationship drama, and I don’t want to invite someone in who’d seek to mess up the connection between Rachelle and me.

So at this point my stance is somewhere between passive open and active open. I’m open to the possibility if the right person should pop onto our radar, but I haven’t actively gone out and invited anyone to actually try this with us.

Advantages

Three-person relationships have some interesting advantages over two-person relationships. Some are practical while others are just about increasing the fun and stimulation.

If the three people live together, then there’s a bit less work for each person in terms of daily tasks like making meals. It’s not that much more work to make dinner for three people vs. two. Similarly, one person could research and make reservations for a trip that all three could take.

Some activities are just more enjoyable with a third person due to the added energy. A good example would be receiving a two-on-one massage. Another would be having a threesome. I imagine you’d want to maintain good physical fitness if you expect to do a lot of that together.

In a monogamous two-person relationship, if your partner declines a certain activity invite, you’re out of luck, unless you want to invite a friend who lives further away. But in a three-person relationship, you can just go and ask the other person, and maybe you’ll get a yes. So for any two-person activities, you have two people you can ask, thus increasing your chances of having someone available.

If you have a problem to solve, you can have a three-way discussion about it, which helps compensate for individual biases. You also have the knowledge, talents, and support of an extra person at your disposal.

Many of the advantages of three-person relationships are the same that arise in families or teams, but some are specific to intimate connections, like being able to cuddle with two lovers at once, or having two people get to know you very deeply.

Consent

While a three-person relationship may sound complicated or difficult to initiate, all it takes is for three like-minded people to consent to it. Each person may have different reasons for wanting to invite such an experience, but as long as their desires are compatible, they can create this experience.

If it works out well, wonderful. If it doesn’t work out so well, it will surely be an interesting learning experience.

I don’t necessarily expect such a three-person connection to be super stable in the long run. I figure it will probably be more temporary than a two-person connection, partly because three-person connections are easier to break up (only one in three people has to decide to leave). I think it could be a really fascinating thing to explore even if it doesn’t last long. All human experiences are temporary anyway.

Consent alone, however, isn’t quite enough for me. I’d also want us to have compatible intentions as to why we’d want to explore such a relationship. Mine would be to learn, grow, explore, share love and intimacy, make people feel good, and have a ridiculous amount of fun together. Rachelle and I already have this kind of connection, so while it would be a stretch to invite a third person into this, I think it has a fair chance of creating even more joy for three people, at least for a while.

Whether this type of connection works out well or quickly goes bust, I think it’s worth the risk to try it. Rachelle and I have been enjoying an open relationship since we first got together, so we aren’t coming from a traditional place to begin with. We also have years of practice with open, honest, communication. And we find it very easy to keep connecting from a place of love. I don’t realistically see our connection being threatened by adding another person to it, as long as we hold to our values and select someone like-minded. I think it’s more likely that our two-person connection could morph into something even greater.

I must admit that even to me, this idea feels a bit weird. But I tend to do well with ideas that once seemed weird to me, such as making a living from blogging or moving to Las Vegas. So given my track record with weird ideas, I have the honest expectation that if we do find someone who’s a good match for this, it will probably work out beautifully. And if it happens to go the way of polyphasic sleep, then at least it will make for a tremendous growth experience.


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