Romantic relationships aren't always just between two people. Sometimes, these relationships may involve three or four — or even more people.
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This is known as polyamory. A recent episode of HGTV's "House Hunters" brought polyamory to the spotlight when a throuple — a type of polyamorous relationship in which all three people are in a relationship with each other — sought to buy a house in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There are plenty of varying perspectives on how polyamorous relationships work, she said, but ultimately, all polyamorous relationships are different and based on the needs and wants of the people involved. Polyamory comes with its own set of guidelines and issues. And to be clear, people in the polyamory community say not everyone should pursue it, even if it sounds appealing.
Below are a few questions you may have had about polyamory, but were too afraid to ask. They don't always live together, as is the case with the relationship featured in "House Hunters," but are all committed to each other in a meaningful way. It's a form of a triad, but not all tri are throuples, she added.
Tri tend to be one person who is dating two people separately without the other two having a relationship with one another. There are also qu, which are similar to tri except they involve four people.
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Polyamorous relationships can be as simple as a throuple that is only connected to each other, or as complicated as a network of people who can be involved or not involved with each other. In these relationships, there are metamours, which are people who your partner is seeing but you are not involved in. Everyone in the network is commonly known as a polycule, no matter how many people are in it. Polyamory and polygamy, which is illegal across the United States but is still in practice in some communities through "spiritual unions," are vastly different.
Polygamy takes place when only one person is married to more than one partner, whereas polyamory tends to encompass a broader range of people involved with one another. Further, the power dynamics of polygamy tend to be different, for one, since polygamy practiced in the United States tends to be polysemy, or one husband marrying multiple wives.
Those power dynamics are something to be aware of in polyamorous relationships, according to Dr. Mimi Schippers, a professor of sociology and gender and sexuality studies at Tulane.
Equality is a key component of poly culture, and many polygamous marriages can be unequal. Not necessarily.
Polyamory is not just about sex, both Farmer and Schippers point out, whereas open marriages, open relationships and swinging tend to emphasize the sexual parts of a relationship. Some practitioners of polyamory, Schippers said, have what is known as "primary" and "secondary" partners. The primary partner, possibly a spouse or a long-term partner, is the one with whom you're connected to in terms of marriage, co-parenting, or sharing finances.
The secondaries are other partners, who may not necessarily be as intimately linked to you as your primary partner, but fulfill a need, romantic, sexual or otherwise, in your life. But not all polyamorous people choose to identify their partners as "primary" or "secondary," otherwise known as a "hierarchical relationship.
There are also some polyamorous people, Farmer said, "who believe that their sexuality is a part of them. For these types of people, the traditional mode of monogamy may be too restrictive or inhibiting — and polyamory works out better for them and their romantic and sexual partners.
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Communication is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in polyamory, Farmer said. Polyamorous relationships are most successful when people are able to communicate with one another, able to communicate their feelings and concerns about their relationships to their partners. You also have to know yourself very well, Schippers said. That includes knowing what you want and need out of relationships, as well as knowing what your boundaries are with your partners.
Certainly, jealousy is part of polyamory. But communicating those feelings — and not letting them consume you — is vital to ensuring a healthy polyamorous connection. Some people, Farmer says, go so far as to "veto" who their partners are seeing, which can be really harmful and damaging to an existing relationship.
But so, too, Schippers says, is the idea of "compersion," which is when you're happy to see that your partner has found joy in someone else. People in polyamorous relationships may also face backlash and further complications related to their race, gender and sexuality.
Of course, for many, sex plays a role in the decision to enter an open relationship.
Polyamory is absolutely not an excuse to cheat, both Farmer and Schippers say. In fact, it's frowned upon in the polyamorous community. If anything, Farmer says, a polyamorous relationship can amplify the issues that you may have already in a monogamous relationship. Communication and boundaries are just as vital in monogamous relationships as they are in polyamorous ones.
What you need to know about polyamory — including throuples — but were too afraid to ask. Show Caption. Hide Caption. Non-traditional relationships sometimes misunderstood. Non-monogamous relationships are not new, but can sometimes be misunderstood.
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