What You Need to Know Before Adding a Third to Your Relationship

One of the oldest, most common fantasies — a threesome — is increasingly accessible as a mainstream relationship option as ethical nonmonogamy and polyamory go more mainstream. Whether you and your partner have been longtime practitioners of nonmonogamy, or whether you’re mostly monogamous but looking for an exciting “hall pass,” you may be interested in exploring what it looks like to add a third person to your relationship, whether for a night or for a lifetime. Where do you start, and how do you know you’re doing it right? Here’s what I recommend keeping in mind.

What kind of relationship are you looking for?

Even once you’ve taken the major step of deciding you’re interested in bringing a third person into your relationship, there are still a lot more details to figure out. There are many relationship configurations under the umbrella of polyamory or ethical nonmonogamy that include a third person — which one(s) are you interested in?

If you’re interested primarily in the sexual novelty of adding a third person, you may be looking for a “unicorn” — someone who’s interested in the thrill of being the new, exciting addition to an existing couple’s dynamic in a threesome. This could be a one-time thing, or something you’re interested in doing regularly — a regular hookup on speed dial for both of you.
Alternatively, you could be looking for a more serious romantic relationship that isn’t just about sex — a girlfriend for both of you. In this situation, there’s also plenty to think about: are you looking for someone that you both date and have largely independent relationships with, even if you sometimes all spend time together, or a full triad (or throuple) where all three of you are in one shared relationship? Are the people in this relationship also free to date other people — is it a fully open or nonmonogamous relationship — or are the three of you only dating each other?

Although you don’t have to have all the answers — after all, part of dating is figuring it out together — it’s good to have a general idea of what you’re looking for so that people you date know what they’re getting into and whether it’s a good fit for them. It’s also key to communicate about this within your primary relationship so you know you’re both on the same page and looking for the same thing before anything gets going.
Check your “couples privilege”

If you’re dating as a couple and looking for a third, sooner or later someone will ask you about couples privilege, and they’ll be right to do so. In the context of polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, “couples privilege” refers to the ways in which primary partners, or the original couple, enjoy advantages and security that newer or secondary partners, like your third, may not have.

This makes sense if you think about it — much like entering a friend group as a new person when everyone else has known each other since childhood, you and your current partner likely have a long history and know each other extraordinarily well; you have a lot of information and established trust, and if the chips are down, you’re likely to choose each other (or band together) with each other rather than the newer, third person. This creates a power dynamic (and insecurity) that it’s important to be aware of.

There are logistical layers to couples privilege as well — a primary partner may have more say in decision-making, for example, have more time or resources devoted to them, and will likely have a greater sense of security and stability in the relationship compared to non-primary partners. If your current partner has major surgery on the same day that your new partner has a sudden family emergency, whose side will you go to? Primary partners may also be given more social recognition or validation, which can make non-primary partners feel less valued or less visible. If you have a big work holiday party, or a family reunion, would you feel comfortable bringing your third — or admitting they exist? Would you introduce them to your parents? Being kept a secret can cause feelings of shame and cause discord in your relationship.

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