Joe and Ralph are two professional guys in their 30’s. They had been lovers for five years when they met Brian. “At first we were just friends,” Ralph says. “Then we started getting naked together. The sex was what attracted us at first.” Then feelings developed between the three of them that none of them had anticipated. Brian moved in a year ago. After some initial adjustment, the three of them are very happy right now.
When straight people have a relationship involving more than the customary two partners, they call it “polyamory.” We don’t use that term much as gay men, but we are at least as adventurous in trying out all the possible combinations and permutations of relationships. If two is good, then is three better?
Men choose relationships with multiple partners for many reasons. The novelty of having a third person around certainly can make things interesting. Three people can feel more like a family than being a couple feels for some men. Chores and responsibilities can get divided up with less work (sometimes) and there is more usually more disposable income.
Relationships are complicated and plenty of work even when there are only two people in them. What’s it like when a third enters the calculations?
It’s unusual for three people to meet one another simultaneously and decide to form a potentially complex relationship. More often two of the partners have been together a while when the third person enters it.
Richard fell in love with a couple that had been together for 8 years when he met them. He was attracted to their stability and wide circle of friends. They also made him feel like the center of attention when the three of them were in bed together. They invited him to move in – first as a roommate, then as the third party in their relationship.
“I was in love with both of them,” he told me. “What I didn’t realize was that one of the two guys wasn’t so enthusiastic about the situation. Basically, he was talked into it by the other guy.” The situation worked well for a while. “Eventually, the less eager guy announced he was moving out. I was a mess! I felt abandoned and blindsided. I also felt like I was responsible for breaking up the relationship they had before they met me. I was fucked up for months after that.” Richard and the remaining partner have stayed together, but their relationship is very different from what they expected.
If you’re thinking of getting into a three-person relationship, there are certain issues to think about first: Not to be too cute about it, but how are you at sharing? If you had trouble sharing your toys as a young boy, you may have real trouble with not having someone’s undivided attention. (Of course, an optimist would point out you have the attention of two people, not merely one. But not all the time — trust me on this.)
You had better not be the jealous type. How would it feel if the other two decided to do something at a time when you have to work late? Not a problem…. or a source of anxiety for you?
Remember high school geometry? There are many types of triangles – some with equal sides, some very unequal. If the feelings of intimacy and attraction aren’t similar between each of the three parties to this relationship, the triangle is going to be very unstable.
Don’t look at adding a third person as the cure-all for a two-person relationship that needs work. The new guy will bring his own issues into the mix. That makes things more complicated, not less so. Don’t even think about it.
Make certain you and your partner both talk thoroughly and openly about your feelings. This is no time to sweep feelings under the rug. Keep the conversation going as long as necessary.
What if you are already in a three-party relationship? Understand that all relationships take work, and unconventional ones often take more work to stay healthy. Some people find that having family meetings are good ways to make sure that everyone participates in making decisions and keeping communication clear.
Some men in threesomes find they have a strong urge to keep the relationship a secret from family and friends. Keeping secrets can be deadly to a relationship in the long run. How’s your social support network? Could you count on friends and family to be there when you need them?
If you’re in a relationship that’s having trouble and you are thinking about getting relationship counseling, be prepared to interview the prospective therapist at least as thoroughly as you would a plumber. Does the therapist have biases that would make them judgmental about your relationship? Do they have experience in working with alternative relationships? Keep your eyes and heart open and take certain you’re ready for the experiment ahead. Adding a third person to a relationship isn’t like getting a puppy.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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