I am a gay man with two significant others. I met my first partner seven years ago on a business trip out-of-state. We hit it off immediately and he relocated to live with me two months later. None of my friends and family was particularly supportive of our relationship initially because of the way it all started, but seven years later we are completely committed to each other and are life partners. Four years ago, the two of us moved due to a job relocation. It was about this time that he and I decided to begin playing around with other guys as a way to add some sexual spice to our relationship. We only did it together and the intent was solely for pleasurable sex; “no emotional attachments allowed” was our rule. One of our “tricks”, who happens to be eighteen years our junior, became a regular three-way participant with us and over time we all developed feelings for each other. We didn’t plan on that happening, but it just evolved over time. He moved in with us, and while there was an initial tense adjustment period, we’re very happy and committed to each other, having just celebrated our 3-year anniversary as a threesome. We have our conflicts periodically, but overall it’s very fulfilling. Having added a third significant other to the mix makes me feel like I’m in a family; each of my guys has different qualities that I find attractive and we all share the domestic responsibilities and enjoy the added disposable income.
As complex as the gay couple relationship is, I find additional and unique challenges having added a third person. In addition to being gay, living in a society that presents gay couples with obstacles, having age differences amongst us, and having cultural challenges as well (both my husbands are Latino men and I’m Caucasian), I’ve found little guidance on three-person relationships. Do you have any advice for a gay man who wishes to keep his 3-way relationship strong and his partners happy?
One Plus One Equals Three
Dear One Plus One Equals Three:
You are right, my friend! There’s not a whole lot of information or resources out there for people in long-term threesome relationships, so I guess you could say that you’re pioneers of sorts. Of course polyamory, the practice of loving more than one partner in an intimate relationship, has existed since time began and is more accepted in certain cultures than others. In our society, this type of relationship is stigmatized and frowned upon, thereby offering little education or assistance in how to maintain healthy partnerships in this kind of relationship style. You might find a little bit of information pertaining to bisexual relationship functioning where there are three individuals, but this is scarce. And three gay men? Nothing to my knowledge. This appears to be an untapped area of research in the literature, so kudos to any aspiring sociologists or social psychologists looking for new research projects! Here’s a hot topic for you! In all honesty, I have not encountered a threesome gay relationship in my clinical work but I will share with you some tips and suggestions for sustaining what appears to be a very satisfying relationship that you all have worked hard to nurture and preserve. And you’re not alone; there are many others in long-term three-way relationships out there too, they’re just more hidden and concealed from view. In much the same way homosexuality was once disguised, so too are polyamourous relationships because of the negative sanctions imposed by our culture against them.
My hat is off to the three of you for being able to conquer the odds by cultivating a long-term threesome partnership. Gay relationships are challenging enough with two people, but with three individuals, the dynamics become amplified. This kind of relationship poses many hidden threats and potential for conflict and requires an aggressive commitment to staying on top of all the issues inherent in this relationship style and attention to everyone’s needs in a balanced and equal way. Feelings of jealousy, competition, struggles over power and control with decision-making, difficulties with privacy, space, and independence, and imbalances of attentiveness toward each other are just a handful of the possible dynamics that could arise in such partnerships. Then there’s being able to negotiate domestic responsibilities, finances, sexual needs, future life-planning and goals and juggling not only the developmental tasks that all relationships go through, but also helping each partner go through his own individual identity transformations and challenges with career, mental health/well-being, aging, spirituality, and family issues, to only name a few. Then there’s having to contend with possible discrimination and prejudice from others at having a non-traditional relationship times 2 (or 3!) and deciding as a unit how “out” you will be with your relationship to each other’s families, jobs, friends, and society at large. Then, as you said, there are age and cultural differences to overcome as well. As you can see, which I’m sure you’ve already experienced, there’s a lot of devotion and hard work that’s needed to avoid succumbing to the stress and interpersonal conflicts that can arise so that your energies can be channeled toward meeting each other’s emotional needs instead.
However, despite the obstacles and added challenges, this type of relationship does lend forth some very positive benefits. Three-way relationships are not for everyone, but they can provide a sense of community and family unlike anything else. The reciprocal sharing of household duties, enhanced emotional and financial security, not to mention more variety and spice in the bedroom can also be added bonuses. And let’s just say this…there’s probably never a dull moment at your house! The added stimulation of a third person in all aspects of your relationship world can make life more interesting and vibrant. Without going too deeply into the psychology of our partner and relationship choices, it might be helpful for you to examine if there are any underlying issues and dynamics that prompted you and your partner to open your relationship up into a three-way arrangement in the first place. While it sounds like you’ve been able to successfully sustain your relationship long-term, are there any masked issues or feelings that may have been kept at bay all this time that need attention so as not to sabotage your growth personally or your relationship?
So how can you maintain a happy threesome lifestyle over the long haul? It’s important to utilize all your skills from your relationship toolbox consciously and consistently. It’s critical that your communication skills are finely-tuned and that you all master the art of active listening, empathy, and validation to make your interactions and dialogues run more smoothly. Anger management, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills will be important for your relationship to survive the differences you will likely experience and that you have equal decision-making power. The ability to share, set boundaries, and assert yourselves will also be key to a happy home-life. Ensure that all of you are receiving equal amounts of attention and affection and that you gain a clear understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality styles in navigating through issues. Develop “relationship rules” that you all agree to abide by. Create a home environment where everybody is comfortable approaching each other about anything and everything and everyone’s voice is respected and heard. Avoid creating alliances and power hierarchies in the relationship against each other and instead foster cooperation and teamwork. Spend lots of quality time together. Consider creating a scrapbook that the three of you can do together to commemorate your lives together that you keep adding to as the years go on to create more of a bonding and binding effect with each other. And because there does appear to be such a scarcity of support networks and resources out there, the three of you might consider starting your own online forum or club catering specifically to gay men in three-way relationships, and then market it! You could create your own national organization if you wanted to, or just start locally by posting an ad in the personals section of your gay newspapers for other guys in threesome relationships for friends and social activity. Be creative and surround yourselves with positive, supportive people.
I hope you find some of these suggestions applicable to your situation.
I wish you guys the best with your relationship journey!
–The Gay Love Coach