An Introductory Guide to Polyamorous Relationship Structures
Hello loves! We are constantly seeing all sorts of confusion & misconceptions about polyamorous relationships online these days, and we are such huge believers in the idea that polyamory can be a super fulfilling, meaningful way to develop relationships in your life. So we wanted to put together an introductory guide where we define the most common types of polyamorous relationship structures, as well as answer a few important questions + clear up common misconceptions about polyamory as a whole. We hope this guide helps you better understand the beautiful world of polyamory and shows you just how meaningful it can be to hav relationships with multiple partners if that’s what you’re looking for!
Before we dive any deeper into the common types of polyamorous relationship structures, let’s talk about polyamory basics + clear up some misconceptions to make sure you understand what polyamory is (and isn’t)!
What is Polyamory?
First off, what is polyamory?
Polyamory is the practice of having intimate, meaningful relationships with more than one partner at a time, with consent from ALL partners involved. Polyamorous relationships can only succeed when there is full mutual consent, clear communication, and clear boundaries set! This is opposed to monogamous relationships, which involve only two people in a relationship with each other.
There are MANY reasons people may be interested in polyamorous relationships instead of monogamous relationships; the main one being the desire to fulfill all of their emotional and physical needs as much as possible. It’s often difficult for one singular person to meet all of your needs, which is why many people gravitate toward polyamorous relationships (especially nowadays, as polyamory becomes more mainstream and widely understood). Lots of people in polyamorous relationships find so much openness, love, and care with their partners when each partner in the relationship is committed to having open communication, trust, and clear boundaries!
We’re about to go over the different types of polyamorous relationships, because yes – there are MANY! Throuples aren’t the only kind of polyamorous relationship, even though they’re typically what we see and hear about in media. So keep on reading to hear about the differences between each type of relationship structure – there will probably be some you’ve never heard of or haven’t even considered!
3 Misconceptions About Polyamory
1. Polyamory is the same thing as polygamy
Noooo! Polyamory and polygamy are two very different things.
Whereas polyamory is having meaningful relationships with more than one person at once (in a vee, triad, quad, or any of the structures we’ll talk about in a minute), polygamy is when one person is married to multiple different partners. Polygamy is sometimes practiced due to a person’s religious beliefs, but it’s actually not legal to have multiple spouses in many countries (including the U.S.).
2. Polyamory is the same thing as swinging
False! Swinging is typically when couples swap sexual partners for a multitude of reasons, and these relationships are usually limited to just sex. Polyamorous relationships involve multiple deep, committed relationships versus a couple switching partners with another couple for the sake of sex. However, both polyamory and swinging are both forms of consensual non-monogamy and there can be overlap in the polyamorous & swinging communities!
3. Polyamory is cheating
Aaand another nope! A polyamorous relationship involves full consent from all parties, so none of the partnerships occurring (whether emotional, physical, or both) are considered cheating, as every member has consented and agreed to the relationship dynamic. Cheating happens when one partner goes behind another partner’s back to get involved in another relationship, and does NOT have their consent.
Common Types of Polyamorous Relationship Structures
To make it easier to understand the differences between each type of polyamorous relationship, we’re going to use made-up names to demonstrate each structure & scenario!
Vee relationships are one of the most common structures of polyamory, where one person is dating two separate people – and those two people are NOT in a relationship with each other. Just think of it like a V, where one person is connected to two, who aren’t connected!
Example: Mark is dating both Maria and Emma, but Maria and Emma aren’t dating each other.
A triad is when all three people are dating each other, rather than just one person dating two others. This is commonly known as a throuple, which can happen when everybody in a vee relationship decides to date each other, or maybe two long-term partners want to bring a third person in.
Example: Mark is dating Maria and Emma, and Maria and Emma are dating each other, too. All three of them are in a relationship together.
A quad involves four people all dating each other, whether they decided to be a quad from the get-go, or maybe two couples became interested in each other and forming relationships with each other. Sometimes quads all live together, and sometimes they live separately, especially if the quad was originally two separate couples who may have separate lives that they don’t want to fully combine.
Example: Mark, Maria, and Emma found a fourth person they all loved and wanted to bring into the relationship. Now, all four of them are dating each other.
Example: Russ and Monica were dating when they met Jessica and Aubrey; the couples were both interested in each other and formed a quad.
Solo polyamory is when one person is their own primary partner, and are in relationships with multiple people that aren’t defined in any hierarchy. They don’t want to be part of a clearly defined or established relationship structure, so they’re in relationships with multiple people, none of which are the “primary” partner or are dating each other.
Example: Greg is in a long-term, meaningful relationship with Marco, and is in a separate long-term, meaningful relationship with Brett. Greg doesn’t live with either partner or place either above the other, and doesn’t define the relationship in any specific way. Marco and Brett aren’t in a relationship with each other.
Mono-poly relationships are when one partner is monogamous, but the other partner is polyamorous & has multiple partners. Typically the monogamous partner also has permission to see other people, but may not have any interest in it, so the other partner is the only one acting on the polyamorous relationship structure. Mono-poly relationships can develop in a long-term partnership due to things like living in separate places & having to do long-distance, or one partner having low libido/disabilities that prevent having sex, and can be either sexual or romantic (or both!).
Example: Chelsea and Blake are in a relationship. Chelsea is monogamous and isn’t interested in seeing other people, while Blake is polyamorous and has other partners (with Chelsea’s permission).
Hierarchical polyamorous relationships are simply relationships where there’s a clearly-defined primary and secondary relationship (even tertiary). These types of relationships can often result in an imbalance of power or make one/multiple partners feel inferior/like their needs aren’t being met in the relationship. They can be a little more difficult to participate in, in a healthy way, but are more likely to succeed if there are clear boundaries put in place that everyone agrees to!
Example: Mark, Maria, and Emma are a triad, but Mark & Maria’s partnership is the primary one, with Mark & Emma’s partnership and Maria & Emma’s partnership being secondary/tertiary. Mark & Maria may make more of the decisions and be prioritized in the triad.
On the other side of it, non-hierarchical polyamorous relationships don’t have any primary or secondary relationships – every relationship is equally prioritized, with all partners working together to make decisions rather than the primary partnership doing so.
Example: Mark, Maria, Emma, and Blake are in a relationship together and make decisions as a quad, with no partnership being primary or more prioritized than another.
Kitchen-table polyamory (ever even heard of it?!) is a polyamorous relationship where partners focus on a family atmosphere with each other. For example, everyone gets together for holidays, gatherings, etc. and “sits around the table” together. All partners might not be sexually or romantically involved with each other, but they all still hang out and keep up the family vibes + support each other.
Example: Mark is dating Maria & Emma in a vee relationship, and Maria is also dating Taylor. Although Taylor is not in a sexual or romantic relationship with Mark or Emma, all four of them support each other and hang out together in a sort of “family” setting.
On the other hand, parallel polyamory is when the separate partnerships in a polyamorous relationships stay separate – partners aren’t interested in being emotionally involved with anybody else besides their own partner(s).
Example: Mark is dating Maria & Emma in a vee relationship, and Maria is also dating Taylor. Mark isn’t interested in being emotionally involved with Taylor, and Taylor isn’t interested in being emotionally involved with Mark or Emma.
Finally, “polycule” is just a term to describe everyone involved in a polyamorous relationship, whether it’s hierarchical/non-hierarchical, kitchen-table/parallel, etc. – no matter what the dynamic is or what the relationships are like between each person.
Example: Mark, Maria, & Emma are in a vee relationship, and Maria is in a relationship with Taylor. They are all part of the same polycule!
Alright, now quiz time: what’s a polycule? What’s the difference between kitchen-table & parallel polyamorous relationships?
Just kidding! But we hope this guide cleared up some misconceptions you may have had about polyamory, and helped you better understand the different types of polyamorous relationship structures that are open & available to you. Happy lovin’!
If you loved learning about polyamorous relationships and are looking for more helpful advice when it comes to sex, sexuality, & relationships, check out some of our recent favorite WinkWink resources below!