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Your guide to 10 different types of polyamorous relationships

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Sep 26, 2023

Your guide to 10 different types of polyamorous relationships

It’s the 21st century, and polyamory is thriving! Non-monogamy is on the rise, and it’s no wonder as to why. 

People realize that being in a monogamous marriage, owning a home, and/or having kids isn’t the only way to live a happy life. More queer people are ditching traditional and one-dimensional models of what love is “supposed” to look like and exploring relationships through other forms of polyamory.

While monogamy has been the traditional and most practiced type of relationship in the United States, more and more couples are discussing what different types of polyamorous relationships could look like. Due to stigma and lack of representation, there can still be a lot of confusion about what polyamory means.

What is a polyamorous relationship?

At its core, being polyamorous means being capable of being in multiple romantic relationships and loving multiple people simultaneously. This could mean that you are in a hierarchical polyam setup or that you don’t have partners but practice something called “solo poly” (more on that below!). 

The point is that non-monogamous relationships are diverse and don’t have to look any one type of way. In fact, there are more ways to do polyam than you can count on two hands! But let’s try counting on two hands anyway. 

Here are ten different types of polyamorous relationships and what they really mean. 

What are the different types of polyamory? 

If you’re just beginning your journey with polyamory, you might have questions. I know that I did when I first started exploring poly. Are there different types of polyamory? What’s the difference between ethical non-monogamy (ENM) vs. polyamory? And what the hell is a polycule?

 Each type of polyamorous relationship has its own structure and boundaries. Let’s break down some of the most common types of polyam and the associated terminology.

1. Hierarchical polyamory

In hierarchical polyamorous setups, there is usually a (surprise) hierarchy of partners. 

You can be in loving relationships with multiple partners, but in hierarchical poly, some partners take precedence over others. This usually consists of two primary partners (or “primaries”) who are the top priority in each other’s lives. 

A primary partner may be someone that you live with, are married to, share finances, or even have kids with. You prioritize this relationship over others and make your life decisions with this person. 

Other serious relationships in your life might function as secondary partners (“secondaries”) or even tertiary partners. These relationships typically have a different dynamic and set of expectations than a primary partnership. You might not be dating anyone else now, but you are open to building other serious relationships. 

Perhaps you have a few partners who you see on a semi-regular basis, or you have a long-distance lover or a secondary partner who you go on dates or occasional trips with. Being a hierarchical polyamorous dynamic doesn’t necessarily mean that you love these partners any less; it’s more about the energy and time you give each relationship.

If you are in a primary partnership, you most likely both have rules and boundaries around the other relationships in your life. While the level of security can be nice, it’s important to maintain a sense of autonomy over the relationships in your life. Be mindful of the power dynamics that can come alongside primary partnerships in hierarchical polyam set ups. 

Three women in a triad/throuple embracing with each of their faces pressed gently against the others’.

2. Non-hierarchical polyamory

Non-hierarchical polyamory involves (yup, you guessed it) no hierarchy! As much polyam terminology as there is, this stuff isn’t rocket science. 

In a non-hierarchical polyam setup, there are no primary or secondary partners. Each partner is free to figure out their unique relationship dynamic, and everyone’s needs are considered equally when making big decisions. 

This means there is no ranking system amongst partners, and one relationship isn’t necessarily prioritized over another. 

In non-hierarchical polyamory, no partner in the “polycule” can determine what the other relationships look like. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every relationship is equal, but more so that it’s up to each partner to decide what their unique relationships look like without outside influence.

Non-hierarchical polyamory can be one form of relationship anarchy (RA). Relationship anarchy is a life philosophy that does away with the concept of relationship hierarchies altogether. 

If you practice relationship anarchy, you reject the notion of romantic relationships taking priority over other platonic relationships in your life, such as friendships. This means that no one person is prioritized over another, and you are free to build connections in your life organically and without preconceived labels. 

Four polyamorous women in pink, purple, and orange coats with their arms wrapped around each other.

3. Solo Polyamory 

Solo polyamory (sopo) is a broad concept in the polyamorous community and can function in many different ways. People who practice solo polyamory are their own primary partners and often aren’t interested in compromising for the sake of a relationship. 

This can look like being your own independent agent while having multiple, loving relationships or enjoying a single lifestyle while dating. 

Either way, solo polyamory means that you prioritize yourself when it comes to making major life decisions, and you aren’t beholden to any romantic relationship. People who practice solo polyamory might live alone or with friends, choose not to form a family with anyone, or simply prioritize themselves during a time when they don’t have much to give to romantic relationships. 

It’s important to know that people who practice solo polyamory can still have deep, long-term relationships with people, even if they choose not to get married or co-parent. Solo polyamory is different from just dating around or being single. Rather, it’s a rejection of heteronormative relationship standards that value partnerships over everything else. 

A solo polyamorous woman at the beach standing on the rocks while a wave splashed in front of her.

4. Throuple, Triad, or Vee Relationship

A triad (otherwise known as a three-person couple or a “throuple”) is a relationship structure in which three people who are in direct romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other. 

This can sometimes happen when a couple decides to bring another person into the mix, and everyone ends up dating each other. 

If you haven’t been watching the new L Word or on polyamorous dating apps in the past few years, you might have missed the rising wave of the throuple. 

Throuples are decidedly different from what is commonly known as a love triangle because there is no rivalry or competition involved. A triad isn’t the same thing as two people pursuing one person. Instead, everyone in the relationship is treated with respect, and each pair is encouraged to develop and nurture their own relationship.

This is different from a vee relationship, which gets its name from the letter “V,” which has three distinct points. The dynamic of a V relationship is symbolized by the shape of the letter—two separate people connected to one person. 

This is a polyamorous relationship in which one partner has two distinctly separate romantic or sexual partners. Unlike a throuple, the partners (or metamours) of the shared person are not dating or involved with one another.

This is much more similar to a love triangle in that one person maintains a relationship with two people, but those two people are not dating or involved with each other. 

However, unlike love triangles, which are often messy and fleeting, all people in this type of polyamorous dynamic have consented to the V structure and are ideally meeting their needs.

Three queer women in a polyamorous dynamic, with their arms around each other’s backs standing in a garden.

5. Quad relationship

So we’ve covered the multiples of threes in triads, throuples, and vees, but what happens when you add one more person into the mix? What do you call a 4-way poly relationship? A quad is a relationship between four people who are romantically or sexually connected to each other. 

This might look like four friends connecting, two primary couples who end up dating each other, or adding another person to an already existing triad. For quads and triads to be successful, it’s important to determine the boundaries and expectations of each primary and secondary relationship. 

You might be in an open quad, where more partners can be added, or a closed quad, where you are exclusive with the other three people.

A closed quad or closed triad can be an example of polyfidelitous relationship. 

In her book Polysecure, Jessica Fern described polyfidelity as

“a romantic or sexual relationship that involves more than two people, but these people are exclusive with each other. [This means they are] closed off to additional relationships.”

Jessica Fern’s book, “Polysecur.”
A polyamorous quad outside at a park with a beautiful spread of fruit and flowers in front of them.

6. Kitchen table polyamory

Depending on the type of polyamory you practice, some people like getting to know their partners’ partners (otherwise known as metamours). This is a dynamic that is called kitchen table polyamory. While kitchen table polyamory isn’t quite a relationship structure, the premise is that everyone in a polycule is on good terms with each other enough to sit down and have coffee at the kitchen table. 

This might mean developing an independent friendship with one of your metamours where you can emotionally support each other. While it might sound hard at first, some people feel less threatened when they get to know the other person their partner is dating. You may also want sexual or romantic dynamics with your partner’s partners. In kitchen table polyamory, everyone in the polyam constellation has an emotional connection to each other and can share space comfortably. 

A kitchen counter full of fresh fruits and vegetables with a pair of hands outstretched.

7. Garden Party Polyamory 

Some people aren’t really that interested in having close relationships with their metamours. Garden party polyamory is similar to kitchen table polyamory as they both include a network of partners who are involved with each other. 

However, when you practice garden party polyamory, you don’t spend much time with your partner’s partners. 

Sure, you might all gather together for birthdays, queer garden parties, or special occasions, but you aren’t a regular part of each other’s lives. You can be friendly and share important events together, but you aren’t that interested in forming deep emotional bonds with each other outside of your separate partnerships. 

A man pouring red wine for someone across the table at a garden party.

8. Parallel polyamory

If the closeness of a polycule is on a spectrum, parallel polyamory is on the opposite end from kitchen table polyamory. 

Some people have zero desire to get to know their metamours and prefer that all their relationships be kept separate and distinct. Even if you are okay with your partner having other partners, it might be too painful to see it happen IRL or hear about it too often. This can be considered an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of approach.

In this case, you can think of you and your metamours as parallel lines traveling in the same direction but never meeting. This is different from a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of open relationships because everyone is aware of each other’s existence; they just don’t want to know much more about each other. 

Two queer partners, one in a flat-brimmed hat with her hands around the other.

9. Monogamish

A monogamish relationship is sort of like a monogamous relationship, but it allows for varying degrees of sexual interactions with others. 

This might mean that the relationship is primarily monogamous but might make exceptions for one-night stands, steamy BDSM sessions, or hookups when one partner is traveling or out of town. The rules you determine for a monogamish relationship might vary, but there is some flexibility here for casual sex with others that monogamous relationships don’t allow. 

Two lesbian women in a monogamish relationship laying down in the grass together, one in a red sweater with pink hair looks at the camera while laying on the chest of her girlfriend.

10. Mono-polyamorous relationships

Mono-polyamorous relationships or “hybrid relationships” are a polyamorous dynamic where one person in the relationship is polyamorous and another is monogamous. 

To some people, this type of relationship might seem unequal, but lots of people are perfectly happy being monogamous while their partner is not. Some examples of when a mono-polyamory relationship might make sense are if one partner is grieving a loss, has a mismatched libido, or doesn’t have the time or energy for other partners. 

The most important part of mono-polyam relationships is open and honest communication with your partner. A mono-polyam dynamic can be a great way to make sure both partners’ needs are getting met. Still, it can become toxic if you really want to be in a monogamous relationship but agree to your partner practicing polyamory just to save the relationship. This is especially true if your partner has a history of lying or has cheated on you emotionally or sexually before. 

Two queer women in a mono-poly relationship standing before a brick wall with masks on.

Different types of polyamorous relationships will work for different folks. No matter what type of dynamic you are interested in, ensure you are honest and forthcoming with yourself and your partners about what you are looking for. 

While these conversations can be difficult at first, try having an open mind and exploring these concepts from a place of curiosity rather than fear. The polyamorous world is your oyster, babe! Get out there and find your next polyamorous connection on HER.

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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