Making Room for a Third
Black Eagle

A discussion with a lover have led me to think long and hard about the "extra" difficulties incorporating a third into an existing dyad. To make sense of it, I had to think about issues that come up in marriage counseling and the experiences of people in first marriages.

We often forget how important labels are to our sense of security and regularity. If what we are living and feeling matches our inner labels, we are comfortable. If they don't, we are stressed and distraught. Of course, this varies a lot from person to person. Some people become very comfortable with uncertainty in their lives, while others are unable to deal with it, at all.

One label of special importance is "marriage." Even homosexuals who are married (whether legally recognized or not) are subject to some of the problems this brings up. This label is of major importance in a first marriage.

A man takes his father or other major male influence as his model of how he should behave as "Husband" and "Father." He expects his spouse to behave as his mother (or other major female influence) as his model of how his spouse should behave as "Wife" or "Mother." A woman does just the opposite. Again, as in all areas of human experience, the strength of this behavior modeling varies enormously from person to person.

The first problem facing a new couple is that the expectation of how "I" should behave conflicts with the expectation that my "spouse" has. "My" expectation of how the spouse should behave conflicts with her expectation of her own behavior. That conflict is either worked out or the marriage fails in one sense or another (not all failed marriages end in divorce).

Second and later marriages often show that some serious lessons were learned in the first marriage, but not always. Some people go through one marriage after another trying to duplicate their birth family or rebelling against it.

Problems arise in many areas: housekeeping chores, use of money, how free time is utilized, romance, sex, availability of resources and so on. Underlying all these problems to be resolved for the marriage to succeed is the essential one: How Decisions Are to be Made.

The decision on how to make decisions may depend on the area considered, but most couples soon develop a way of making decisions. The method may range from free-wheeling fights to calm discussions to any combination of any known method. Some families allow all decisions to be made by one person. Some families negotiate and trade ("you get this area and I get this other one.").

However it is done, a successful marriage works out a way of dealing with decisions that is satisfactory to all concerned. With this settled, the other problems are more easily dealt with. If it is never settled, no other problem ever seems to be finally dealt with.

This difficulty works out in roommate situations, as well, but not with the intensity of a marriage. Again, the label creates an automatic, unconscious change in how things are done between the two. The intensity is increased, things left to random choices now become issues to be resolved, and so on. This is a difficult period which can last for a few months or may take years to work out, and the success with which the decision making process is solved determines the success of the marriage.

The decision making process is often renegotiated as people change. If the original process is satisfactory, the transition to a new process is much smoother.

No matter how well this has been worked out, bringing in a third automatically renews the issue.

The original couple has worked out the major issues and, most likely, how decisions are to be made. The new partner now has to be integrated into this system. How is this to be done?

Unlike a two person family, there are now three people who have to be comfortable with the process of decision making as well as comfortable with the decisions that have already been made. It is a big help if the decision making process is handled first.

In our own case, our new partner lived with this method: "I can make suggestions, but my partner makes the decisions." This made it easy and difficult at the same time. We made decisions by consensus. Since our new partner was not used to making decisions at all, she always agreed with whatever we came up with, not good. We had to bring her out, to involve her in expressing herself, and to getting her to join in the decision making process.

We had decided that each person's share of housekeeping chores would be whatever they either liked to do or didn't mind doing. There were a few conflicts which were further resolved by giving the chore to whomever felt most strongly about how they were done. Gripes about methods were handled very simply. If you didn't like the way I was doing my chore, you can do it.

Finances were also dealt with by a slow process (it took several years) of integrating our finances and being careful to separate all things purchased into "mine" or "yours." Other details were handled in the same way.

When SB came into our family, we had new things that she wanted to do (or didn't mind doing) that I had previously done, some things that she wanted to do that SM had previously done, and some things we had just let go that she wanted to do. Where she wanted to help with something one of us was doing, we let her.

For finances, we kept her finances separate from ours and have let her decide how much she wants to integrate her money into ours. At the present time, the integration is almost complete - at her option. We went out of our way to make sure she had private space for herself (as we each had).

This was not handled smoothly. There was a period of about five months while these things were hammered out. I suspect the thing that helped the most was our insistence that her needs be expressed clearly and unambiguously, and then the three of us would see how we could accommodate what she needed so we would all be comfortable with the arrangement.

All in all, the addition of a third to an already existing dyad worked very well with less time spent integrating her into the triad than SM and I had in coming up with a workable arrangement for the two of us.

As I look over other triads, this seems generally to be true. Those dyads that had the basic issue of decision making solved, had little problem integrating a third. True, it still took time, but it seems easier than coming up with a method for the original couple. Those dyads that had simply made decisions by failing to decide have had major problems with a third, and such relationships do not commonly work. Where they do, it is because the addition of a third forces the choices about decision making and the decisions themselves to be clear and precise.

Going through this process makes something abundantly clear. A couple going through problems, especially when there are no clear rules about how decisions are made, risks everything when they attempt to bring a third relationship in, even as an outside lover.

By distracting the couple from time best spent on solving their problems (often unstated emotional issues) and providing an outside source of love and support, the couple's relationship is weakened. This may provide the impetus for solving their problems, but is more likely to be the "last straw," one that cannot survive the normal jealousy issues that need to be worked through.

Our rules are hard earned. They are based on mutual respect and honor for each person, with whatever emotional issues they may have. They require clear, precise and clearly stated desires and wishes. No one is permitted to just "give in," as that builds the foundation for resentment. A decision is to be consensus, one that each of us is comfortable with as an individual. No one is to be forced to do anything. ("There is no compulsion in Islam," said Mohammed.)

It is our love for one another that "makes" us want to do things for the family and one another. It is love that "makes" us want to accommodate one another. It is love that "makes" us comfortable with each person's weaknesses and problems. It is love that "makes" our family available for others to join us.

And it is easier to add the third than to join together as two in the first place. I suspect, given the solidity of our family, that we can accommodate more with ease. But I'll have to experience that to be sure.

Love & Blessings,
Black Eagle

Black Eagle