Three doesn’t have to be a crowd, even in a marriage.
Just ask Cathy Keen. Nine years into her relationship with husband Thomas, the Londoner decided to open up her marriage to a third person, a fashion designer named Nicole.
This wasn’t the couple’s first polyamorous rodeo. Cathy and Thomas, who describe themselves as ethically non-monogamous, had a string of other outside relationships in the past, but the one they shared with Nicole was the most enriching. (Nicole recently left the relationship to date someone else exclusively, though she still lives with the couple.)
“Opening up our marriage ― and seeing Nicole ― has galvanized our relationship,” Keen told HuffPost. “Monogamy is wonderful when you first meet someone, but we feel that relationships always change over time, and being open allows us to accommodate this.”
Below, Keen, who serves as the community and events manager for multi-partner dating app Feeld, tells us more about her marriage, including how the couple’s seven-year-old son reacted when Nicole moved in.
Why did you and Thomas decide to open up your marriage initially?
I’ve been with Thomas for nine years. We married in 2013. We both enjoyed focusing on one another in the early stages, but inevitably, we reached a point when we started to find other people attractive. After having our son, we continued conversations about this, and over time, it led us to opening the relationship.
How did the two of you meet Nicole? How did you know she was “the one” — or the second one, I suppose?
I met Nicole through work. I then introduced her to Thomas at an event we all attended and we ended up in a throuple relationship for a year.
There wasn’t a specific moment when we decided to open our marriage up to Nicole. She and Thomas were the only ones romantically involved at first, but when Nicole started spending weekends at our house, we started to get closer as a three. After a night out together, we got a little amorous and then that started to happen more frequently until we started doing most things together. A few months later, Nicole moved in.
What do you get from having a third person in the relationship that you wouldn’t get from just being a twosome? What did Nicole bring to your relationship?
For me, being in a relationship that involves another woman allows me to experiment with my queerness. Nicole identifies as bisexual and had dated other couples before us. For Thomas, he was more dominant in his relationship with Nicole and more submissive in his relationship with me. He enjoyed being able to have both experiences.
Having a third person also means everyone benefits from having another perspective — an objective viewpoint when it comes to decisions or any conflict that may arise. Each one of us became a mediator at different times in the relationship.
Finally, it sounds obvious, but another person makes looking after the house, chores and general life admin easier.
To what extent is a throuple relationship about sex?
Sex is a part of it, of course, but being able to share intimacy of all kinds with more than one person without feeling guilty is also an indulgent experience. Nicole brought out different sides of Thomas and me, both inside and outside of the bedroom, and allowed us to evolve beyond the people we are within our marriage.
We always experience tremendous personal growth when we get sexually and intimately close to others. It deepens your understanding of yourself and forces you to communicate with your partner or partners in a way a monogamous relationship never would.
How much of an issue — or nonissue — was jealousy in the relationship?
It wasn’t an issue at all, which was rare because we have all experienced jealousy in other relationships in the past with other partners.
I think it wasn’t an issue for us because we all identify as queer and have very similar outlooks and belief systems when it comes to sex and love. Plus, we are all very secure in ourselves as individuals and took care to communicate clearly with one another about our feelings and any needs that arose.
You have a 7-year-old son. How did you introduce him to Nicole? What was that conversation like?
We didn’t make a big deal out of introducing Nicole to our son. She was a friend from work so we just hung out together casually on the weekends. At first, she would stay for dinner most Saturdays and stay over till Sunday. In time, she became “Auntie Nicole.”
We had to explain that she was Thomas’ girlfriend after doing more public speaking about the relationship, and it was important that he heard it from us first. He said, “I know” and looked at us as if we were being silly for telling him something he already knew. Before the relationship broke down, both Thomas and I spoke about Nicole as our girlfriend in front of him and other friends and family members
Nicole and our son still have a very good relationship. He loves and respects her as a family member. She is great with him and supports him just like Thomas and I do, giving him advice with his homework or comfort if he wants a cuddle.
You said this wasn’t your first poly relationship. How did your family, especially your parents, respond when you initially let them in on this aspect of your personal life?
They struggled with the concept initially. Most of them believe that a “healthy” relationship is made up of one man and one woman who only have sex with each other.
Unfortunately, all of our parents are now divorced due to infidelity, poor communication or just stagnation, so they do understand our lifestyle choice. They recognize that ultimately we are committed to one another and our family unit.
There are still a couple of family members who judge us negatively, although they haven’t discussed their reasons with us. I think our approach potentially forces them to ask uncomfortable questions about their own relationships.
How much would you say compersion — the feeling of joy one gets from experiencing another’s joy — played a part in your relationship? Did it make you happy to see your partners together?
We have all experienced compersion. It was a shock the first time Thomas and I experienced it. We were at our first play party together. We both attended it expecting to have to compromise out of jealousy. Instead, we got the the most joy from watching each other having pleasurable experiences with others.
When and why did Nicole decide to leave the relationship? What is your living arrangement like now?
Nicole met a new partner at Christmas who identifies as monogamous. She is focusing on that relationship and left ours out of respect for her new partner.
Nicole still lives with us so we see each other all the time! We’ve lived together for approximately seven months.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions you come across from others about your lifestyle?
That we’re debauched sex addicts. Also, most hurtfully, that we’re unfit parents. Thomas, Nicole and I are the children of divorced monogamous parents. We all decided we wanted to try another way to do things. Our relationships prioritize open and honest communication and we believe this is a much healthier discourse to teach our son.
If you could give a piece of advice to a couple considering opening up their relationship — or someone considering dating a couple — what would it be?
Make sure that everyone is on the same page. Don’t get involved with someone who has to compromise themselves to “fit” into a poly/non-monogamous relationship. It never ends well.
Thomas told me his advice would be, “Be clear about any feelings that come up straight away. Being open doesn’t mean you have to feel cool about everything. You should always be honest if something doesn’t feel right for you.”
Do you have any regrets about opening your marriage up to Nicole? How has your marriage changed in the wake of the experience?
Absolutely no regrets. Our marriage has benefited from a year of incredibly tight and detailed communication! In hindsight, I’d say our experience was incredibly beautiful and transformative.