So many relationship terms have become more popular and talked about, such as “gaslighting” and “sharking.” And while that’s great, it can be hard to keep up with what they all mean.

A “love triangle” is one of those examples. What does it mean, exactly? How does it differ from a “throuple” or “threesome”? And is it healthy or unhealthy? A relationship expert weighs in.

A love triangle, defined

“A love triangle is a relationship of a romantic nature that involves at least three people,” said Natalie Maximets, a certified life transformation and relationship coach, author, and freelance writer at OnlineDivorce.com. “A classic scenario often found in films is when two friends are in love with the same girl, and she reciprocates both (or can’t choose one).”

She explained the key is reciprocity. “For example, it is not a love triangle if you are secretly in love with your girlfriend’s boyfriend, but you don’t give him your attention, and he doesn’t show it to you,” she said. “A love triangle is characterized by the involvement of all three parties, where one is the link.”

A “throuple,” a type of polyamorous relationship, is different in that all three people are in the relationship together, sharing mutual love. There’s no “competition” involved. The same goes for threesomes, though they usually entail sex.

Sound familiar?

Speaking of movies with love triangles, many popular titles feature them. “The love triangle is highly romanticized in books and on television,” Maximets said. “Bella, Edward, and Jacob in ‘Twilight;’ Katniss, Peeta, and Gale in ‘The Hunger Games.’ Juliet, Peter, and Mark from ‘Love Actually.’ All of them are shown as sweet relationships in which two strong and handsome men claim the heart of a beauty.”

But don’t be fooled…

Love triangles aren’t as cute IRL as they are in movies. In fact, they can be downright unhealthy.

“These images are far from reality,” Maximets said. “In normal life, a love triangle causes suffering. While in a relationship, many people hide the third person, and when the truth comes out, it hurts everyone involved.”

She explained the middle person’s indecision can cause tension and even fear, the latter of which is especially strong if someone is cheating. Additionally, love triangles can leave partners feeling drained and depressed.

A breakup often ensues. “It is not uncommon for a third party to desire her lover to break up with their partner,” Maximets said. “This is especially true for lovers who enter a relationship with a married person, hoping for divorce.”

So why are love triangles so romanticized in pop culture? “Films do not show the truth. They show what the viewer wants to see,” Maximets explained. “And a relationship in which you are taken care of, supported, and shown love is what so many people lack.”

Healthy vs. unhealthy love triangles

Maximets believes love triangles are often unhealthy. Examples of this are when partners try to fill a void in the relationship with another person or when one partner agrees to a third despite being uncomfortable with that.

However, Maximets argues there are exceptions. “When you have so much inner love that you give yourself and are willing to share it with the world, this is a healthy relationship,” she said. “A healthy love triangle occurs when all three partners know about each other and agree to this type of relationship.”

Overall, she encourages partners to communicate their comfort levels. “If you are offered an experience that you do not find pleasant, attractive, or interesting, you should not agree to it just to please your partner.”

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