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Do friendship trios really work?

Is it even possible to have a successful, loving, equally balanced, well adjusted, healthy group of three?

Yes, and we know this because there's evidence everywhere. We all know women who share this kind of friend dynamic, and they are walking, living testimonies to how it is possible to enjoy a strong platonic triad.

But there are three things that need to be in place for a friendship trio to function in a healthy way.

First, let's explore the reasons why we congregate the way we do.

There's a ton of research that suggests that male and female friendships are a little bit different. The way that we congregate looks different as well. Women tend to be dyadic, meaning most of their friendships are one to one. I want to share with you research by Sebastian Ockler. This was featured in a piece on Psychology Today a few years ago, and he outlined the most common friend dynamics. More than 50% of people he found congregate as a pair.

How many friends do people gather with?

The number of people goes up in the group. The frequency or the number of people who do it goes down.

  • 18% of people reported spending time in a trio

  • 9% of people reported spending time in a group of four

  • 4% as a group of five

  • so on and so forth.

So if so many of us tend to form a default relationship or friendship, rather in a pair, then does it mean that it takes something special, something different, a new intention, to have a healthy, balanced group of three? And I think the answer is yes, but we tend to default to the pair because, one, logistically, it's easier when it comes to coordinating time to hang out together, which is a key ingredient of becoming friends, is the amount of time invested together. It's easier to say, hey, can you meet up right now? And for that person to be like, yeah, let's go, as opposed to coordinating multiple calls with multiple people. So, one, it's just logistically easier to arrange. Two, it's easier to create a sense of reciprocity, even if it's something as fundamental as conversation.

I know that I talk and then you talk, and then I talk. So it's easier to kind of strike that balance and to identify times when things are out of whack, right? Because it's this easy scale to monitor, and we can see when these differences in reciprocity tend to emerge. And then finally, there's less of a chance of us feeling any kind of social exclusion because it's just me and you. But yet, once you throw in that other person, yeah, we've got to work and give a little more effort to make sure there's a sense of balance that's now kind of spread out and distributed evenly among the trio. When it comes to having a friendship group of three, there are so many advantages. You feel like you're getting twice the love. You've got two people to love on you, right? And it feels like love multiplied. So that's always a good thing.

Again, logistically, it's sometimes easier to be like, can you hang out? No, you're not free. Okay, well, then this person's free, so someone's always available to hang out, which feels kind of nice. And then there's always, like, a peacemaker. If you're having a falling out with one of the people in the trio. I'm Person A, Person B, we have kind of like an issue. Maybe person C tries their best to remain neutral and help facilitate reconciliation between us.

In fact, in my upcoming book, tentatively titled Fighting For Our Friendships, which should be in bookstores near you in May 2024, in chapter three, I spent some time looking at these dynamics and why, if we are forming our relationships in these dyads, we're almost more susceptible to having tension when we don't have a third person to help mediate reconciliation.

So even though these friendship trios offer a lot of strength and support and security, they're not without their disadvantages.

Here is how you can keep your friendship trio strong, even in the midst of misunderstandings and tendencies that sometimes pose a threat to your unity.

First, you need to have friends outside of the friendship trio.

The first thing is this, you have to have friends outside of the friendship trio. I have noticed greater emotional distress for women who have a friendship trio. And let's say two friends get together without her, and then she's wondering what to do, right? She is on the brink of a mental collapse because there's no one to turn to for her thing, and she doesn't know how to interpret these two hanging out without her.

But it helps when you have a variety of friends that you have a diverse and varied portfolio of friendships, and not necessarily to use people or to use them as placeholders or anything like that. We're not minimizing the value that they have or the purpose that they serve in our lives. And even if you find that you're closer to your friendship trio, that's great.

But who else do you have in your life to offer emotional support, to do things with socially, to talk to? It's important to kind of have a more expansive network, and it's easier to sustain a friendship trio without the pressures sometimes that are on them to always be equally available and balanced for each other at all the times.

If you have it also buffered by the presence of these other existing friendships, you also need to have a secure attachment style I'm no psychologist or mental health expert, but I interview many of them for my podcast, the Friend Forward podcast, and I share those insights here.

Each friend needs to have a secure attachment style.

Having a secure attachment style means that you are secure in your self worth and you are confident with who you are as a person. You know what you offer in a friendship, and you also believe that others can be trusted to give you that love. You are less likely to fret about the fact that two friends hung out without you, that they're texting perhaps without you, that maybe you weren't included in a particular text exchange because your assumption in that moment is not they're conspiring against me, they're trying to leave me out.

I'm losing my place, I'm losing my footing, I'm losing my ground in this dynamic. If the two of them get together without me... those kinds of reactions is going to leave you more fragile and chaotic and insecure than if your default assumption is, oh, they must have been in the same neighborhood and grabbed coffee together.

This does not make you naive. It just means your default assumption is not one of paranoia or feeling threatened that your attachment to this group is going to be negatively impacted. To put it plainly, I often wonder if trios are possible for people who are really far removed from a reasonable, secure attachment style, because there are going to be times when there's a conversation that happens without you or right in front of you, but they're talking about something that you can't really totally integrate yourself in, and so you just kind of listen and you even delight in them having a moment together that you don't necessarily have to always be a participant in.

Maybe they're bonding over something like a recent shared experience, a breakup, becoming new moms. Maybe they're having certain life experiences and milestones that allow them to be closer in this moment or this season of their life? And the question becomes, are you able to allow that to happen without spiraling, without questioning your entire role in this friendship dynamic? Are you okay with the fact that maybe they'll always be a little bit closer because they share a 15 year history and you're more of the newbie? Are you okay with that?

If they still show up for you, if they are still loving on you, supporting you, listening when you need someone to vent to affirming you, if all of that is still happening, Then does it matter that they might be a few degrees closer together than they are with you? If you're still finding value in the relationship? I'm going to let you think on that for a second. If you don't assume the worst and you feel confident with yourself, it's easier to be in a friendship trio, at least a healthy one, without losing your mind.

Everyone must prioritize the needs of the trio.

One harsh reality is it is not possible for everyone to be perfectly equally balanced at all times. It's just not possible.

But with that reality, are you also dedicated and committed to making sure everyone feels equally seen, even though perfection in balance is not possible, are we willing to do what we can to make sure that we do our best to achieve it? So I'm doing things intentionally to make sure. I'm checking on both. I'm doing things to facilitate moments and experiences and connection between all of us, both as a group and individually. So if we're spending some one on one time, I might think, you know what? Let's all go to the beach next Saturday. We haven't hung out as the three of us in a while, so I'm putting the friend group at the forefront and making sure we're all good.

Now, this doesn't just include hangouts, because I know some of us get really obsessed with, oh, they're spending more one on one time than the group. Okay, so not just hangouts, but am I affirming them equally? Am I supporting their union when they're on the outs? And I'm going to fuss a little bit because I've seen some of us who are maybe in a trio, but when two have a falling out, are you working to make sure they come back together? Or when you talk to each one one on one, you're saying things that are not conducive to reconciliation.

During time when two friends are fighting, your role is to be a peacemaker trying to recover the full group dynamic. No one should be secretly thrilled by the splintering, not wanting to bring them together? I think those are personal questions that as individuals, we all have to kind of sit with and be honest with ourselves with.

Because if that's the case, I don't think you need to be in a friendship trio.

You want to feel like each person's number one, but not allowing them to feel like number ones with each other. And there's any sense of feeling a need to compete to make sure you're always the favorite. If there's any of that, I don't think that friendship trios would even be a healthy thing for you to enter into.

So ultimately the message here is that, yes, healthy friendship trios are possible.


Surely you have thoughts on the matter. So feel free to visit us on Instagram @friendforward of book a friendship coaching session with friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson.

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