The psychology of trio friendships

We all know the phrase ‘three’s a crowd’, some of us a little too well: people constantly warn us that being in a group of three often ends in tears. Psych-She’s Chloe Evans aims to discover if there is any truth behind this myth, and whether trio friendships really can stand the test of time.

Scientific research conducted by the American Psychological Association states that strong friendships are ‘crucial for our wellbeing and longevity’- of course we all know that is true, but I’m sure we’ve all been in a fair few that hasn’t positively contributed towards our wellbeing.

As someone who spent much of her younger years entangled in groups of three, I feel that I’m well versed in the department. I’m not sure why I kept attracting them, but I just couldn’t seem to broaden my horizons. 

Even if I was in a larger group, I  was part of a trio within it and they were the best thing since sliced bread until one day, they weren’t. 

“While it is common to have more acquaintences, we typically have only a few close friends and one or two best friends,” says Dr Michele Leno, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert. 

“Trio’s are complex because we are usually closer to one or the other at different times.”

This was the main issue in my trio friendships- I would find that I did naturally feel closer to one person in the threesome and i was petrified of whichever one I felt closer to moving on to the other girl and deciding that I was going to become the third wheel. 

It felt like a criminal offence to make plans with just one member of the unit and I would go to great lengths to overcompensate, by stating bullshit reasons to justify why we needed to meet up as a duo, ensuring that the third member didn’t consider it a personal attack. 

But why is this the case? Surely, no matter how many besties made up the pack, we should never feel like we are treading on eggshells. 

This was the relisation that led me to the belief that maybe trio’s are the problem and not me. 

Dr Leno assured me that groups of three are not always a disaster, providing boundaries are set and everyone is on the same page. She also feels that individual personality traits can also play a huge part in someone’s ability to hack a trio. 

“Boundaries are usually established through action and consistency versus conversation,” she continues. Ideally, if one person was not invited to a plan, they would understand given the friendship’s history of not involving everyone all of the time.

“Personalities can make or break a trio. We tend to apply the ‘birds of a feather’ analogy to close groups of people, however it does not capture a complete picture. Sure, shared values are important, but some diversity can be healthy and necessary.”

Alice, 22, has been in a long-lasting trio since she was 12-years-old. She feels that the individual personalities of the members has contributed to its longevity. 

“No jealousy exists between us. We’re all in our own lane and we understand that people are probably going to split up into pairs, especially now that there is geographical distance between us, as one of the girls lives in Australia, 

“If we’re all in our hometown, we would never do things separately anyway and when we meet up, it’s just a given that it will be the three of us.”

“A sustainable trio thrives in similarities and differences, as there are unspoken agreements and little time devoted to any envy-based conflicts,” Dr Leno says. 

“It is understood that not everyone will be included in every conversation and this does not represent exclusion.” 

“Respect for the trio is essential. If one person repeatedly speaks badly about a friend of the trio, this is not a true trio. Trios have to maintain respect for one another and their bond.

From this I can gather that trio’s are more likely to succeed if (unlike me, oops) you would not be traumatised by being shoved on the airbed at a sleepover, or forced to sit on a rollercoaster alone. 

I seriously used to lie on the blow-up bed for hours, resisting falling asleep just in case one of them struck up a conversation about me. 

It is also important if you are the two girls drifting off into a deep slumber in the double bed (which is what they were doing every time because shock horror, I never actually caught them bitching about me) that you do your best to ensure that the third member doesn’t feel neglected. 

Trust that these people are your friends, whether it’s a group of three or 23: if you’re sitting reading this knowing you are in a long-lasting trio then fair play, maybe I am just the weakest link. 

But, just know that if there ever comes a day when jealousy starts to creep in, maybe too many cooks have spoiled the broth…

Expert insight: Dr Michele Leno

Dr. Michele Leno is the founder and owner of DML Psychological Services PLLC, where she provides life coaching for business executives and personal therapy services. Dr. Leno is a renowned expert in the field of psychology, having contributed to major media outlets