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-   -   Primary/Secondary: Merged Threads, General Discussion / Debate (http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2312)

ladyjools 01-19-2010 01:11 AM

Primary/Secondary: Merged Threads, General Discussion / Debate
Personally, I do not use these labels in regards to my own relationships. However that does not mean that I believe it’s wrong to do so or that I cannot see the advantages of having that kind of structure in a polyamorous set up.

When I first entered into polyamory we discussed this mode of being but I felt that at the time OUR reasons for wanting to be the primary relationship and all others secondary where more because of our insecurity’s rather than any practical or other rational reason. When we deliberated around the issue more we decided to drop these labels completely and let each relationship develop organically and in its own unique way. I felt strongly that I wanted to be free to allow love to nurture without restraint and so if that meant I ended up with 2 or 3 people in my life that I was completely committed too I would be happy with that and if my other relationships developed in a way that was more informal as long as it felt right that was ok too. The main and only restriction I have is time because there are only so many hours in the day to devote myself to my many lovers.

Starting out in polyamory there is often a lot of insecurity. Being polyamorous does not mean that we are immune to the same jealousy and insecurity that monogamous people often struggle with. An example of one of those insecurities is often the fear that you’re partner will like or love the other person more or that they are better or will become more important than you. Having the concept of I am the primary partner and therefore I am more important and my needs will always come first can often be a way of containing this insecurity. That is one way to deal with it but I felt that there must be another way rather than just contain the issue I wanted to get to the root of it and so there was a lot of talking and reassuring and gradually we where able to find other ways to deal with these feelings. Yes they do still come up. I am the first to confess I do get jealous. However rather than feel the need to start putting labels and restrictions on my partners other relationships I have decided to keep working at our relationship and making it stronger so that I can not just let go of those feelings but learn something from them.

The fact is the in polyamory the primary/secondary label is not about who is more important or loved. It isn’t about who will always come first it is just about the dynamic of the relationship. For example a married couple with children might define there relationship as primary because they live together and are raising a child together. Perhaps the husband has a girlfriend who does not live with them and who does not have the same commitments. That does not mean that the girlfriend is of any less value even though she may be classed in that dynamic as being the secondary partner.

I can see how in this situation the primary secondary label could apply. I see no problems with this at all as long as the secondary partner is respected and valued in her own right.

Other reasons one might use the secondary label;
• Not having enough time to dedicate to the relationship to meet enough needs to warrant it a primary relationship

(In this instance sometimes it might seem fair too the secondary partner to be open about what is expected in the relationship so that they can make an informed choice if they feel that there needs can be met in this dynamic and using the primary/secondary structure is one way of doing this)

• The relationship being long distance
• Wanting a different level of relationship that will not involve the commitment and other issues that would usually arise from having a primary relationship
• All party’s being happy to keep the relationship only on a casual level

(There are some relationships that work best on this level and can be extremely fulfilling for the people involved)

I could add more but these are the main ones.

I can see in all these circumstances why those labels can and do exist.

I will continue for the time being not to use these labels because I feel like it is far too easy to fall into the drawbacks. I want all 3 of my partners to know that they are equally important to me no matter what the unique circumstances of our relationships. Nobody’s needs come first and nobody comes second in each situation that arises I simply look at what is best for us in that situation. Sometimes one might need me around more and that is perfectly ok as long as they understand and respect my commitments and love for the other 2. Nobody has veto power to end any of my other relationships and likewise I will never accept or want veto power over any of my lover’s relationships. (This however is a whole new topic)

It would be interesting to see what other peoples opinion is on this subject and find out what you do or would do in your situations. I hope this is at least some food for thought.


booklady78 01-19-2010 02:25 AM

I couldn't agree more with you! Being rather new to this, insecurity and jealousy are still areas we are working on. I view my husband is my primary, he is the one that I have made a commitment to. I have felt that, in time, I will feel the same level of commitment to my boyfriend. We have been together for about 6 months and are still growing and learning about each other, we are certainly dedicated to our relationship now and talk alot about 'right now'. It is awkward to discuss our future sometimes, he can never be my 'husband' in the same way and he is ok with that.

I believe that labels of 'primary' and 'secondary' can be helpful in addressing initial insecurities, but in my case at least, over time they will fade from our vocabulary. Those terms imply an almost 'mathmatical' way of looking at a relationship, that seems rather cold and clinical. Primary implies 'majority' and I don't believe that's indicitive of the love and respect needed for any relationship.

LovingRadiance 01-19-2010 02:27 AM

I don't care for labels in general-and have no liking for those specifically (in my life).

For much the same reason you lay out-about it "hiding" an insecurity.

I love both Maca and GG deeply, passionately and am committed to both of them.
They are both intricately woven into my life, my heart, my soul. To remove either would be destructive.
Therefore-they are both "primary".

The fact that one is my husband and the other is my boyfriend doesn't make the boyfriend secondary (we do all live together, raising the kids).

In fact-it's annoying to me in MANY ways and in many instances to refer to GG as my "boyfriend" because it DOES NOT explain the depth of our relationship or our commitment. But I don't see any current resolution to that issue.

ladyjools 01-19-2010 02:36 PM

part of the reason i will never marry in the traditional legal sense is because i don't want tht inbalance and so if i ever do decide to have some kind of wedding it won't be legal it will be more spiritual and i will commit myself to them both,
far of in future though


Ceoli 01-19-2010 02:47 PM

AMEN, ladyjools. Those terms can be pretty prescriptive and confining for me.

Lately I've preferred to use terms that are more descriptive than hierarchical, like SO (significant other), lover, sweetie, etc. I've always been dissatisfied with relationships that lay out my role ahead of time. I've been very lucky to have the chance to explore a relationship that is about what's right for both of us and for the other partners, not what's right for the structure.

GroundedSpirit 01-19-2010 09:05 PM

Hi Jools,

Yea, I'm one who dislikes labels too except for the most simplistic of concepts and as we all know there's nothing remotely simple about the whole poly equation.
And I often wonder if some of the grabbing at labels isn't just the mechanism some people are trying to use to get some type of handle on this complexity. It's kind of reminiscent of the way people build value systems. In a complex world we need some tool to guide us to make quick, shoot-from-the-hip decisions when we don't have time for a proper analysis.
The "secondary" term I see as being absolutely applicable in SOME situations/times (as Booklady explained) and not in others. The fact that it carries a negative tone is unfortunate - but education CAN overcome that.
It kind of reminds me of a term I've heard a lot - "3rd wheel". Arrgghhhhh
How many times have I heard people say "I'm not being anyone's 3rd wheel" ! Have you guys heard that ? It's so negative ! That 3rd wheel is a critical component of a tricycle !

But in any case - it "seems" to me that the full & equal role of everyone in a relationship is kind of the holy grail that everyone would strive for - IF the conditions permitted. But sometimes they don't and someone plays a "secondary" role. But like the tricycle, that role can be critical and not to be demonized.


mez 01-19-2010 10:19 PM

Labels work good on food BUT do we want to assign labels to ourselves and other people? How do you label someone who is in flux.
Habits, behaviour thoughts feelings and ideas are in constant movement and interconnecting in people minds What someone thought even 5 minutes ago may have become drastically altered.

Labels like ideology that I have suggested in another thread are dangerous. They are a by product of fear of 'the others' , the different to be fought, to be cast out. They suggest dogmatism and are a product themselves of ideology.

Derbylicious 01-19-2010 10:30 PM

I don't know if the lables are a good idea in the long term, but when starting up a new relationship when you already have an established relationship(s) it can be a good idea to use the labels so that everyone has the same understanding of what's going on.

This isn't to say that the primary/secondary relationship structure is written in stone but it does allow for a starting point from which the relationships can grow and develop.


Ceoli 01-19-2010 10:32 PM


Originally Posted by Derbylicious (Post 20435)
I don't know if the lables are a good idea in the long term, but when starting up a new relationship when you already have an established relationship(s) it can be a good idea to use the labels so that everyone has the same understanding of what's going on.

This isn't to say that the primary/secondary relationship structure is written in stone but it does allow for a starting point from which the relationships can grow and develop.


I think that if I needed a label to understand what's going on in my relationships, I would re-examine my understanding of my relationships in general.

Derbylicious 01-19-2010 10:34 PM

Ok...not what I meant. I was trying to say that the labels have definitions that come along with them that can make expectations of the people involved in the relationship clearer to everyone.

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