Boundary Advice From a Couple of Old-Timers
fer all of you who already know me from my posts/blogs, hello. for those that don't, i am elemental's wife. Both he and I have been loosely involved in different versions of poly for a lot of our adult lives. I have almost always been the hinge in a vee, sometimes being one of the arms. elemental's has been the secondary in an vee, sharing a woman with her husband, and has had secondary gfs. we have been together for over five years, married for two, and have opened up our relationship three times over the past couple of years - once to a MFF triad that lasted about eight months (mostly sexual), once to a quad (MFMF) that was friendship & sexual, and once very recently...... DUN DUN DUN.... to our first attempt at a true poly fi triad.
Well, that kind of exploded in our face after just a few short months. having had no experience around this, we found ourselves floundering in deep water, surrounded by sharks and poisonous jellyfish. We were Way Out of Our League. we found the boards, and started posting, and started talking to other poly peeps. One of these peeps happens to be my sister, who is a poly relationship with her (trans) man. They have been poly for over 28 years combined between the two of them, and had a LOT of wisdom and advice to share with us. I thought i'd share their thoughts here, as when I posted them on my blog i got a number of requests both public and private to move them into the discussion forum. So, here ya be (poly drumroll please.... poly meaning we can all love the beats together.... rrrrrrrrrrrroooollll.....)
From my blog:
feelin' battered and bruised, confused and out of myself, but still okay. had a wicked long talk with my sis and her partner (trans M) last night about poly, they both had a LOT of really interesting and helpful things to tell me. what i took away from my conversation with them (combined they've got over 28 years of poly experience) was pretty interesting. they come more from a place of non-monogamy than a lot of the poly that i've seen on this board, and their advice/approach actually REALLY resonated with me. these are their responses to our situation, and it comes from their experience, and some of their boundaries.
Here is what THEY told me that i should take away from our attempt at a poly-fi-triad. Take what you like from it - i found it really interesting.
Too many characters.... and so I continue....
1) boundaries need to come from within, not from outside. They need to serve the primary relationship, and in your heart, you have to make a choice to never put the sanctity of that primary relationship in jeopardy. you still need to make agreements about other relationships with your partner, but you have to make that commitment inside of yourself first.
2) hierarchy exists for a reason (this is probably going to cause a comment RIOT y'all, but i really identified with this). only a very, very few people can deal with poly without any hierarchy, and noobs have will run into some major shit trying to mirror that tiny percentile of relationships. primary. secondary. tertiary. there should never be the same levels of intimacy, spontaneity, time commitment, life commitment to a secondary/tertiary partner. they are different kinds of relationships. your primary relationship is sacred, and should be protected by both parties, as it is this primary relationship that allows all others to exist in the way that they do. the love starts in that primary relationship, and needs to be nurtured/protected by all partners involved, which leads us to point #3...
3) if you are with a secondary partner who doesn't respect the boundaries/hierarchy, move on. you do not want to be in a place where competition can exist for the core relationship in your life - it creates dramatic dynamics that are unnecessary and unhealthy for the primary relationship. avoid people with no boundaries, or who seem to want an equal status in relationship. equal love, yes. equal status/intensity of relationship, no.
4) don't spend too much time with a secondary (we were spending weeks at a time together). maybe don't even have sleepovers. Do what's necessary to separate the intensity of relationships, especially in the face of nre for at least 18 months. most relationships will not last this long even though they feel like they will at first. if and when they do, they are still secondary relationships, but because they are solid, should be taken more seriously and invested in by all parties more. until 18 months, assume most people are a little crazy, and be careful about who you allow into your love-biosphere.
5) keep things fair. don't go on fancy fabulous nights out with your lover and then just hang out with your primary and do laundry. don't compare your partners - they are not and should never feel like they are vying for your attention - love them each for who they are, and stop there.
6) be responsible to your partner. communicate. Be good to them. always treat them the way YOU want to be treated. Don't blame them when things go wrong, be compassionate and be there for them. men often are made out to be the cheaters/liars/assholes in society/movies/media, so be wary of that in my relationship, and never ostracize/overjudge elemental for making mistakes - he will do that himself, because he's a good man and is committed to me.
7) if it's too much work too early with a secondary/tertiary, walk away. you don't need to be doing primary relationship style communication with a secondary partner, certainly not in the beginning if ever.
8) even though you're controlling the speed (go slow) of the relationship, the time spent (quantified and controlled) together, you don't need to control feelings. because there are boundaries elsewhere, it will be easier for you to experience compersion for your partner (than when it's jammed up in your face for days on end).
9) in their (my sis & her partner's) poly life, they do not see any of their partners (they have more than one other lover/houseboy/etc) more than three times a month. dates, sex, no overnights. all protected, all the time (gloves, condoms, dams, etc) they have ultimate veto power. most of their lovers are in other cities.
10) slow it down. if it becomes uncomfortable, take a break. there is no rush. if a secondary isn't willing to give a primary relationship space when it's needed, don't pursue it (see number 2) - their respect is really important for all three relationships to be okay.
11) it took a long time to find your primary partner. assume it's going to take an appropriate investment of time/energy to find an equally awesome secondary partner. real relationships that will serve you for a long time don't occur during nre, they happen after nre. getting through that time period of 18 months is a minimum before assuming you should get serious.
So there you have it. I know everyone on this board has their own approach, and that some of the most avid posters are all for working towards no boundaries - that's awesome, for people who have been poly for years, and have decided that's what works for them. don't assume that you are expected to be the same.
I am the LONGEST POSTER IN THE WORLD
Part three.... just in case your computer monitor wasn't starting to burn your retinas yet.... LOL.
To me..... it's like how you'll go to your first yoga class where a teacher will ask you to close your eyes so you can't see what anyone else is doing, and just listen to your OWN body. It's just like that right now in my life. being aware of what makes ME unique in poly, what is comfortable for me & my partner(s), what is uncomfortable and is unreasonable to expect of myself/others. It's about moving at a pace that is comfortable for everyone, and realizing that poly isn't an excuse to behave as though it's fuckin' Love Anarchy for everyone. It's about respect, honesty, having open eyes as well as an open heart, and being cautious, because this world is fuckin' full of crazy people as WELL as good people, and you just can't go throwin' your doors open for the first person you feel nre for.
Lessons. Learned. And that's all i can really ask o' life. now time to regroup, recoup, and head in for another go in a few months when i'm feeling clear and centred again. in the face of adversity, there is only one option, evolve, grow and find a new way of being.
(BP, you might want to edit your second post- everything's listed twice!)
I'm completely in agreement with pretty much all of that. I wouldn't agree to all of #9 or the first part of #4, though. Only 3x a month and NO overnights?!? If they're talking only 3x a month of one-on-one time, then maybe. I'd still like an overnight every month or two. But after over 2 years since we started dating, and almost all of that LDR, I want to spend TIME with TGIB! That's one of the reasons I'm SO glad that MC and TGIB have their own friendship- there's nothing awkward or uncomfortable about all of us hanging out together. We'd do that anyway, just as friends, and it's an extra bonus that I happen to be in love with both of them as well. But we're all aware that there's a need to be careful- I shouldn't be spending MORE time with TGIB than I am with MC or my kids. For every "private time" date I have with TGIB, I should have at least one with MC as well.
As far as the "comment riot" for #2 goes, I think my commitment to my primary relationship is WHY MC can be mono himself yet so secure regarding my poly-ness. He knows I'm not leaving him or abandoning the kids. He knows I'll do what I need to do to make sure my marriage and my family are as healthy as possible. And TGIB knows it too, but he also knows that doesn't mean I love him any less. Some people use "hierarchy" like it's a dirty word, but really, it's just a guideline. As was said in another thread, having a relationship hierarchy isn't going to MAKE people be jerks any more than NOT having a hierarchy is going to make them NOT be jerks. MC being my primary doesn't mean that if TGIB is having a bad day I have to stop being there for him to go make MC a sandwich. It means that if they're BOTH having bad days I'll check-in with MC first and see what he needs before I do the same for TGIB, and they'll both respect that I'll go wherever I feel the need is greatest. "Primary" or "central" doesn't ALWAYS equal "first". And eventually, I'd LOVE for TGIB to be a co-primary, but for now while we're raising our families (TGIB has kids also, with his ex) it's not practical.
Honestly, I read about all those rules on your blog and I was like "Wow, that's kind of the complete opposite to what we do." Even though I can't argue with their points (what works simply works, you can't argue with success, can you?) I have to say that I would feel suffocated by all those restrictions. It's like keeping a tally sheet all the time at hand, checking if you are doing things in the right order, to the right extend, with the right person. It would put me under pressure and I would have the feeling that I need to restrict my emotional expressions to the realm where they are allowed to be expressed due to the regulation that are there for the 'different' relationships I got. Gives me goosebumps.
From what I experienced boundaries arise as the relationship develop, without us setting up regulations or expectations beforehand. If there is a problem, we talk about it, if someone isn't feeling comfortable with something, we talk about it, if there is the need to change something, we ... you get what I mean. I would always regard every relationship as equal in importance. But that may be due to the way I am able to 'do' relationships.
But as I said, if it works and all involved are on the same page, it may be comfortable for those living these rules. I wouldn't be one to live up to that and feeling at home with it. But that's simply due to the fact, that I don't think I would be able to have something that could be called a secondary relationship, I can't do relationships differently, they are on the same page in my case. Maybe that is weird as well.
Thanks for sharing, BP. Good food for thought.
In my secondary relationship with my gf we've managed to get by with almost no explicit rules, just talking and negotiating as we go along. I have a very hard time with the list above, it makes me upset, and I'm trying to figure out why when the fact is that in many/most cases my relationship actually de facto follows these rules.
For instance, Gia doesn't come over to my place for sleepovers for lots of reasons, primarily because it's so important to her to be with her husband and baby at night. We may see each other more than three times a month socially but not for dates by any means because she simply doesn't have the energy/time, and it would be a stretch for me too for that matter. Eric may not have explicit veto power but if he asked Gia to end it with me I can only imagine she would, though she'd be torn up and angry.
So, why get upset over rules that mirror my own life?? I think because the rules would make me, as the person outside the sacred primary couple, seem like a threat, something that must be protected against at all costs.
As it is now, we may not do sleepovers at my place but if I really really wanted that and Bee was a bit older, Gia would talk to Eric about it and indulge me every now and then... she's told me this, but it's not something I've ever felt the need to press for. It somehow means so much to me to know that while she's never slept at my place it's because it hasn't made sense when stacking up the needs of all involved and that doesn't mean she wouldn't or couldn't. There is nothing about a very occasional night at my place that would hurt her marriage, y'know? And maybe, at some point, it's something that will feel like a need to me, and I'll know I can ask without trying to get her to be a rule-breaker.
Likewise with the number of dates and the veto power. Only scheduling a certain number of dates because that's what makes sense for us all feels good and right and reasonable, whereas imagining that we're only doing a certain number of dates because more time with me would be verboten makes me feel like I'm somehow bad or dangerous. And even though I myself would certainly break it off with Gia if I knew Eric couldn't deal, the thought of him saying "Oh yeah, our rule is that when I say it's done it's done" and her nodding in agreement just makes me sick... I think it would somehow make me feel like this love that I have with Gia, which is so special to me, ultimately means nothing at all. I dunno, is that crazy?
It's a funny thing, how much the way something is structured or defined can make all the difference. For instance, it's important to me that our relationship is "descriptive" hierarchy ( as in, we're not building a life together and probably never will, so this definition fits us) versus "prescriptive" hierarchy (as in, we are never allowed to move towards building a life together, because this definition limits us). Semantics, and yet it makes this work for me. Why do I need to leave the possibility of co-primacy out there even as I acknowledge that it is very unlikely, even as I'm not interested in pushing for it? Is it a need for self-delusion? Sometimes I think it might be, but most of the time I come to the conclusion that being told in advance "you may grow this far and no farther" just isn't something I can live with.
Also, I'm curious what the "primary relationship style communication" is, the thing that's not supposed to need to happen early or ever in secondary relationships? My gf and I have had some pretty damn heavy talks scattered throughout the last two years and it's kept us going. We don't do it all the time by any means... is that the difference, or is it just never supposed to get heavy at all? If the latter, well... if a partner EVER said to me something that sounded like "We don't need to have this serious talk because our relationship isn't serious" I think I would walk away immediately and not look back.
I think some items make sense in a practical way, such as #5, #6 (though I would apply that to everyone I'm involved with, not just one special person), and #11 - I agree that it's a good, practical idea to give it 18 months before considering it serious enough to do something like move in together (although I would make it more approximate than a rigid fixed amount of time). But, personally, although I am all for honoring the place a partner's spouse or SO has in their life -- if I met someone who told me they had these rules between them, I'd say, "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!" and run screaming in the opposite direction.
IMHO, a partnered couple simply cannot pretend that their dynamic together is unchanged, and must remain unchanged, when they engage in additional relationships. It sounds like these couple-centric rules would work only for having NSA sex partners, and not for cultivating multiple loving, caring relationships. This list gives me the impression of monogamy with extra people as hobbies. But all my love relationships are sacred, in their own unique ways, and I don't want to feel like I'm a satellite orbiting around the all-important pair at the center of their universe, to be acknowledged, used, and discarded only in deference to their contract together. It is insulting to me as a person, a flesh-and-blood human being with my own desires and needs. I won't be in a DADT situation either, for that reason.
Certainly, issues of time management are important, especially if one is involved with someone who has a family, but I'm older so that's not a big issue with most of the men I would date (they either aren't parents, or are divorced and their kids are on their own or living with the ex). But beyond safer sex boundaries, negotiating a fair amount of time to spend together, and accommodating schedules in a reasonable way, I will not give of my heart, mind, and body to someone who would allow their partner to dictate how he could be in relationship with me, and how much I am allowed to involve myself with him. I want to be with someone who has a strong enough foundation in his marriage or partnership, and a sense of maturity and autonomy, so that he doesn't need permission (like asking mommy) to love me and spend time with me. No metamours will be in control of my relationships!
I feel strongly that anyone who embraces polyamory is responsible for the health and integrity of all their loving relationships. And that responsibility can be expressed in different ways, at different paces, and varying levels of intensity, naturally. Of course, if it's a casual fling, that's something else - woohoo! But for me it can't work, for the long-term and when the heart is involved, if it isn't just as important to my guy to consider my feelings, needs, and goals, as it is to consider his primary partner's, though of course our needs will naturally be different. I couldn't be with someone who thinks they can map it all out in advance, without making room for the unexpected consequences of loving another, or the ability and willingness to deal with such. I couldn't be with someone who has these kinds of rules with their spouse or primary partner because... I matter. And I have enough self-esteem to know that I couldn't be with someone who would treat me like I don't matter.
Had a quick thought about the phrase "your primary relationship is sacred"... shouldn't all loving relationships... not crushes or lusts or experimental flings but real, deep love, the kind that's been built by the mutual expenditure of effort and time, where we know each other inside and out and are willing to accept what we find, and make a practice of giving of ourselves for the other person... be sacred?
Also, just happened to check my livejournal feed and found this post from yesterday by Franklin Veaux on the subject of relationship rules: http://tacit.livejournal.com/372954.html
Why are people calling these "rules"?? I took them as "understandings" between people in a relationship, and for some of them just a smart, decent way of doing relationships in general.
If I reworded #1 as "All the rules in the world won't matter if you're not committed to respecting your partner by not crossing agreed-upon boundaries without prior discussion" would anyone have a problem with it?
Or #6. I don't even have to reword that one much: "Respect your partner, communicate, act with kindness and compassion". How is that a bad thing??
#2: "Don't put up with a partner who disrespects you/your relationships/your other commitments" Haven't there been TONS of threads around here about standing up for what's important to you in a relationship and not letting another person dictate the terms? Isn't this alluding to that??
I think perhaps there's too much focus on the restrictive aspects of these statements and not enough on the meaning behind them
Annabel, what you said about "primary relationship communication" gave MC pause also, and he and I talked about it. I took the "if ever" as "depending on the type of secondary relationship" because there ARE differences. There's differences between the secondary you only talk to once or twice a week and the one who's only a shared bank account away from being a co-primary. And yes, I agree with what you said about "sacred". It's not a word I'd use for myself much, but I took the point to be "remember that you don't get to put your primary relationship aside for the fun of a new one, just because you've been together so long and know each other so well". There may be an awful lot of people who treat secondaries shoddily in favor of a primary, but there's a lot of people who treat their primaries poorly in favor of a secondary as well. I'm probably seeing the more positive aspects because those speak to the way I "practice" poly, while others might see the negative sides more because of their own experiences.
Hierarchy is NOT a dirty word!
thatgirl: caught that when i was giving it a last go-over, think i took care of the double post.
re: 2x3 times a year: you gotta keep in mind that they travel extensively, and have multiple partners/houseboys/etc, so they don't have time for more than a couple of times a month. this keeps them from glomming onto someone during nre as well. i once had a lover that i would only see a couple of times a year and haven't been sexual in almost a decade, he was/is a huge love in my life.
your boundaries resonate with me as well - i like that it developed slowly and over time - makes sense that you'd be careful not to step on anyone's toes even though you're seeing lots of each other, and that boundaries would relax over time, too. i could see myself having similar feelings about that, but ask me once we've re-entered poly and hit the 18 month mark LOL.
phy: that's totally cool, totally respect that. lots o' ways to do poly/open relationships/non-monogamy. i think it's all about finding what works for each person, and making sure everyone feels happy in poly. it's about more love, not about more pain! glad you know what works for ya, that's awesome. i also have to say that it's really cool to see you on the opposite side of the fence, but not slagging someone else's approach - that's so awesome.
annabel: from what i've read, your partners don't seem to consider you to be disposable, but i can see how parallels would freak you out a bit - i don't think it's the same sich at all, but that's jes' me. the peeps that are dating my sis/her partner are comfortable with this structure for sure - i guess it's all about finding the partners that work for you, and i think you have, as they have, no? it's not about considering secondary partners 'bad' or 'dangerous' it's just about the structure that works best for them. this doesn't mean they don't love/respect the people that they're with, it's just living their truth, honestly and openly. they don't offer up more than they're willing to give, they never take more than they've agreed to receive. love wise, no limits, friendships with eachother's partners, heck yes, but time & energy are limited, so they've set limits that work fer them. do you have your own primary partner? if not, do you think that would change the dynamic of your concerns? and if not, do you think that you need more commitment/security from eric and gia because of that? don't mean to stir shit up, jes' curious.
nycindie: y'all wouldn't date each other, that's for sure LOL! lucky for all of us, the poly universe has lots o' stars that all shine in different ways, huh?
they're not dictating anything to each other from what i can tell - they are super high functioning incredible queer/trans peeps who have created a life together that they love, and that their 'orbiting' (LOL!) partners' love to share in. it's got nothing to do with low self esteem - from what i know of them, and their partners both past and present, they're all confident, happy, successful people who happen to like loving/having sex/having dates/connecting with lots of people. agreeing on structure doesn't mean they're somehow kowtowing to a mommy power - they're incredibly equal and powerful people, but they have agreed on shit, and chosen peeps who are cool with that. jes' getting clear: does that mean that you think that their secondaries don't matter or don't love themselves in some way?
you seem to really have found what works for you, and makes you happy, and have some pretty developed/firm opinions too - looked for your blog, but didn't see one, and my interest is peaked! Do you participate in having a primary partner? If so, how long have you two been together/were together, and what rules do the two of you share?
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