Polyamory.com Forum  

Go Back   Polyamory.com Forum > Polyamory > General Poly Discussions

Notices

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 04-05-2014, 01:22 PM
AggieSez AggieSez is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 46
Default Ethical issues in nonprimary relationships: input needed for poly conference

What ethical issues arise in your nonprimary relationships? (You know, the ones that don't involve or aren't heading toward sharing a household or finances, strong public presentation as a "couple" or larger unit which "always comes first" or other explicit or implicit hierarchy, etc.)

At Rocky Mountain Poly Living in the Denver area later this month, I'm leading a session on ethics in nonprimary poly relationships. And I'd like input about which issues to address.

So: which issues in your own nonprimary relationships (whether you're a partner or a metamour) have called upon or challenged your personal ethics? How did you and the others involved in that situation handle it? What did you do, or wish you'd done, and why?

======

My session synopsis:

How “ethical” is your ethical non monogamy, really? In polyamory, non-primary relationships tend to be where some of the most challenging ethical issues play out. Typically, primary-style relationships include hallmarks such as substantial pooling of resources and/or assumptions that this relationship should “always come first” — while non-primary-style relationships typically comprise everything else. Which values do you believe should guide your life overall? How well do the decisions and actions you make in your non-primary relationships match up with your values? If you believe every person deserves full respect and consideration in their intimate relationships, are you really treating all of your partners that way — and are you being treated that way in your non-primary relationships? How do you balance autonomy and dependence in relationships? Can hierarchy or couple privilege be ethical? What if you’re solo poly, and the only relationships you have (or perhaps want) are non-primary? How well does the culture of your poly community reflect your personal values and ethics?
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 04-05-2014, 05:02 PM
PolyinPractice PolyinPractice is offline
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 487
Default

I am very happy with my primary partner; but do hope someday to have multiple primaries.

He and I honestly have no interest in bringing anyone into our poly group who doesn't want a primary style relationship (i.e. wants to be part of our family and build a life together). What that means for the individual relationships varies, but, ultimately, everyone is living and creating together. And, of course, those relationships start out as secondary, or less committed.

As long as you don't restrict anyone's ability to further a relationship, romantically or sexually (safe sex is an acceptable restriction), I don't think there is anything unethical about having primaries/secondaries.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 04-05-2014, 07:05 PM
JaneQSmythe JaneQSmythe is online now
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Pennsyl-tucky
Posts: 1,056
Default

For me, if I am going to allow myself to be in a "relationship" with someone then it needs to be free to develop to whatever level it does. There is no set "maximum" (or defined "minimum" for that matter, it is what it is). Every relationship has the potential to evolve into "co-primary" if that's where it leads - a process that, to me, evolves over time. (i.e. you don't start a relationship by defining it as co-primary, just like I didn't marry my husband the day after I met him - relationships need time and space to grow and evolve).

In terms of practical realities OUTSIDE of the house - we do maintain fictions that facilitate smooth social interaction with people that we are not OUT to (family and co-workers/clients).

For example, I am participating in a performance tomorrow. MrS, Dude, Lotus and TT are planning to attend - along with my parents.

This is what my parents know officially:
MrS and I are married (duh).
Dude lives with us.
Dude is seeing Lotus.

They are used to Dude being included in "family" functions, even though they don't know (officially) the nature of our relationship (Issue #1 - ongoing, but not new). But where does TT fit into the picture? (Issue #2 - and the more pressing question currently).

From a position of comfort - I would prefer if my parents NOT think about the fact that Dude is dating a married woman because that might make them question (out-loud) the nature of his relationship with ME. So, the easiest answer, from my perspective, would be for TT to come along as Lotus's "friend" (actually, "gay roommate" would work PERFECTLY - and explain why they live together).

BUT - I am loathe to ask a metamour (or my boyfriend's metamour, or whatever-the-hell he is) to not publicly acknowledge his OWN WIFE in front of my parents (Lotus has already met them as "Dude's Girlfriend" - without mentioning a husband). He and I discussed this yesterday. He (and everyone) understands - they are not "out" to their families either. My parents already know that I have "weird" friends and MrS and I shared an apartment with a gay male couple in college, so they are used to somewhat unconventional living-arrangements.

Since this is not an "on-going" issue (the next time that my friends, my poly network, and my family are likely to interact in the same place is in late summer...my turn to host the summer get-together.) I'm just going to leave it up to him (or him+Lotus) as to what he would prefer to do. (Not go vs. go as Lotus's "platonic friend" vs. go as himself and let the chips fall where they may...even if the "worst" happens, it's not a catastrophe - just awkward for me personally, I'll survive.).
__________________
Me: poly bi female, in an "open-but-not-looking" Vee-plus with -
MrS: hetero polyflexible male, live-in husband (together 21+ yrs)
Dude: hetero poly male, live-in boyfriend (together 3+ yrs) and MrS's best friend
Lotus: poly bi female, "it's complicated" relationships with Dude/JaneQ/MrS
TT: poly bi male, married to Lotus, FB with JaneQ
VV and MsJ: bi-women with male primaries, LTR LDR FWBs to JaneQ


My poly blogs on this site:
The Journey of JaneQSmythe
The Notebook of JaneQSmythe
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 04-06-2014, 01:37 PM
AggieSez AggieSez is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 46
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by JaneQSmythe View Post
From a position of comfort - I would prefer if my parents NOT think about the fact that Dude is dating a married woman because that might make them question (out-loud) the nature of his relationship with ME. So, the easiest answer, from my perspective, would be for TT to come along as Lotus's "friend" (actually, "gay roommate" would work PERFECTLY - and explain why they live together).
So it sounds like, when it comes to outness, what you value most are privacy, family harmony, and also avoiding social awkwardness and ostracism. Correct? These values are all totally fine.

However, relationships involve other people. Do your personal values also include fairness and egalitarianism? If so, then your preference to be closeted about your nonprimary relationships, at least in some contexts, can get ethically thorny if your nonprimary partner values acknowledgment of your shared relationship as an expression of respect.

So: If your closeting is not negotiable, and if you also believe other people matter as much as you do (and thus, that what your nonprimary partner wants in your shared relationship is as important as what you want in that relationship), how do you reconcile that, ethically?

That the thing about values and ethics: these concepts are meant to guide or choices in tough situations, not easy ones. I'm finding in that often when we examine how we actually make choices and behave in relationships points out that our functional values and ethics often are not quite what we believe or assume they are. Or that we're falling short of our ethics in some important ways. Which we all do, but how honest are we about that?

Last edited by AggieSez; 04-06-2014 at 01:40 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 04-06-2014, 02:29 PM
nycindie's Avatar
nycindie nycindie is offline
Moderator
 
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: The Big Apple
Posts: 7,105
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by AggieSez View Post
Do your personal values also include fairness and egalitarianism? If so, then your preference to be closeted about your nonprimary relationships, at least in some contexts, can get ethically thorny if your nonprimary partner values acknowledgment of your shared relationship as an expression of respect.

So: If your closeting is not negotiable, and if you also believe other people matter as much as you do (and thus, that what your nonprimary partner wants in your shared relationship is as important as what you want in that relationship), how do you reconcile that, ethically?
It sounds to me like everyone in Jane's tangle is pretty much on the same page and has the agency to choose how "out" they are:
Quote:
Originally Posted by JaneQSmythe View Post
In terms of practical realities OUTSIDE of the house - we do maintain fictions that facilitate smooth social interaction with people that we are not OUT to (family and co-workers/clients) . . . He and I discussed this yesterday. He (and everyone) understands - they are not "out" to their families either.

. . . Since this is not an "on-going" issue (the next time that my friends, my poly network, and my family are likely to interact in the same place is in late summer...my turn to host the summer get-together.) I'm just going to leave it up to him (or him+Lotus) as to what he would prefer to do.
__________________
The world opens up... when you do.

Oh, oh, can't you see? Love is the drug for me. ~Bryan Ferry
"Love is that condition in which another person's happiness is essential to your own." ~Robert Heinlein
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 04-06-2014, 11:44 PM
PolyinPractice PolyinPractice is offline
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 487
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by nycindie View Post
It sounds to me like everyone in Jane's tangle is pretty much on the same page and has the agency to choose how "out" they are:
In fairness, if ONE person wishes to remain closeted, that makes it very difficult for the others to be open, without it compromising the closeted partner. If I chose to be open about who I was with, that would invariably "out" my other partners (it's a small world, there's always the chance of it coming round to people they know, even if I only tell "my" people). They can't afford to be open, so I pretend to be single to most of the world.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 04-06-2014, 01:13 PM
AggieSez AggieSez is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 46
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by PolyinPractice View Post
As long as you don't restrict anyone's ability to further a relationship, romantically or sexually (safe sex is an acceptable restriction), I don't think there is anything unethical about having primaries/secondaries.
That's an interesting point. "Primary/secondary" implies hierarchy, and in a hierarchy whatever isn't at the top of a hierarchy is a lower priority that is either limited or warrants less consideration, especially when navigating conflicts or quandaries. In polyamory, hierarchy usually does restrict the scope or potential of some relationships. Ethically, how do you reconcile that?
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 04-06-2014, 11:50 PM
PolyinPractice PolyinPractice is offline
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 487
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by AggieSez View Post
That's an interesting point. "Primary/secondary" implies hierarchy, and in a hierarchy whatever isn't at the top of a hierarchy is a lower priority that is either limited or warrants less consideration, especially when navigating conflicts or quandaries. In polyamory, hierarchy usually does restrict the scope or potential of some relationships. Ethically, how do you reconcile that?
Thanks for the compliment To answer your question, it's only unethical, imo, when you limit others. Say I'm married, but wish to date. I may not WANT to be a primary to my dating partner; primary relationships come with more responsibility and commitment (if you define a primary relationship as long term, multiple attachments, kids, shared finances, household, etc, as I would argue most people do). I may never want to spend more than a few hours a week or month with that other person. I may be quite content as a secondary.

Also, say I DO want to have a primary style relationship with my dating partner. It's unfair of me to expect to be as important, straight off the bat, as their long term partner. It takes time to develop a primary style relationship (even in monogamy, you date for awhile before committing to more). But I would want the possibility to mean as much to my partner, should we invest the time and effort into the relationship. Not be considered a "secondary" simply because I came along second.

Am I making any sense?
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 04-07-2014, 12:46 PM
Kernow Kernow is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2013
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 43
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by AggieSez View Post
So it sounds like, when it comes to outness, what you value most are privacy, family harmony, and also avoiding social awkwardness and ostracism. Correct? These values are all totally fine.

However, relationships involve other people. Do your personal values also include fairness and egalitarianism? If so, then your preference to be closeted about your nonprimary relationships, at least in some contexts, can get ethically thorny if your nonprimary partner values acknowledgment of your shared relationship as an expression of respect.

So: If your closeting is not negotiable, and if you also believe other people matter as much as you do (and thus, that what your nonprimary partner wants in your shared relationship is as important as what you want in that relationship), how do you reconcile that, ethically?

That the thing about values and ethics: these concepts are meant to guide or choices in tough situations, not easy ones. I'm finding in that often when we examine how we actually make choices and behave in relationships points out that our functional values and ethics often are not quite what we believe or assume they are. Or that we're falling short of our ethics in some important ways. Which we all do, but how honest are we about that?
The thing is that usually people know what the deal is when they get involved in a relationship. It seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable (and ethical) to say to someone this is what I/we can offer when you first get involved in a relationship. If it is clearly stated and understood that this will be a 'secondary' relationship, or that the relationship will not be openly acknowledged within the wider family I don't see the problem with that. It is then up to the other person to decide if they want to get involved on those terms. People don't necessarily see a non-primary relationship as settling for second best, some people actively choose it.

Of course it is true that things evolve, relationships can deepen and needs can change but I think it would be unfair (and unethical) to pressure a partner for more involvement, more openness or whatever when it was understood and accepted from the very beginning that for whatever reason this relationship would have some limits.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 04-12-2014, 07:53 AM
Confused Confused is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 65
Default

If everyone is honest and kind about what they want and can offer I don't see how it's unethical to have relationships with varying degrees of life enmeshment. Neither my boyfriend nor I want another primary relationship. I'm married with kids and he lives with his girlfriend a couple of hours drive away. If everyone is informed and happy no worries surely? To use bdsm terms, safe, sane consensual means actions that might otherwise be harmful instead can make people happy.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
ethics, polyamory

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 11:38 AM.