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Old 10-22-2012, 12:04 PM
persephone persephone is offline
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Default Does putting the needs of your primary partner first come naturally to you?

I am thinking of a situation where a poly person has two partners, one primary, one not primary, and the non-primary lover wants something that directly conflicts with what the primary lover wants.

I have been having difficulties with my primary partner (a very loving 28-year relationship) lately because we have gotten into a couple of situations where the desires of his very short-term girlfriend took priority over mine.

This girlfriend only wants the best for both of us, and, in both situations, had she known that her expressed wants conflicted with mine, she would have told him to do what I wanted/needed. But he didn't communicate with her, put her wants first, and I got upset. He's upset with himself too, to the point where he is seeking therapy to discuss this exact issue.

This is all the more frustrating to me because I recently hurt one of my OSOs in a situation where I had a knee-jerk reaction to put my primary's desires first, at the expense of the OSO. I was spending the weekend with my primary partner and OSO (not really sure if OSO could be called secondary or tertiary, he loves me and I love him, but his level of actual commitment to me is hard to quantify these days). I suggested to my OSO that he and I be sexual together at a certain time, and he liked the idea. Then, my primary wanted to be sexual with me at the same time and I made OSO wait (sadly, OSO does not enjoy group situations, otherwise we would not have had a problem). OSO got upset because he feels that I broke a promise to him. I was perfectly willing, even eager, to be sexual with him after I was with my primary partner (which didn't take very long), but OSO no longer wanted to that day.

I think OSO is getting over it, but I thought it was curious that I didn't even think twice about breaking my promise to him, because my primary partner wanted the same thing from me at the same time.

This got me thinking about whether other folks deferred to the desires of their primary partners automatically, the way I did, or was is there more of a thought process involved? I asked another partner of mine, who is also in a long-term loving primary relationship, how it worked for him, and he said it was the same as it was for me, that he automatically deferred to his primary and what she said she wanted/needed. Is it like that for others in long-term primary relationships? Has anyone else got into difficulties when that was not the case? How did you resolve them?

Last edited by persephone; 10-22-2012 at 01:30 PM.
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Old 10-22-2012, 02:04 PM
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Marcus Marcus is offline
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Default Do what you say you are going to do

Quote:
Originally Posted by persephone View Post
But he didn't communicate with her, put her wants first, and I got upset. He's upset with himself too, to the point where he is seeking therapy to discuss this exact issue.
Yikes! He got so upset that he didn't spend time with you that he had to go to therapy! lol

I differ strongly with many poly folks on this issue. I do not practice hierarchical polyamory, in that, my relationships are not ranked against one another - they are what they are.

That aside, I try to be a person of my word. This includes my relationships with my friends, lovers, workmates, etc. If I make plans with someone and then blow them off for someone else... what does that say about how I value them? I'll answer that for you, it says I don't value them as highly as this other person.

No one likes to have it rubbed in their face that they are a "secondary" friend or lover. If I break off plans I've already made with one person in favor of another then I have done just that... rubbed it in their face... and that's just plain bad manners.
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Old 10-22-2012, 04:55 PM
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CielDuMatin CielDuMatin is offline
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While I have a live-in partner (a primary) and a remote partner (a secondary), as I have said many times on this forum before, that is not a ranking about their importance as people or in my life, it is merely a reflection of the practical day-to-day of our lives.

If I make a commitment to one, then we hold to that. If there is an issue, it's not my duty to arbitrate - everyone needs to be able to communicate with each other to work things through and find a solution. The decision made will be a joint decision, not mine alone.

He is putting himself in the position of arbiter of these things, and that is always going to be a lot of pressure to make the "right" decision. if those involved don't work together to discuss things and reach a resolution then nobody will understand the reason why a particular decision is made.

With regard to the sex thing - you made a commitment to your OSO and then you broke it. That starts to break down the trust level between you and your OSO - your OSO starts feeling like anything that the two of you arrange can be "trumped" by this person who is more important to you. Not a position I would want to be in, I'm afraid.
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Last edited by CielDuMatin; 10-22-2012 at 05:04 PM.
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Old 10-22-2012, 05:50 PM
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MoonElf MoonElf is offline
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I'll admit I'm very new on managing more than one relationship at once, but I can't seem to see one of my partners as a secondary.
I've read definitions that say a Primary is someone who you share your house/finances/day-to-day situations, but I really fell like I can't just put people on primary/secondary classifications.

My way of seeing this is very similar to what Marcus posted.

I would hate if one of my partners had a date with me and put it aside for someone else, for example. I'd never do it to any of them, too.
What I'd do is explaining to the "primary" how I had said to the "secondary" I'd be with him on said time, and suggesting some other time for us to be togheter.
Much like I would do if I had an evening planned with friends and some other friend asked me out.
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Old 10-22-2012, 06:01 PM
ThatGirlInGray ThatGirlInGray is offline
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I think there's more of a thought process for me. First in figuring out if it's a "want v want" conflict, "need v need", or "want v need". There's also more thought about how much I can actually do to meet this want or need, and how much responsibility I have to meet it. Since I live with MC, have joint finances, kids, house, etc I do have more responsibilities to him, and sometimes that does mean that I unfortunately have to put TGIB's wants second.

However, on the other side of the idea that living with MC means I have more responsibilities to him, is the thought that MC gets wants and needs met by me on a daily basis, so when there is a conflict I'm actually more likely to try to put TGIB first if I can. Since he is long-distance he already has to miss out on a lot of things.

So far there haven't been any major "need v need" conflicts. It helps that they're both very supportive of my relationship with the other and they're both very reasonable about the limits of my time. For instance, TGIB is coming to visit at the end of this week, for two weeks (YAY!). Usually, when he's here, MC is perfectly understanding about the fact that I will spend the majority of my time (including nights) with TGIB, since I so rarely get to see him. However, this time MC's been sick, I'm at that time of the month, and TGIB's going to be here for two whole weeks so we'll have other time available later, so I've already talked to TGIB about the possibility that MC may need a little more "me" time in those first few days TGIB's here. And TGIB was fine with it, because he knew I wouldn't be neglecting him to put MC first, I would just be putting the balance a little more towards MC than I usually do during TGIB's visits.

MC and I have kids together, and TGIB has kids with his ex, so I think we're all used to putting another's needs before our own. And ultimately, while TGIB and I do not plan on ever having kids together, once the long-distance part ends he'll be more of a co-primary. I definitely think my situation is made easier by the fact that MC and TGIB not only know each other, but are friends with each other. There isn't a "me vs him" mentality, instead we're all trying to do what's best for all three of us, which is probably why conflicts are limited. I'm as likely to have my wants and needs conflicting with theirs as they are with each other.
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Old 10-22-2012, 07:00 PM
persephone persephone is offline
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Hierarchy has never really been an issue with me and other partners. Except for one exception in the distant past, I have always dated people who were also in strong primary relationships where they also used the primary/secondary model. I am quite used to being of lower priority in someone's life than their wife/mother of their kids. I expect that, and would not question it. The OSO who is secondary/tertiary to me (not sure what) has made it quite, quite clear that his relationship with his wife is his first priority, which feels completely appropriate to me, since they are also a 20-year plus relationship with children in the mix. I expect to not always get what I want in my relationship with him, if my wants/needs conflict with what his wife wants or needs, and there have been times when this has happened.

I do feel bad about breaking my promise to be with OSO sexually. At the time, it didn't seem like a big deal, since we all had the whole afternoon free and OSO hadn't ever expressed a preference that he be with me sexually before my primary was. We hadn't agreed on a time either, it was all a bit vague. I had wanted, and expected, to be with them both sexually that afternoon, and that was clear to OSO too. But I know that what I should have done is told my primary that I had a previous commitment to OSO, and been with my primary afterwards.

Marcus, my primary partner is starting therapy, among other reasons, because we got into a situation where I was alone and very upset about something and asking for his in-person comfort and support, and he ignored me because his partner of three months had expressed a vague desire to go to a certain restaurant that same evening. (They weren't having a date either.) The phone conversation I had with him at the time was downright scary, he literally did not seem to hear what I said to him. He is trying to unravel why this, and comparable situations, have happened. He isn't in love with his new partner either, they are pretty much friends with benefits at this point, so he can't blame it on NRE. I hope he can figure it out. I wish you hadn't tried to minimize what happened between us without knowing some of the facts about it.

Last edited by persephone; 10-22-2012 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 10-23-2012, 01:19 AM
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Electrickery Electrickery is offline
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Well, it sounded as if you asked for opinions, so you got them.
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Old 10-23-2012, 05:55 AM
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SchrodingersCat SchrodingersCat is offline
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I have a husband and a girlfriend. I guess you could use the descriptive labels of "primary" and "secondary" but they're definitely descriptive, not prescriptive (meaning I'm not putting any limits on the "secondary" relationship that it has to remain that way, it just happens to be that way at the moment.)

My situation might be a little unique in that my husband works out of town and is only home for 3 days every other weekend. So our time together is rare and precious. I've got his weekends booked in my Google calendar until the end of time. I don't plan things on those weekends unless it's unavoidable.

My girlfriend is also married, so she completely understands the need to prioritize family over dating. She's made it clear that she doesn't like to interfere with my time with my husband, because she knows how little we get.

The only person I cancel plans for is me. I'm very introverted and a homebody. Sometimes I make plans, and when the time comes, I'm just too exhausted, or can't handle people at that moment, or just plain don't want to be out any more. Depending on which one it is, I'll tell the person and either invite them over or reschedule.
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by persephone View Post
This is all the more frustrating to me because I recently hurt one of my OSOs in a situation where I had a knee-jerk reaction to put my primary's desires first, at the expense of the OSO. I was spending the weekend with my primary partner and OSO (not really sure if OSO could be called secondary or tertiary, he loves me and I love him, but his level of actual commitment to me is hard to quantify these days). I suggested to my OSO that he and I be sexual together at a certain time, and he liked the idea. Then, my primary wanted to be sexual with me at the same time and I made OSO wait (sadly, OSO does not enjoy group situations, otherwise we would not have had a problem). OSO got upset because he feels that I broke a promise to him. I was perfectly willing, even eager, to be sexual with him after I was with my primary partner (which didn't take very long), but OSO no longer wanted to that day.
I am not in a similar situation to you, but I just want to comment on this. Do you think that was right?

If you have a plan with a platonic friend to watch a movie on Thursday, but then your primary partner tells you he wants to watch a movie with you on Thursday, do you cancel on your friend? If not, why do you concider it ok to do that to your secondary/tertiary partner? Why does the fact that you have sex mean that he doesn't get the same respect than a person you don't have sex with?

If you want to do hierarchy, I think that's fine since you are open about it to all involved. But hierarchy does not equal the right to treat other people badly. You can tell your primary "I already have plans" without him becoming less primary. If he thinks it's a big deal that you've already made plans, you can negotiate in terms of behaviour in the future (as opposed to cancelling the existing plans - you just don't do that if you're a decent person). Your non-primary partners have the right to respect, consideration, and to being informed.

Thus, if you decide that you don't want this to happen in the future, you can make a rule, say, that you always check with your primary before agreeing to plans (if that is something you'd be willing to do), and then inform your non-primary partners that this is how you'll operate from now on. They then have an informed choice of whether they want to be in a relationship with an adult who needs permission to schedule a date.
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Old 10-23-2012, 01:38 PM
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Mya Mya is offline
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I'm sorry to go a bit off topic, but this was just too good of an example to pass. I think the biggest problem of using the words primary and secondary is that people use those very differently. Look at these two different ways to handle things:

Quote:
Originally Posted by persephone View Post
I had a knee-jerk reaction to put my primary's desires first, at the expense of the OSO. --- Then, my primary wanted to be sexual with me at the same time and I made OSO wait. --- I think OSO is getting over it, but I thought it was curious that I didn't even think twice about breaking my promise to him, because my primary partner wanted the same thing from me at the same time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by CielDuMatin View Post
While I have a live-in partner (a primary) and a remote partner (a secondary), as I have said many times on this forum before, that is not a ranking about their importance as people or in my life, it is merely a reflection of the practical day-to-day of our lives. If I make a commitment to one, then we hold to that.
They both use the words primary and secondary, even though in the first case it's obvious that the primary's needs and wants come first and in the second case it just reflects who shares day-to-day stuff with who. Isn't it confusing? That is precisely why I won't use those terms at all, because I would never know which interpretation people would make and to me those two attitudes are worlds apart. There's no judgement here, I'm just pointing out that for example persephone and CielDuMatin seem to have quite different definitions for primary.
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