Advice – Primary & secondary partnerships.

Photo by Александар Цветановић on

/u/BloodRedKite writes on /r/polyamory…

“Hi there!

My boyfriend mentioned to me that he believes he is poly and wants to try the lifestyle. However, after meeting someone he doesn’t want to label either relationships as primary or secondary due to making it seem, in his mind, that one relationship is more important than the other. How can I, who is very my monogamous but trying to learn and adapt this new lifestyle, explain to him properly that being his primary doesn’t mean he loves the other person any less, but helps me with that sense of security as someone extremely new to this lifestyle?”

Dear Blood Red Kite,

Let’s first set aside the difference between monogamy and polyamory; I promise that we’ll come back to it. I think the more important question here is to consider what hierarchical polyamorous relationship mean to each of you.

What do the words “primary” and “secondary” mean to you specifically? You mentioned that the “primary partner” designation helps with your sense of security. I am curious to hear more about why that is so. What is it about being designated as your partner’s primary partner that makes you feel more secure?

Often times, when people use the words primary or secondary, there are distinct privileges and hierarchies that affect each relationships. That hierarchy is represented in specific personal boundaries (i.e. self-limiting the number of days spent with one partner), outwardly-facing agreements (i.e. bidirectional veto rights), and/or existing couple’s privileges (i.e. financial enmeshment with only primary partner). Do/are any of those boundaries, agreements, or privileges in play with your partner? Or is the primary partner designation in name only?

Photo by Adrienne Andersen on

Then I think it is important for your partner to sit down and determine what the words “primary” and “secondary” mean to him specifically. I do agree with you that the primary or secondary designation on partners do not mean that you care about one any less than the other. However, it does often place a glass ceiling due to enforced or acknowledged hierarchies. Even if his version of primary does not exactly the same, I think it is important to realize that primary partner designation do not have to be mutual. You can continue to consider him a primary partner (especially since you’re monogamous and aren’t dating anyone else) while he approaches his relationship from a more non-hierarchical perspective.

What is more important is that you two are on the similar page about your own relationship even if that label is not the same.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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