Advice – How should I talk about finances with my non-nesting partner?

At what point does it become acceptable to discuss finances and financial planning/management with non-nesting partners?

I’ve been with one of my partners for about 2 years now. We both have primary spouses that we live with, though we spend a fair bit of time together as well. We are not primary logistically but we are primary emotionally and sexually.

As we approach middle age, I have some concerns about how my partner is managing money. I want to discuss it with them, help them budget and ensure they are saving for retirement. There have been money problems in the past.

But I feel like since I’m not the nesting partner and we have no shared finances that it’s not my “place” to have these kinds of discussions or help in that way. I’m afraid to bring it up.

What do you all think?

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

Your reticence and reservation about discussing financial standing is valid and real. There are a couple different reasons why you could feel this way.

It could be that it is a simple manifestation of general anxiety folks often feel about discussing finance. We as part of western society have made it louche to talk about money, and often are made to feel embarrassed to talk about how much money we have or make. It could also be a different manifestation of internalized guilt many non-monofolks feel about the legitimacy of our non-primary relationships. And that fear can also be a personal reflection of the type of financial decisions your non-nesting partner has made in the past. As in, it could reflect negatively on your own financial situation to be associated with someone who previously made bad financial decisions. While your deeper machinations are unclear, it is clear that you see this as a potentially vulnerable discussion.

And it can be.

Interweaved into this future discussion about your partner’s finances are more fundamental discussions about long-term planning. Of course those feel vulnerable. They are deep, personal, and incredibly revealing. It is their nature to be vulnerable. But it doesn’t mean that it should be avoided either.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

One of the biggest advantages of monogamy is that there is an expansive wealth of examples to draw experience from.

It is easy to envision what the process of dating might look like in a monogamous context because much of popular media has already covered what that is supposed to look like. But it isn’t like that in non-monogamy. There is no good example for us non-mono folks to defer to when thinking about how to discuss finances with our non-primary partners. We sort of have to pave our own path in many of our unorthodox choices.

I believe that there is a more fruitful discussion to be had about your internal desire and intention to have this discussion with your non-nesting partner. It could be that you are coming from a place to help your partner set their financial vision in order. Because you feel very well-equipped in handling your own finances, you want to utilize your strengths to improve different aspects of your partner’s life. It could be that you sense this discussion about finances as a visible next step in the relationship escalator that you want to address with your partner. It could also be possible that you have finally gathered enough trust and insight in your relationship with this specific partner that you want to cash in on those trust-reserves to have the vulnerable discussions you want to have about their finances.

Whatever your internalized reason is, set them aside to think about how they might feel about and react to your desire to talk about finances. While you can’t truly estimate how their reaction is going to be, you might have a better idea than I do around the type of programming they might have to detangle or the shame they might feel about their past money problems.

If you still feel that it is beyond a reasonable assessment that a discussion about finances is well in order, then start thinking about your “in.”

And by “in”, I mean to think about how you are going to initiate this conversation. It could be just straight and frank starter that sounds a bit like, “So I have been thinking a lot about how I want to plan financially for the future lately, and I am curious about where your headspace is at.” Or you can try to anticipate for an opportunistic “in” by waiting for the right moment or conversational context to discuss financial planning.

One of the best ways I have found to have those uncomfortable discussions is by playing the “What If” game. So for example, it came up in one of my previous relationships that we never actually talked about what would happen if my partner got pregnant (in the case of failed protection). We started by talking about different hypothetical scenarios without actually being in it, such as possibility of meddled parenthood, prohibitive healthcare costs, and health complications. That particular conversation made us both feel really vulnerable because we each had other nesting partners. So we took some time after the discussion to reconnect and become whole again. Perhaps that could be an approach you can use to open this dialogue with your partner.

The last suggestion I have for you is to have this discussion be a part of a monthly check-in with this partner. I talked a bit about the immense value of having a regular check-in with a partner in a column from last year here.

Whatever you decide to do, you can also take this opportunity to also question what you perceive as is and isn’t your place.

There were some very intriguing rhetoric in your post about what parts of your relationship with this partner was primary and what was not. It could be that these words and labels bear power and allow both you and this partner to describe your relationship in a way that others can better understand.

But as you have discovered in this particular experience, nesting these discussions around conditions can be problematic. In your case, it appears that you nested the ability to have discussions around finances around the condition that you must share finances. It might be worth your time to dissect and reflect on why that condition exists.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My partner is dating someone who is in a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell arrangement.

“So my primary (F) and I (M) have had a long, thus far happy poly relationship for several years now. We’ve both played outside the relationship but they’ve never been anything serious.

She has recently met a new guy, and she had a crush, and they seem to be extremely compatible and happy together, and I’m so excited for her to have that.

But this guy says he has a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy with his wife. Which is an immediate red flag to me, but it’s ultimately my partner’s decision to be with him, and I let her make it after voicing my concerns.

My question is this: am I right to feel extremely uncomfortable with the fact that this man not only refuses to meet me (my partner and I do not have a DADT policy by any means). In every successful poly encounter I’ve ever had in all my life, it has been accomplished with open dialogue and full disclosure, and every time secrets have been kept it has gone badly.

This man not only refuses to meet me, or to share our phone numbers in case of emergency, he didn’t even want me to know his name or his occupation. He doesn’t like that she tells me when they’re going out together or where they’re going, and the first thing he did after telling her that he didn’t want to meet me is block me on social media, so even if there was an accident or something, I could not even begin to contact him.

Confusing all the more is that, at the beginning of their relationship, he was asking my partner if she would be willing to come to his home to be friends or fuckbuddies with his wife, at the same time he was saying he wouldn’t even meet me to shake my hand and talk about our boundaries, or message me on facebook.

I don’t want to make a huge deal out of the first real happy extracurricular experience she has had in our poly relationship, but these are massive red flags to me, and they make me incredibly uncomfortable. I feel like a man should be able to look the husband of his girlfriend in the eye and shake his hand when that husband is buying them hotel rooms to spend the night in, you know?

Thoughts or suggestions are welcome. This is putting a lot of tension on our relationship, and the happiness I feel for her being with someone she likes is so big that my misgivings almost seem small, but this is the one that doesn’t seem to be going away or getting better.

I just don’t want to cost her her happiness if I’m being unreasonable. He agreed to our guidelines and rules before seeing her, and then changed his mind as soon as they went out.

I just want to know what other people think before I mess things up much more than I already have.”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Blank Space on Pexels.com

Dear Anonymous,

Compatibility is such an odd concept in the context of dating. Humans are so innately complex, conflicted, and compromising that to wrap all the intrigue of sexual, emotional, physical, and circumstantial chemistry into one word feels criminal. And let’s talk about that term: circumstantial chemistry.

Circumstantial chemistry is in essence how well your life’s happenstance matches up with your romantic partner’s own life’s happenstance. For example, we could say that a couple has poor circumstantial chemistry for a romantic relationship if one or both partners are in an explicitly monogamous relationship with different partner(s). When we decide to pursue a romantic connection with another, we should first assess how all four of those chemistry align. If you happen to have really bad sex with your partner, that sexual component of your relationship might not be feasible. If you happen to have really great sex with your partner but they lack other physical intimacy (like cuddling and massaging), you are probably going to have to go find that physical chemistry elsewhere. Circumstantial chemistry often gets left behind. But the truth of the matter is that you are never just dating a person as they are today; you are also dating their history as well as who they could become throughout the course of the relationship.

It can be very difficult to fully understand your circumstantial compatibility especially while you and your new partner are both enveloped in the intoxicating NRE. Even I have had past relationships where I was scratching my own head about how I allowed myself to get in that mess.

Based on what you have shared with us, your partner might not have recognized how little circumstantial compatibility they have with this new connection. The NRE blindspot makes sense, especially since your primary partner never had intense connections like this one before.

Photo by Ichad Windhiagiri on Pexels.com

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies deservedly get a lot of negative criticism around most poly communities.

Often, DADT policies are set in place due to insecurity, emotional capital mismanagement, and poor judgment. DADT policies make it impossible to cross-verify if they are ethically practicing non-monogamy not just from your perspective but from your partner’s perspective as well. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that your metamour is not actually cheating on his wife; either she doesn’t want to know about it or he is incapable of maturely handling emotionally sensitive information with his wife. If he is unable to maintain a connection with you, I get the sense that your partner’s hearsay – that his wife is really jealous – is not as true as his inability to properly manage his own emotional resources. It doesn’t sound like your partner gets jealous about what he has with his wife. So why can’t he maintain a reasonable and sensible connection with you, even if for the simple sake of your shared partner’s safety?

There is a very fine but important distinction to be made here between what is ethical / consensual and what is not.

Setting personal ethics aside, it is important to recognize when someone is pushing on your boundaries. And your metamour definitely neglected your and her pre-existing agreement when he “agreed to [y]our guidelines and rules before seeing her, and then changed his mind as soon as they went out.” And your partner has failed you in failing to uphold the agreement that she has previously agreed to with you. He doesn’t just get to unilaterally uproot the guidelines and rules he has already consented to. If he wanted to change any rules, it should have been a discussion or a negotiation so that their newfound deep emotional connection is adequately represented in her life.

You mentioned that this is the first time your partner connected deeply with a person outside of her relationship with you. And I get the feeling that she is not used to setting boundaries with other people, especially if they are pushy. An experienced polyamorist would have recognized the boundary pushing, communicated what they saw, then re-establish and enforce the boundary. For some, this skill to develop, communicate, and enforce boundaries come with time and practice. For many, it is a very painful development process.

Your metamour too has a right to establish and communicate his own boundaries. Based on what you’ve shared, it sounds like he was very clear to establish his communicative boundaries with you, something you’ve been doing your best to respect. But it doesn’t mean that those boundaries have to be compatible with yours. It sounds like you want to be closer with your metamours (as evidenced by your previous experiences) while he wants to maintain a DADT not just with his wife but also with your partner as well.

But this part really confused me. How can he maintain a DADT policy with his wife while also asking your partner if she’d be open to becoming friends or fuckbuddies with his wife? It sounds like it is at best another instance of him pushing his boundary, and this time it is with his wife. If they’ve agreed to a DADT arrangement, then it falls on your metamour’s shoulders to do the emotional labor associated with extreme compartmentalizing that comes with DADT relationships. He doesn’t get to talk about or much less introduce his partners to each other. That is the whole point of DADT policies. By asking your partner to be friends or fuckbuddies with his wife, he either…

  1. Changed that agreement with his wife without properly communicating with you and your partner, or;
  2. Is disrespecting the boundary he previously agreed to with his wife before he met your partner.

Either way, those should be dealbreakers in and of themselves.

Photo by Alina Isaieva on Pexels.com

And now let’s talk about what you can do.

Based on what you’ve shared, I get the sense that your metamour’s intentions behind implementing DADT with his wife was disingenuous at best. But the more surprising aspect of this relationship is that your partner has appeared to agree to a DADT arrangement with your metamour as well, even though that is not the type of relationship that you’ve ever had with your partner.

I think you can do so much better than looking at him in the eyes and shake hands before he takes your partner off to a hotel room. You are not entitled to any kind of engagement with him if he doesn’t want to interact with you. However, you are entitled to having a healthy and happy relationship with your partner. And if their agreement (which clearly comes at your self-sacrifice) is causing you great harm and distress, you need to be forthcoming about how your partner’s enabling of your metamour’s actions have hurt you.

In the comments, you mentioned that your partner tends to be very passive in her relationships. Her passiveness is not suitable or healthy for non-mono relationships. What will happen when she decides to forgo the next really important boundary because he pushed? What happens if he engages in sexually or physically risky endeavor with your partner without implementing proper safety measures? Where is the line?

You say that your partner is your primary partner. It is time for you to kindly remind your primary partner that you will not accept your own boundaries being trampled on by her secondary partner. And it is time for your partner to stand up for what she believes in. You too are entitled to your own boundaries, just like she is entitled to her own relationships and he is to his DADT agreement. Even if that is his own right, you do not need to make a personal compromise on behalf of your partner’s relationship of questionable ethics.

So. I agree with you. These appear to be massive red flags to me as well. And I don’t think you are making enough big deal about how many dealbreakers he presented in a very short amount of time.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How realistic is poly-fidelity?

“I have recently finished reading the article at unicorns-r-us and I feel really hopeless and discouraged, while also feeling more educated which is great, but I don’t know where to go from here and I need help.

I don’t want to be greedy or toxic. I don’t want to add a woman to our relationship just because it sounds fun or use her like an added sex toy in the bedroom.

We want a third partner, one that we can support and love, and care for, while also receiving the same. We want her to live with us one day and make a life with us.

However so much of what I have been reading makes me feel like asking our third partner to be exclusive with us is damaging and wrong. We don’t want to start down this path if it isn’t something that we can achieve. Do we want something that doesn’t exist?

And if it does exist? How do we start? We have committed to no dating or flirting for 6 months while we talk through this and research and read and learn more about this lifestyle. I have never formally started a dating relationship with a woman, and I feel lost. I have been the secondary in a few poly relationships before my current one, and the female bonding and intimacy was amazing. My partner and I agree it would be wise to eventually put ourselves out there and see how it feels, navigating a relationship with a woman in conjunction with our current connection. How do I do that ethically? We don’t want to just add more notches to our bed post, but we also don’t want to pressure ourselves to bring in the first woman we find.”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Tree of Life Seeds on Pexels.com

Dear Anonymous,

For folks who don’t know, polyfidelity (abb. poly-fi) is a specific form of ethical non-monogamy where folks in the non-monogamous relationship are not permitted to see others outside of the relationship or polycule. Depending on the size of the polycule, poly-fi can be synonymous with unicorn hunting (which is a couple introducing an attractive, bi woman into their relationship) or even a commune with multiple “poly-clusters”.

Poly-fi draws some comparison with a traditionally monogamous relationship where the two people in a dyad are not permitted to engage in outside emotional, romantic, or sexual connections; the only difference here between the unicorn-hunting version of poly-fi and traditional monogamy is simply the number of people in a relationship. This comparison is one of the reasons why poly-fi is surrounded by negativity. Some polyfolks are unfortunately so incredibly steeped in being so unapologetically polyamorous that, for them, monogamy is evil. For a lot of experienced polyfolks, autonomy is a core facet of their relationship philosophy. To lose autonomy means to lose themselves. In addition, all of this is wrapped up around the negative stigma around unicorn hunters, which is its own thing that you read about on Unicorns-R-Us.

Photo by mark glancy on Pexels.com

It is good to have a vision of the kind of relationships you want to be a part of. But that speaks more about what you want and avoids the how and the why.

Let’s first dig deeper on why you want to be in a poly-fi arrangement. Based on what you’ve shared, it is clear that you want to develop very close and intimate connections with each of your partners. And you want the same for each of your partners. But why is it important that they don’t date anyone else? Why is it important that there exists a relationship escalator in your poly-fi arrangement? Is the depth of female bonding not something you feel like you can accomplish unless it is an explicitly exclusive relationship?

Just because you two like the same genre of movies doesn’t mean that you will like the same exact movies as your partner. As such, just because you two like women doesn’t mean that you two will like the same woman.

Think about what motivates you to lean toward poly-fi / unicorn hunting, and assess what is driving that initial mindset. And when you have the reasons, peel back the curtains a bit more and gather what insecurities are being triggered – for both you and your partner. Once you’ve laid all the cards out on the table, determine if this is still the style of non-monogamy you and your partner would like to pursue.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Now that you have the what and the why, let’s figure out the how.

It is very important to keep in mind that non-monogamous folks only represent a small fraction of the overall dating population. And there are a lot of small subsets within the ethically non-monogamous subgroup that are incompatible with each other. The more restrictions you add on, the more difficult it’ll be to find a suitable match.

One of the main arguments against unicorn hunters is that there are many, many, many more unicorn hunters than there are unicorns. And as unicorn hunters, you’ll be swimming upstream against unicorns who have a lot of other incredibly attractive options available. This will make that “exclusivity” discussion really difficult to have, since you and your partner will not be coming from a position of power for this negotiation.

Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that you and your partner did find a person you were all mutually attracted to. The one of the biggest challenge in an existing dyad becoming a new triad is in the complexity of the dynamic. I wrote about some challenges that a new triad might face in a column about five months ago.

In that column, I’ve outlined the four different connections that will have to be maintained as compared to the one currently between you and your partner. You’ll have to develop your connection with your new partner. You mentioned that you’ve never been in a formal relationship with another woman. So the first steps there will be very clunky, like the first time you started dating a man. Your partner will also have to establish and develop his connection with his new partner. If they’ve both had experiences dating folks of other gender, their journey will be a bit better paved from previous experiences. In addition to developing your connection with your new partner and allowing your partner to develop his connection with his new partner, you will have to continue building on your foundation with your current partner. It is going to feel really difficult to funnel NRE to your old relationships when the new channel feels more rewarding and responsive. The last connection to develop and maintain is the one you’ll have as a triad. Dating as three dyads is relatively straight forward; go on dates like you normally used to, except you each have two partners. But dating as a triad is a whole new experience.

In addition to all of this, you’ll have to learn to manage your jealousy and insecurity in a completely different way than what you have experienced previously as a secondary partner. Watching your partner fall deeply in love with another person with whom you are still forging your own connections with is so difficult to do, and not a skill you’ve had a chance to develop quite yet.

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Now let’s talk about de-establishing existing couple’s privilege.

You and your partner have built a relationship together. And with it comes existing privileges and descriptive hierarchies both you and your partner will have to deconstruct. You and your partner have had a lot of time to establish yourselves as a couple among your respective family and friends. If your and your partner’s family or friends are not as accepting of your polyamorous orientation, then that is an explicit privilege that your new partner will not be able to access. Same applies for your new partner’s situation as well.

Then there is the added burden of the current living situation. It sounds like you and your partner currently nest together. Asking another person to come live at a place where she didn’t originally get to choose herself is a lot to ask for. It wasn’t a space she chose, but one someone else has determined for her. Are both of you open to moving to a new place at the behest of your new partner without triangulating her into submission?

But the most apparent privilege that you and your partner face is in the very language of your post.

Notice how you personally identify the new partner as a woman while you and your partner function under the pronoun “we.” She isn’t just a woman, even if she is hypothetically; she is a person. That is an inherent couple’s privilege that you’ll have to deconstruct and avoid in the future. Also, recognize that your new partner isn’t just a third. That implies a numeric hierarchy in that you and your current partner are first and second, and therefore come before your respective connections with your new partner. That will also add a new layer of emotional labor you and your current partner will have to commit to.

Photo by Jannet Serhan on Pexels.com

It is easy to get caught up on the idealistic vision of the relationships you want to have as it sets our sight on the future we’d like to be a part of. But it is even more important to be grounded in realistic expectations.

You can’t just jump into an Olympic-size swimming pool without first learning to swim in a kiddie pool first, yeah? In the same way, skiping ahead to full-on poly-fi without learning how to do polyamory is going to spell disaster.

I would personally advise for you and your partner to take things very slowly, only adding a new facet when you are both ready for that next step.

You need to experience and learn a bit more about same sex relationships before you also add your current partner into the picture. You might also want to try out more non-hierarchical relationships before you think about getting into a triad. Developing a sense of fairness in your relationships even without your two partners intersecting is the best way for you to learn how to manage your distinct and unique relationships. This will also help you learn to manage your guilt and your current partner learn how to manage his sense of insecurity and jealousy. Ethical triads should by default be non-hierarchical that strives to achieve fairness and equity in all connections within the triad relationship.

Once you have done all your prep work, the most ethical way to go about finding yourself in a triad is to be upfront and honest with your expectations. Deferring to ambiguity when you have a clear objective is dishonest. So tell your potential connections that you and your partner are both looking to connect with the same person to form an exclusive triad. The folks going on dates with you deserve to know what they’re signing up for.

Last piece of advice. Be patient. Like I mentioned earlier, there are fare more unicorn hunters than there are unicorns. So take the time to

Good luck.

Advice – How can I be a better metamour?

“My primary partner and I have been together for almost ten years and polyamorous for five, but we’ve experienced real deep romantic love outside our relationship in the last couple years.

We are discovering our difference in values might mean he can’t date other people without causing pain.

For me, you should be willing to go to war for your family. I’d do anything for him. If someone doesn’t like him, it forever taints how I view that person. I would, without a doubt, break up with anyone who doesn’t respect him or my relationship with him.

He finds compassion and understanding for everyone. Everyone’s opinions are valid and he will hold space for them. If I’m struggling, he’ll be there to cheer on my success and comfort me in failures, but my battles are my own. All these characteristics are what made me fall in love with him. I love that he doesn’t have a judgmental bone in his body. I love the balance of commitment and autonomy in our relationship.

This all falls apart when he dates someone I don’t get along with. He will never take sides, in any way, which leads to me feeling trapped with someone I don’t like. (He usually dates someone from our larger shared friend circle, so I always know my metas.) We’ve been solving this by just creating more space between me and his other partners. But there always seems to be a new way that the his other partner can do something that gets back to me and affects me. And every time I don’t understand why he won’t do anything to find reconciliation. It’s impossible to keep us completely separate in our small town and our small community. At some point he has to do something to help us heal and get along. But he’s just not good at this type of problem solving.

He’s not dating anyone else now, but does that have to be forever? What can we work on so small fights with metas don’t always blow up? I don’t have these problems anywhere else in my life. Except with my last two metas, I’ve always been able to solve conflict without fighting. The fact that I feel abandoned in these conflicts is what makes it worse for me.”

Fishy in the Middle on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Dear Fishy in the Middle,

I am really sorry to hear that you are experiencing this particular disconnect. There could be multiple contributing factors to why you are experiencing difficulty connecting with your metamours. It could be specific problems with your two former metamours. It could be a hinge problem with your partner. And it could also be a personal problem with you. Let’s dive into those one by one, and talk about what you can do personally about each of those problems.

Metamours pose a set of questions unique to polyamory.

Polyfolks’ relationships with our metamours is a lot like our relationship with our in-laws. They are close to our partners but we often keep them at some distance. It obviously comes with its own idiosyncrasies. But the overall sentiment still holds true.

You said you have had a lot of problems with your two former metamours. You did not specify the type of problems they each had. But I get the sense based on what you’ve shared that they did or said things that you weren’t totally on board with. I am curious what type of disconnects you had with your metamours, and would love to do a deeper dive to see where the responsibilities actually lie.

In my own personal experience with challenging metamours, I have found that my personal challenges with my metamours often boiled down to differing tastes and preferences. We all grow up with our own respective personal histories, which all contribute to the different styles and preferences we have as adults. As such, I found it difficult to assume that everyone was going to be exactly on the same page about our respective styles and preferences. Some of my metamours really understood this aspect. Some could not. It could be possible that your former metamours could not successfully assess what type of words and actions would upset you. That presents a specific type of challenge that is ultimately out of control for you: metamour incompatibility.

As for what you can do about the incompatibilities you had with your former metamours, it sounds like you’ve done your best to create distance to protect yourself and your metamours from any more hurt feelings. And I do think that boundary setting is generally a pretty good solution to people-problems. With that said, setting boundaries around people who are not used to being set boundaries on could have exacerbated and aggravated the growing disconnect you and your metamours felt around each other.

Photo by Just a Couple Photos on Pexels.com

Your partner also has a lot of responsibilities to manage in his multiple relationships.

Hinge partners are responsible for managing their multiple relationships. By this, I mean it is your primary partner’s responsibility to resolve conflicts, communicate expectations, and uphold boundaries & agreements. That is the price of admission we must pay to engage in polyamorous connections: emotional labor.

This also includes facilitating productive discussions between their partners especially if they don’t get along.

It is clear that your partner does his relationships a bit differently from the way you do your own relationships. Based on what you’ve shared, I get the sense that your partner is very easy going and relatively conflict-averse. In his deep sense of care for others, he struggles to evaluate conflicting values and instead strives to spread a sense of understanding. He is very open to cherishing all the success as well as to supporting through any of the failures. Those are all really great open-minded characteristics to have in relationships; and it is one of the many reasons why he has had such a great, lasting relationship with you over the past decade.

His perspective allows for him to form the kind of connections he wants to nurture in his life. And it is apparent that his personality could attract a certain type of people – folks who are more driven and intentional. And when those folks – in the form of your metamours – butt heads with your more driven and intentional perspective, it creates conflict.

If his preferred role in conflict resolution is as a peacemaker, it is understandable why he would take a more cautious approach to resolving issues. It also explains why you have such a personal problem with the way he addresses conflicts. You see a refusal to reconcile in his slower approach to resolving conflicts. And he sees you pressing him for action before he is ready. Neither of those perspectives are accurate because each of your intentions are different than assumed. But it is a reasonable enough assumption that ultimately led to his latest realization, that he doesn’t think he can date others without causing you or his other partners pain.

Photo by Viktor Lundberg on Pexels.com

Now that we talked about where his head is at, let’s now talk about what this means for your relationship.

For the sake of this section, I am going to assume that every other aspect of your connection with your partner is great. How does problem resolution traditionally work out in your relationship with your partner? Are you generally much more assertive than he is in solving problems in your relationship? Does his problem resolution skills present a direct conflict for your personal relationship with your partner? Or is it only in regard to his other relationships?

Let’s suppose that your partner dates a person who is cheating on their spouse. For most polyfolks, enabling infidelity is a hard boundary. In this particular situation, you would be justified to set boundaries around interacting with someone who is so clearly involved in an unethical behavior. But this scenario poses a deeper question into the character of your partner than it does for your hypothetical metamour. You aren’t in a relationship with your metamour. But if your partner is enabling infidelity, then your partner’s judgment too is flawed. It should be his responsibility to recognize when there are irreconcilable differences and only seek partnerships with people who also practice ethical non-monogamy, with people who are compatible with his own personal brand of polyamory.

So you should really ask yourself if he is consistently picking partners who are practicing unethical non-monogamy or folks who are deeply incompatible with his current poly happenstance. Both of those would reflect a deep character flaw which should make you re-think about the status of your relationship.

However, if he just happens to pick partners who become more incompatible down the line, then it might be more of an issue with you than him. Like I mentioned, it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage their multiple relationships. But he needs to have the space to manage in order for him to manage his multiple relationships. And if there isn’t the kind of space he needs to manage his multiple relationships, then he just doesn’t have enough resources to do what he needs to do.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I am going to tell you about the best metamour I’ve ever had. His name was Dave. He was monogamous, but cherished his wife’s other relationships better than any non-monogamous metamours I have ever had. He never outwardly expressed his insecurity or jealousy. His confidence was quiet and unassuming, but naturally flowed out of every interaction I’ve had with him. But better than anyone else, he knew how to manage space in his life. He knew exactly when he was welcome to join at the dinner with our shared partner. And he knew exactly when to leave us alone. He was the most unintentionally charming man I have ever met. I never had to do any kind of emotional labor with Dave because he was so secure and self-aware that he could manage his own feelings. Even though my relationship with Dave’s partner never worked out, I strove to be as self-assured, as socially aware, and as polyamorous as Dave was for me.

At the end of the day, you only really have control over your own actions.

There is a big difference between loyalty and autonomy. The perspective you have in loving someone so wholeheartedly is respectable. But based on what you’ve shared, it could be possible that you ask a lot from your partner. You say that you live in a small town with a small community. So you should already know how difficult it is to create distance among folks with whom you were already familiar with. That kind of boundary setting is ripe with potential misunderstanding.

I am also very curious about how you personally define “respect” with regards to respecting your partner or your partner’s relationship with you. There is already an explicit hierarchy in your polyamorous relationship. Demanding respect when you haven’t shown yet that you’ve earned so is going to prove incompatible for a lot of folks who want to explore a long-term connection with your partner as well. Instead, show them who you are by mindfully exercising your secure attachment with your shared partner, very much like Dave confidently made space in my relationship with our shared partner.

Based on your label, I also get the sense that you two have a very strict hierarchical polyamorous relationship. And based on what I gather, I get the sense that when you don’t get along with a particular metamour, you ask your partner to end his relationship. That is fine if that is the preexisting agreement you have with your partner. Whether it is an implicit veto (i.e. I’m going to But that veto agreement is unfortunately going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

I’ll also float the possibility that your partner just happened to have had an unfortunate encounters with two incompatible partners. I don’t imagine that it has always been an issue in your five year polyamory journey together that he always pursued folks who were clearly incompatible with you as a metamour. But I also think that we – the non-monogamous folks – represent a small subsection of the overall dating population. The more selective you and your partner are about his secondary partners, the more difficult it will be to find any suitable match. So it might not be a bad idea to keep an open mind and more kindly approach your partner’s interests.

At some point, you are going to have to trust that your primary partner can solve his problems on your behalf – even if it looks like he lacks agency. And you are also going to have to trust that he will pick out the type of partners who will also get along with you. You’ve had a lot of opportunities to build trust around each other’s capabilities to be partners to other folks. The inherent part of trust is in having faith that your partner does have your best interests at heart. It looks like there are a lot of room for improvement and growth for both you and your partner as you continue to explore polyamory. So be patient!

Good luck.

Advice – How can I manage a transition from a secondary relationship to a co-primary relationship?

“I am a woman who has been married to my husband for many years and has been dating my boyfriend for a little over a year. We are (at least theoretically) non-hierarchical; they are both life-partner level people for me. While I’m not open to seeing others, they are both free to have relationships with others but neither has anything serious right now.

Before quarantine, I spent maybe 60% of my time with my husband and 40% with my boyfriend, but it has now become clear how much of my boyfriend time was related to other things – primarily my own work/travel (we live in opposite suburbs of a big city, I have to travel to his side often and would always stay with him then) and my husband being busy with a lot of hobbies. This whole situation also just really highlighted that while our situation felt pretty equitable on the surface, it favored my husband in many underlying ways. Some of these are just part of the situation and will never change (marriage brings a lot of legal benefits!) but I do want to change what I can.

The most obvious thing to me is to set up an actual schedule to split time between them. My boyfriend is moving soon and wants me to help set up, so I think that’ll make me feel like I’m a real resident of his place.

Has anyone else done this? Can you tell me about it? What were the things that really made things feel more equal? Any speed bumps along the way I can keep an eye out for?”

Listen Y’all on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Dear Listen Y’all,

It sounds like you are making some strides to ensure that your theoretically non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship is becoming a more practical one! It is so good to hear that you’re using this particular time of immense stress to recognize and amend what appears unbalanced in your own relationships.

I did post a write-up of ethical practice of hierarchical polyamorous relationships about four months ago as well as two advice posts about hierarchies – one from five months ago and the other from six months ago – that might be worth a gander for you. As you can see, recognizing and deconstructing hierarchies is a pretty common problem in non-hierarchical polyamory. It is also something I am constantly and personally vigilant about in my own personal practice of non-hierarchical polyamory.

In this post, I won’t spend too much time defining what hierarchies are. You deserve better than Poly 101. Instead, I’ll dedicate most of this post to outline a process you can implement to even your relationships out a bit more.

Photo by lehandross on Pexels.com

The first step is to recognize and identify what hierarchies and privileges each of your relationship experiences.

Some descriptive hierarchies are natural developments of any healthy long-term relationships. As you mentioned, your marriage to your husband brings a lot of inherent privileges that you both get to enjoy through the legal protection of marriage. Also, since you’ve been together for many years before, you two have had an opportunity to forge a strong connection over the years that is physically represented in the home you two quarantine together. These types of advantages naturally develop over time and for good reason. Think of it this way. Through the years of connection you’ve built with your husband, you two have been able to develop a fundamental and sound level of trust that has stood the test of time over and over again. So of course that trust has manifested in various privileges you two enjoy and share together.

In the past month, you have had an opportunity to see how the percentage of time spent (60% husband / 40% boyfriend) wasn’t ultimately as equitable as you’d like it to be. But time alone isn’t a great indicator of a specific hierarchy. I assume that you generally approach your relationships with the type of mindfulness in experienced polyfolks. That means you implicitly determined or explicitly declared the number of days per week / month you’d be spending with one or both partners.

There are also inherent and unique privileges that you get to enjoy with your boyfriend of one year as well. New Relationship Energy goes without saying. But I believe that there is something much more intricate about the way NRE plays out in new relationships. When you connect with someone new, you get to reforge and rediscover various aspects about yourself in the context of the relationship with this new person. That is not something that you can often get to do when you are in an old relationship.

Once you have figured out what kind of hierarchies and privileges you have, the next step is to determine what you want to do about them.

You implied that you currently live with your husband, but not with your boyfriend. For you, what does it mean to nest with a partner? If it is a specific hierarchy that only applies to your relationship with your husband, what kind of space can you and your boyfriend create so that you two can continue to expand and grow in your relationship together? If there are mutual friends who have had years of opportunity to connect with your husband, do you want those same folks to connect with your boyfriend as well?

Think about the advantages you currently enjoy with your boyfriend that you don’t get to enjoy with your husband. Living in a space away from your husband could allow for you two to build something anew. But it could also be an opportunity for you two to grow apart. How will you continue to be engaged with your husband and ensure that your respective insecurities do not cause too much harm to your marriage?

Photo by Jessica Gaudioso on Pexels.com

Third step of the process is to communicate your findings, intentions, and plans.

Your partners both deserve to know what level of emotional, physical, financial, and sexual engagement to expect from each of their respective relationships with you. Be open and vulnerable with them about what you discovered. Share what conclusions you’ve arrived to based on those findings. And verbally commit to a plan to de-escalate some aspects of your relationships with each of your partners while escalating others.

In specific, the verbal commitment to your plan will also hold yourself accountable to follow through on your intentions. Doing so will also give an opportunity for each of your partners to help you actualize those plans. Each of your partner should be able to see what you saw, arrive to the same conclusions, and support your personal as well as your relational growth.

Some parts of this is going to feel so wildly out of your comfort zone. We live in a society at a time where vulnerability is often seen as weakness. To that I say, why build trust if you aren’t willing to utilize that trust as a bridge to connect with others about the issues you feel vulnerable about? The discomfort in sharing in a vulnerable space is not because being vulnerable is bad. It’s because we aren’t used to often diving deep even with all the right diving equipments in hand.

All that remains is to follow through and mind the disconnects.

I believe that love need not be a zero sum game. You don’t necessarily need to de-escalate the entirety of your relationship with your husband to make sure that your boyfriend is standing on an fair and equitable playing level with your husband. But some aspects of your connections will have to change in order to make room for your boyfriend to represent the level of entanglement you want his relationship with you to represent. That means pre-emptive discussions about how this new realization impacts the long-term vision of your connection with your husband.

You asked about speed bumps to look out for. Some disconnects will be inevitable. Keep a close eye on your husband’s level of security in his relationship with you as these aspects of his marriage with you keep changing. Saying is one thing and doing is another. So be mindful about reconnecting when you anticipate or experience an emotional or sexual gaps. Also, pay a close attention to your boyfriend’s emotional involvement as you get more enmeshed. If you don’t already do so, do a weekly or a monthly check in with your boyfriend as you get more and more settled in the new space you two have created.

Things will be difficult. And sometimes your motives will be foggy. The kindest things you can do when you aren’t sure why you keep forging forward is to remind yourself that you are doing this for all the right reasons. Hope for the best, that logic will prevail.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Prioritization in polyamorous relationships.

“I’ve been in a polyamorous relationship for almost 5 years. I was part of a hierarchical relationship as a secondary for the first year of that relationship. Initially it was fine. I wasn’t looking for anything serious. But the relationship evolved into much more and my partners primary relationship evolved too in a different, less romantic partnership. Hierarchical isn’t practiced anymore. There were times during that first year that were bumpy. It was my first poly relationship. I was interested in trying it out. I had to reframe my mind a bit from a monogamous mindset. But I realized I liked it because I felt freedom. I wasn’t suffocating. My custody arrangements have changed so that I now have my kids 80% of the time. This isn’t ideal for someone who wants to date multiple people. So I haven’t had the opportunity to form any solid relationships outside my current partners. So with that background in mind, I have this innate desire to feel like I’m prioritized in some way. Even though we aren’t hierarchical. Is this a monogamous mindset? Should I be working on that? Are there ways to feel that way, things that can be done to accomplish that within a polyamorous relationship? My partner does a lot of behind the scenes prioritization of me that I don’t see or hear…but sometimes I feel insecure when it “feels” like I’m not in certain situations. I know I could “understand” this more if I had more opportunities to date other people. So I’m trying to explore that feeling before broaching this more with my partner. Thoughts, advice?”

Runner Chick 0601 on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Dear Runner Chick 0601,

Let’s first talk about priorities.

My advice to you greatly depends on how you personally define priority in your non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship. In general, priority is defined as a form of lenient privilege that one partner has over other partner(s). These priorities can be temporary (i.e. “I live with my nesting partner. So until you move in next month, I am going to continue to prioritize eating dinner at my home with my nesting partner over driving two hours into the city to eat dinners with you.”), implicit (i.e. “Janet is performing at the concert I want to attend. So I’m just going to go alone and meet Janet there after her performance.”), and/or exclusive (i.e. “Peter is the only person I consent to be fluid bonded / barrier-free with.”).

Priority is frequently used in the context of scarcity of resources in polyamorous relationships: time, space, and energy.

Priority of time means that one partner gets dibs on scheduling their plans with the shared partner, often in the absence of any other plans. Depending on how stringent this priority is, it can even be placed to override existing plans with other people.

Priority of space means that one partner gets dibs on a particular activity, a specific physical space, or even emotional commitment. In an earlier example, choosing to go see Janet at her concert would be considered an implicit prioritization of space. This type of prioritization can frequently be found in kink spaces or meetups in parallel polyamorous contexts.

Priority of energy is prioritization in the emotional, physical, financial, or sexual reserves available. So a priority of emotional energy could look a lot like, “I am currently going through a breakup with my other partner. So I need a little more of your emotional support while I get myself together.”

Not all priorities are inherently unhealthy.

There are bound to be implicit, descriptive hierarchies built into any long-term relationships that stand the test of time. Requesting priority, if done appropriately and respectfully, can sound a lot like communicating your needs, setting expectations, and assessing your followup scenarios.

Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

It sounds like your polyamorous relationship with your partner has gone through a lot of changes in the past five years. It sounds like the space you occupied in his life grew a lot in the first year as his relationship priorities shifted through his deepening connection to you. And I can see that you’re struggling with the varying degrees of that descriptive hierarchy and different levels of prioritization in his other relationship that make you feel insecure in your relationship with him.

Maybe the first place to start is to consider if this is a problem that needs fixin’. Are there aspects of your relationship with your partner that make you feel not as prioritized? And what about those experiences make you feel less secure in your relationship? Is that insecurity causing you any significant distress? Is that cause of insecurity something that you can address on your own or do you need to recruit help from your partner?

If you aren’t already familiar with the Five Love Languages, I also wrote about it in a previous column here. And based on what you’ve shared, it sounds like one of your primary love languages is in quality time. But due to your childrearing responsibilities, your time is already stretched thin. So take advantage of the quality one-on-one times you can find together and try to come into your experiences fully present together.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

I also want to talk a little bit about monogamy conditioning. I think a LOT of polyamorous folks get wrapped up in disentangling themselves from ALL of monogamy-related mindsets, as if it is the worst thing in the world. From what I have seen and experienced, ability to do monogamous or polyamorous relationships lie on a spectrum; there are many ambiamorous folks who can do one or the other by embracing that there are pros and cons to both ends of the spectrum.

That change in perspective could really benefit you as you assess your insecurities around prioritization. That innate desire to feel prioritized in your relationship is sound; it could come from your fears of abandonment, personal needs that are not being met, or even from how you are mentally comparing yourself to the relationship he has with his other partner. Take some time to consider each of those points and feel it out to see if they apply to you.

Last thing I’ll leave you off with is that there is always going to be a lot of that “behind the scenes prioritization” for any hinge partner. Part of what makes being a hinge partner so difficult is in managing and prioritizing each of their relationships in an appropriate and respectful way also while communicating appropriately – not too much and not too little. Since he is managing his relationship with you and his relationship with his other partner, those are two incredibly fine lines to toe.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I feel very special when my secondary dates others, but not when my primary dates others.

“I have been together with my primary partner for 6 years now. Our relationship is super solid and we are still very much in love. He is not poly per se, more ‘open’ and only in love with me. I do struggle with feeling less special when he dates others. I get insecure and anxious. Maybe I do feel special, but I also tend to be afraid that the other girl is cooler than I am. I recognize that she is just different and we have different qualities.

It is different with my secondary partner of 4 months. He is poly and currently in love with three partners and maybe dating five or six people in total. They are gorgeous. I don’t feel a speck of jealousy. I even feel very special because those girls are all super beautiful and have the ideal body according to him: petite and skinny. I am not petite and skinny at all. So it’s really cool that he likes me so much! He even fell in love with me and shows me a lot of love and affection. He explained me that we are all special in our own way. He didn’t have to explain this because I already knew.

I think this is pretty interesting. My anxiety pops up when my primary partner dates other girls, and especially when they have a more ‘ideal’ body than mine… and with my secondary partner I don’t feel this at all!

Did someone experience something like this? I would like to explore why this works this way psychologically. I think it’s because I would be devastated when I would “lose” my primary whereas I am just enjoying my secondary for as long as it will last.

If you ever struggled with feelings of being anxious or less worthy when your partner dates cool people, how did you handle this?”

/u/notsofearless, /r/polyamory.

Photo by Harry Cunningham @harry.digital on Pexels.com

Dear Not So Fearless,

I think you already touched on one possibility; that you could fear potentially losing the six year old relationship you have with your primary partner. But I also think that there are two other possibilities that could explain why you feel more special when your secondary partner dates others while you feel less special when your primary partner does so.

It could be that the difference in each of your partners’ relationship orientations make you feel more or less secure with each one. You mentioned that your primary partner is more open while your secondary partner is much more polyamorous. So you have already established an idea of the kind of partners they each seek out. And you could in turn fear that your primary partner could still potentially develop feelings toward their casual partners. You already know and have experienced that your secondary partner can maintain happy and healthy intimate relationships with many people. So you don’t feel as insecure about your secondary partner developing and sustaining emotional connections with others.

Image credit to Hunter Photography.

Another possibility is that you have different attachment styles with each of your partners. For those who don’t know, the four attachment styles (Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant) originate from the attachment theory. In short, it reasons that our early life interactions with our parents determine how we might be acclimated to develop a specific style of connection with our loved ones. Here is a very quick overview of how different attachment styles compare.

  • Secure: “I am contently attached to my partner(s). I am deeply engaged with my partner(s) and feel free to explore the breadth of human experience. I have a high value of myself and others, and love developing strong and intimate connection with many.”
  • Anxious-Preoccupied: “I seek high levels of intimacy from my partner(s). I feel anxious when my partner(s) are away from me. I want to get very close to the people I love. I have a very high value of others but a very low value of myself.”
  • Dismissive-Avoidant: “I seek high levels of independence away from my partner(s). I do not need anyone to be a high functioning individual. I sometimes struggle to develop and maintain close connections with people due to how I keep those connections at a distance. I have a very high value of self but a very low value of others.”
  • Fearful-Avoidant: “I want to but feel utterly unsure how to develop close connections with my partner(s). I feel very ambivalent about wanting to connect with people at a deep level, but not wanting to get too close to someone who could hurt me. I struggle to feel worthy in my relationships. I have a low value of myself and others.”

Most of us generally gravitate toward one attachment style over others, and your natural attachment style could change depending on the relationship, where you are at in life, and the kind of attachment style your partner(s) has.

So it could just be possible that you are securely attached to your secondary partner, while you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment with your primary partner.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

It might be a good time for you to sit down with your primary partner and establish a more secure attachment with each other by diving deep into what you feel the most insecure about. This will be a very difficult and complex discussion to have, as you’ll quickly discover that all of these body image issues are more internal rather than external. And there will only be so much your partners can do to address your self-image issues. We are so often told by our colleagues, TV ads, and fashion websites that beauty is absolute and the impossible beauty standards should be achievable.

But the truth is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I don’t mean your partners when I say beholder; I mean you. Learn to recognize and appreciate the things you love about yourself by romancing yourself.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Are hierarchical relationships bad?

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/u/kjones139 asks on /r/polyamory…

“I have had another connection end while describing the hierarchical polyamory my wife and I practice. Apparently the new in thing is relationship anarchy. I am committed to my wife. We share finances. We have a home together. We take care of each other when we are sick. We ask the most from each other while other relationships are more related to fun. I keep getting flack from relationship anarchists, but at 6am when her car breaks down my wife can call me and I will be there. When I get home and want to quit my job my partner is there for me. Am I missing something here?”

I personally practice non-hierarchical polyamory. To me, that means that while I distinguish a strict boundary between people I consider to be friends and people I consider partners, there are no explicit or prescriptive hierarchies that strictly forbid one partner from reaching a threshold that another has already crossed with very limited exceptions. In short, friends are friends, but all partners operate on fair playing field.

This being said, I do not believe that there are anything inherently unethical about hierarchical relationships, as long as everyone knows about and consents to those hierarchies in place. Properly done, hierarchical polyamorous relationships can and are just as fair and ethical as non-hierarchical polyamorous relationships.

Many forms of hierarchies are natural and very often organically develop over time. For example, the longer you are engaged with one person, the more people in their lives you’ll get to meet. That level of openness and broader acceptance of your relationship is gradual but definitive. Some hierarchies are more forceful and driven. A good example of an ethical, driven hierarchy is financial enmeshment. As you get more and more enmeshed with your partner, it might make a lot of sense to gather all of your financials into one place for more sensible budgeting.

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

Challenges of hierarchical polyamory

The challenge in the most ethical practice of hierarchical polyamorous relationships come in:

  1. Inflexibility of hierarchies,
  2. General miscommunication around priorities, and
  3. Social stigma around that label.

Here is an example of an inflexible hierarchy: marriage.

Marriages are natural hierarchies that develop over time, but are deeply inflexible due to legality. It is a state-recognized status & symbol and family/friend-recognized status of a relationship. Outside of getting a divorce (which can be costly), it is a hierarchy and a threshold that a lot of polyfolks in this mononormative society will have to address.

Then there is the miscommunication around priorities of different partners. When designating someone as a primary partner over another secondary partner, it is often doneso for the sake of appeasing one partner’s insecurity over another (potential or realistic). And while your enmeshed, nesting partner will have more opportunities to be prioritized, asserting strict priority when comparing different needs makes this part of hierarchical polyamory unethical.

How you balance one partner’s need over another partner’s wants is a very critical aspect and a learned skill in polyamory. A very practical application of this hierarchy is in celebrating which partner you’re going to celebrate which holidays and events with. Unless we possess the Time-Turner, it is impossible for us to be in two places at the same time. What happens if you are invited to an event and you can only bring a plus one? Does your wife always get the first say because she is your primary partner?

But the biggest challenge most hierarchical polyfolks face is in the perceived stigma of being in hierarchical polyamorous relationships. It is a big price of admission due to a lot of really negative past experiences surrounding dating explicitly hierarchical polyfolks. It is now a major price of admission to be classified as someone’s secondary partner as hierarchical relationships are no longer the current trend of polyamorous relationships. And because fewer and fewer people settle for relationships that do not work for them, the stigma is going to grow and grow.

Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

Ethical practice of hierarchical polyamory

With all this being said, I do think that there are ethical ways to practice and improve on hierarchical polyamorous relationships.

First is to do your best to analyze and assess existing hierarchies. Why are they here? Who are these hierarchies for? Do these hierarchies have to be exclusive to one person? This step is really important because it is a necessary prep work that allows us to forge a more sound connections with not just each other but with ourselves as well. Recognize that the flaw in hierarchies isn’t that they exist, but that they externally bar another from crossing that threshold for reasons completely unrelated to their respective relationships.

After revisiting those hierarchies, communicate those hierarchies with those affected parties as impeccably as you can. If there is a specific threshold a particular relationship cannot cross, it’ll be so much more hurtful to hit that glass ceiling with your head when you come upon it. So do your best to mindfully explain what those hierarchies are, why they’re there, and why they have to stay there. Ideally, these discussions about hierarchies would take place prior to seriously engaging with anyone on a romantic level. If you are already romantically entangled, today is a better day to have these discussions than tomorrow.

Last step is ongoing maintenance and regular check-in on those hierarchies and boundaries. Like any other personal boundaries, hierarchies need to be self-enforceable. And just because a hierarchy threshold has not been exercised does not mean that they do not exist. So for example, if the specific hierarchy/privilege in your primary relationship states that you are not allowed to any more than two overnight stays a week with secondary partners and you haven’t done any overnights lately with any secondary partners, that does not mean that you don’t need that space. That space might not be for current relationships, but they might be for future ones. Expanding and shrinking hierarchical arrangements need to be approached with incredible caution.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Comparative Relationship Anarchy

I do want to come back to the main post’s points about relationship anarchists.

I do agree that RA seems to be a more trendy relationship pattern among polyfolks these days. However, there is nothing common in between one person who practices relationship anarchy from another aside from the overarching aspiration and vision to approach each of their relationships without any preset rules. One person’s practice of RA might not look at all like another person’s practice of RA. So when you are receiving negative press from folks who identify with RA, please do not lump all RAfolks into one bucket.

And I’ll also make a point about recognized subtle hierarchies. Some call them “sneaki-archies” or dishonest egalitarianism. Even if you might not recognize a specific hierarchy internal in your marriage to your wife, others could recognize it from a distance that there is a built-in hierarchy to your marriage that you or your wife might be in denial about. I think it’s important to realize that your version of reality might be a little different from your former paramours versions of reality. Instead of pointing fingers outward, maybe you should take some time to look at the common denominator and see if there really is truth to the hierarchies others see in your relationship style.

Advice – What are my rights as a secondary partner?

Photo by Abby Kihano on Pexels.com

/u/Wolfedward7780 writes on /r/polyamory…

“I’[M28] entering a poly relationship with my g[F26]. We dated for a year and a half recently. She was very depressed towards the end of our relationship. We decided to break up and give each other space to heal as we were bringing each other down. However I realized how much I loved her and should have stayed by her side to help her.

After a few months we reconnected. We hung out as friends. Then started sort of seeing one another again without any sort of label. Sort of a FWB situation. Then she came out to me and told me she is Poly.

She is currently seeing her best friend/ex boyfriend of 8 year as her primary and asked if I would be her secondary. I wont lie it hurt at first hearing I would be her secondary. She has told me I could become a 2nd primary however, after more time goes by and we are together longer.

I’m just looking for anything to help me learn more about being a secondary. How to help understand my initial feelings of being the secondary. What my role is or what rights I guess I still have. Anything helps. I love her with all my heart and she says she loves me as well and wants me in her life. I want to try to make this work.”

TL;DR – Re-entered into an ex’s life as a secondary. How am I supposed to feel?

Dear Wolf Edward 7780,

I am honestly a little confused about the timing of it all. For the sake of clarity, I am going to advise as if your girlfriend did serial monogamy. I am assuming that she got together with her ex of eight years during the months in between the end of your relationship and its re-beginning. I am also going to assume that she decided that she wanted to be in a polyamorous relationship with her partner before you got in contact with her. If she only decided she was polyamorous after she hooked up with you, that would fall under unethical non-monogamy, or cheating. Anything short of her ethically approaching her FWB connection with you would constitute a violation of any traditionally monogamous agreements.

Different people love differently. One person’s hierarchical polyamorous relationship might look completely different from another person’s set of hierarchies. One person’s secondary partner commitment could look a lot like another person’s primary partner commitment. So the first thing you should do is to clarify with your girlfriend what does it mean to be her secondary partner. Clearly, she is leaving the door open for you to become a co-primary should there be the history to support that designation. But for the meantime, that is the label she is comfortable working with.

It will be incredibly important for you to flesh out what are the differences between how she personally sees that distinction between the primary partner and the secondary partner. What is her expectation considering your involvement in her in her life going forward? What kind of explicit/prescriptive hierarchies and privileges does her primary partner have over you? Is there a specific timeline in which you can revisit the current primary/secondary partnership designation?

Then decide for yourself whether this is suitable for you. I am assuming based on the original post title that you are choosing to be exclusive/monogamous to your girlfriend. But clearly, there will be a threshold that you cannot cross while being designated as a secondary partner and not dating anyone else. Are you okay with that glass ceiling of your relationship? Or are you merely accepting the current status as an abandonment avoidance strategy not to lose her? This is a pretty big price of admission for anyone to pay. Most people who settle into secondary partnerships usually have a distinct primary partnerships of their own. Or they are folks who practice solo polyamory by maintaining a group of secondary partnerships where each of them collectively fulfill all of their needs.

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I want to backtrack and talk more about your basic rights as a secondary partner.

As a secondary, you are still a person who deserves the love they can get. But we often settle for the love we think we deserve. In any other circumstance, I would have advised you to set up proper boundaries to make sure you are well warded against the rocky waves that are the first poly steps. I think you’re already way too invested in this relationship to work out, no matter the hierarchies. This might not be the advice you want to hear at this moment, but I would strongly recommend that you emotionally buffer yourself with an enriching life and a support network outside of this relationship so that you don’t ask for primary partner expectation from your one partner.

You have an entire history with this person. And you are going to quickly realize that the version of her that you originally fell in love with is not really there anymore. Back then, you were operating under the assumption that you two were monogamous and by default primary partners to each other. That is not how your relationship works now. So you are going to have to re-invent yourselves in this current transition to figure out how you can fit into each other’s lives without becoming too unhappy.

And sometimes, making things work might look a lot like breaking things down so that you can reuse what you’ve chipped off in a more effective way.

A really bad movie named Definitely, Maybe (2008) once taught me that there isn’t the One; instead, there is the When. We are who we are at any given moments of time. And there are perfect circumstances where sometimes we can be more than what we have been. Right now might not be the best of times for you and your girlfriend to be each other’s partners. So there isn’t anything wrong with just letting this space afloat and exist in each other’s world in this limited sense, hoping for a better tomorrow.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Primary & secondary partnerships.

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/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?

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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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!