The polyamory ideal of total equality across all of your partners, while noble in intent, for the most part doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny in the real world. You’re allowed to have a “best” friend or a favorite sibling, so why when it comes to adult relationships do so many polys feel the need to proclaim that everyone is precisely equal.
While conceptually the “everybody is equal” has an egalitarian appeal, the reality is that some are more equal than others, if you’ll forgive the appropriation of the famous turn of phrase. Here at Polyamory Today, we have advocated primary and secondary relationships, as many enter into open relationships and established poly relationships, and that is of course the “default” assumption in our society. Having a primary partner does not entitle you to treat your non-primary partner as a play thing, particularly if your relationship has progressed to the point where it’s more than just sex.
While you might have a primary relationship, that doesn’t mean that anything related to it takes precedence over your non-primary. If you have a date scheduled, cancelling it for non-emergency reasons is inconsiderate and sends a demeaning message to your non-primary partner.
Once you’ve developed a relationship with a non-primary partner it is certain that there will come a time when the non-primary partner will need the primaries to focus their attention on them due to either an emergency or just because they are going through a rough patch. It’s part of being a decent friend, and compassion will go along way towards making your relationships qualitatively better.
If you do indeed have an agreement with your primary partner, you need to disclose the terms of the agreement, preferably upfront and before there’s an emotional attachment, as well as whatever rules have been codified and what input (if any) the non-primary partner is allowed. Many open primary relationships have veto rules and kill-switch mechanisms as part of them. Ideally you will have disclosed this upfront, and if you’re having discussions with your primary that will affect your secondary relationship, you have an obligation to keep your non-primary partner in the loop, even if their input is of no consequence to the outcome. If you have agreed that your non-primary partner gets input into decision-making, you should not rescind that right during a conflict because you don’t feel it is going your way.
Elevating one relationship over all the others may seem like a perfectly natural thing to do, but it doesn’t mean that you are absolved of doing the “right thing” by your secondaries, treating them the way you would wish to be treated, with love, compassion and respect.
How do you find balance between your primary and secondary relationships?