Primary/Secondary: Merged Threads, General Discussion / Debate

ladyjools

New member
Personally, I do not use these labels in regards to my own relationships. However that does not mean that I believe it’s wrong to do so or that I cannot see the advantages of having that kind of structure in a polyamorous set up.

When I first entered into polyamory we discussed this mode of being but I felt that at the time OUR reasons for wanting to be the primary relationship and all others secondary where more because of our insecurity’s rather than any practical or other rational reason. When we deliberated around the issue more we decided to drop these labels completely and let each relationship develop organically and in its own unique way. I felt strongly that I wanted to be free to allow love to nurture without restraint and so if that meant I ended up with 2 or 3 people in my life that I was completely committed too I would be happy with that and if my other relationships developed in a way that was more informal as long as it felt right that was ok too. The main and only restriction I have is time because there are only so many hours in the day to devote myself to my many lovers.

Starting out in polyamory there is often a lot of insecurity. Being polyamorous does not mean that we are immune to the same jealousy and insecurity that monogamous people often struggle with. An example of one of those insecurities is often the fear that you’re partner will like or love the other person more or that they are better or will become more important than you. Having the concept of I am the primary partner and therefore I am more important and my needs will always come first can often be a way of containing this insecurity. That is one way to deal with it but I felt that there must be another way rather than just contain the issue I wanted to get to the root of it and so there was a lot of talking and reassuring and gradually we where able to find other ways to deal with these feelings. Yes they do still come up. I am the first to confess I do get jealous. However rather than feel the need to start putting labels and restrictions on my partners other relationships I have decided to keep working at our relationship and making it stronger so that I can not just let go of those feelings but learn something from them.

The fact is the in polyamory the primary/secondary label is not about who is more important or loved. It isn’t about who will always come first it is just about the dynamic of the relationship. For example a married couple with children might define there relationship as primary because they live together and are raising a child together. Perhaps the husband has a girlfriend who does not live with them and who does not have the same commitments. That does not mean that the girlfriend is of any less value even though she may be classed in that dynamic as being the secondary partner.

I can see how in this situation the primary secondary label could apply. I see no problems with this at all as long as the secondary partner is respected and valued in her own right.

Other reasons one might use the secondary label;
• Not having enough time to dedicate to the relationship to meet enough needs to warrant it a primary relationship

(In this instance sometimes it might seem fair too the secondary partner to be open about what is expected in the relationship so that they can make an informed choice if they feel that there needs can be met in this dynamic and using the primary/secondary structure is one way of doing this)

• The relationship being long distance
• Wanting a different level of relationship that will not involve the commitment and other issues that would usually arise from having a primary relationship
• All party’s being happy to keep the relationship only on a casual level

(There are some relationships that work best on this level and can be extremely fulfilling for the people involved)


I could add more but these are the main ones.

I can see in all these circumstances why those labels can and do exist.

I will continue for the time being not to use these labels because I feel like it is far too easy to fall into the drawbacks. I want all 3 of my partners to know that they are equally important to me no matter what the unique circumstances of our relationships. Nobody’s needs come first and nobody comes second in each situation that arises I simply look at what is best for us in that situation. Sometimes one might need me around more and that is perfectly ok as long as they understand and respect my commitments and love for the other 2. Nobody has veto power to end any of my other relationships and likewise I will never accept or want veto power over any of my lover’s relationships. (This however is a whole new topic)

It would be interesting to see what other peoples opinion is on this subject and find out what you do or would do in your situations. I hope this is at least some food for thought.

Jools
 

booklady78

New member
I couldn't agree more with you! Being rather new to this, insecurity and jealousy are still areas we are working on. I view my husband is my primary, he is the one that I have made a commitment to. I have felt that, in time, I will feel the same level of commitment to my boyfriend. We have been together for about 6 months and are still growing and learning about each other, we are certainly dedicated to our relationship now and talk alot about 'right now'. It is awkward to discuss our future sometimes, he can never be my 'husband' in the same way and he is ok with that.

I believe that labels of 'primary' and 'secondary' can be helpful in addressing initial insecurities, but in my case at least, over time they will fade from our vocabulary. Those terms imply an almost 'mathmatical' way of looking at a relationship, that seems rather cold and clinical. Primary implies 'majority' and I don't believe that's indicitive of the love and respect needed for any relationship.
 

LovingRadiance

Active member
I don't care for labels in general-and have no liking for those specifically (in my life).

For much the same reason you lay out-about it "hiding" an insecurity.

I love both Maca and GG deeply, passionately and am committed to both of them.
They are both intricately woven into my life, my heart, my soul. To remove either would be destructive.
Therefore-they are both "primary".

The fact that one is my husband and the other is my boyfriend doesn't make the boyfriend secondary (we do all live together, raising the kids).

In fact-it's annoying to me in MANY ways and in many instances to refer to GG as my "boyfriend" because it DOES NOT explain the depth of our relationship or our commitment. But I don't see any current resolution to that issue.
 

ladyjools

New member
part of the reason i will never marry in the traditional legal sense is because i don't want tht inbalance and so if i ever do decide to have some kind of wedding it won't be legal it will be more spiritual and i will commit myself to them both,
far of in future though

Jools
 
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Ceoli

Guest
AMEN, ladyjools. Those terms can be pretty prescriptive and confining for me.

Lately I've preferred to use terms that are more descriptive than hierarchical, like SO (significant other), lover, sweetie, etc. I've always been dissatisfied with relationships that lay out my role ahead of time. I've been very lucky to have the chance to explore a relationship that is about what's right for both of us and for the other partners, not what's right for the structure.
 

GroundedSpirit

New member
Hi Jools,

Yea, I'm one who dislikes labels too except for the most simplistic of concepts and as we all know there's nothing remotely simple about the whole poly equation.
And I often wonder if some of the grabbing at labels isn't just the mechanism some people are trying to use to get some type of handle on this complexity. It's kind of reminiscent of the way people build value systems. In a complex world we need some tool to guide us to make quick, shoot-from-the-hip decisions when we don't have time for a proper analysis.
The "secondary" term I see as being absolutely applicable in SOME situations/times (as Booklady explained) and not in others. The fact that it carries a negative tone is unfortunate - but education CAN overcome that.
It kind of reminds me of a term I've heard a lot - "3rd wheel". Arrgghhhhh
How many times have I heard people say "I'm not being anyone's 3rd wheel" ! Have you guys heard that ? It's so negative ! That 3rd wheel is a critical component of a tricycle !

But in any case - it "seems" to me that the full & equal role of everyone in a relationship is kind of the holy grail that everyone would strive for - IF the conditions permitted. But sometimes they don't and someone plays a "secondary" role. But like the tricycle, that role can be critical and not to be demonized.

GS
 

mez

New member
Labelling

Labels work good on food BUT do we want to assign labels to ourselves and other people? How do you label someone who is in flux.
Habits, behaviour thoughts feelings and ideas are in constant movement and interconnecting in people minds What someone thought even 5 minutes ago may have become drastically altered.

Labels like ideology that I have suggested in another thread are dangerous. They are a by product of fear of 'the others' , the different to be fought, to be cast out. They suggest dogmatism and are a product themselves of ideology.
 

Derbylicious

New member
I don't know if the lables are a good idea in the long term, but when starting up a new relationship when you already have an established relationship(s) it can be a good idea to use the labels so that everyone has the same understanding of what's going on.

This isn't to say that the primary/secondary relationship structure is written in stone but it does allow for a starting point from which the relationships can grow and develop.

-Derby
 
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Ceoli

Guest
I don't know if the lables are a good idea in the long term, but when starting up a new relationship when you already have an established relationship(s) it can be a good idea to use the labels so that everyone has the same understanding of what's going on.

This isn't to say that the primary/secondary relationship structure is written in stone but it does allow for a starting point from which the relationships can grow and develop.

-Derby

I think that if I needed a label to understand what's going on in my relationships, I would re-examine my understanding of my relationships in general.
 

Derbylicious

New member
Ok...not what I meant. I was trying to say that the labels have definitions that come along with them that can make expectations of the people involved in the relationship clearer to everyone.
 

CielDuMatin

New member
Labels are adjectives. They describe what a person is in broad ways. They are useful only so far - to get a broad-brush approach of a person. But that is all they will do. If you want to get to know someone, I believe you absolutely need to dig beneath the meanings of the labels.

Not having a label (or series of labels) that describes you is also Just Fine, IMO.
 

LovingRadiance

Active member
part of the reason i will never marry in the traditional legal sense is because i don't want tht inbalance and so if i ever do decide to have some kind of wedding it won't be legal it will be more spiritual and i will commit myself to them both,
far of in future though

Jools

That is true for me for future. IF something ever (God forbid) happened to Maca, I won't remarry in the legal sense, unless the kids were still little.
THEN I would-because it would give GG the ability to add them to his medical insurance at work.
But generally speaking I think the technicality is a pain in the ass.
 

LovingRadiance

Active member
The "secondary" term I see as being absolutely applicable in SOME situations/times (as Booklady explained) and not in others. The fact that it carries a negative tone is unfortunate - but education CAN overcome that.
It kind of reminds me of a term I've heard a lot - "3rd wheel". Arrgghhhhh
How many times have I heard people say "I'm not being anyone's 3rd wheel" ! Have you guys heard that ? It's so negative ! That 3rd wheel is a critical component of a tricycle !

But in any case - it "seems" to me that the full & equal role of everyone in a relationship is kind of the holy grail that everyone would strive for - IF the conditions permitted. But sometimes they don't and someone plays a "secondary" role. But like the tricycle, that role can be critical and not to be demonized.

GS
GS-I agree, I DO have secondary relationships (they don't HAPPEN to be sexual at this time in my life, none the less they exist).
I just think it's frustrating to have others consider someone who is PRIMARY in my life my "secondary" simply because he's not my husband.
I don't have an issue WITH having secondaries, I have an issue with having my TWO primaries ..... not being acknowledged for the level of responsibility they BOTH take in our family. It's not really about the ME part of it, it's the family.
They both put all of their time, money, priority, commitment into this family and household. They both take full responsibility for the kids, the bills, the chores, the health crisis'...

I do very much dislike labels-for me it's a defensive "don't try to put me in a box" thing-spent a LOT of my life in someone else's box trying to get out. :)

But they certainly have their place, especially when talking to people who aren't "close enough" to you to motivate you to give them detailed explanations.
:)
 

ladyjools

New member
I think the problem is not with the terms and more with peoples perceptions of those terms,

Originally Posted by Derbylicious
I don't know if the lables are a good idea in the long term, but when starting up a new relationship when you already have an established relationship(s) it can be a good idea to use the labels so that everyone has the same understanding of what's going on.

This isn't to say that the primary/secondary relationship structure is written in stone but it does allow for a starting point from which the relationships can grow and develop.

-Derby


I actually disagree and think that primary secoundary labels are bad way to start out. We almost did this and i am glad that we did not. The point is not everyone has the same understanding of what those labels mean anyway and so it has to be explained regardless and it is so easy to fall into the pitfalls of what those labels could mean. When starting out on a new relationship i would rather explain what i am looking and what i hope to develop before informing someone that they will be my secondary partner. And i am even more wary of telling people who are not polyamorous that one of my partners is a secondary because garenteed many monogomous people will presume that means the secoundary partner will always come secound and be valued less.

I truely believe we can make our expectations clearer if we avoid those labels.

LovingRadiance
That is true for me for future. IF something ever (God forbid) happened to Maca, I won't remarry in the legal sense, unless the kids were still little.
THEN I would-because it would give GG the ability to add them to his medical insurance at work.
But generally speaking I think the technicality is a pain in the ass.


It is having kids that makes me worry about the legalitys because here in UK only a married couple have same rights when raising a child. We are already exploring ways around this so that when I do have a child both partners will have equal parental rights and there are safegaurds inplace incase something happens to one off us,

I object the idea of legal marrige anyway because i do not feel it nesesery at all that the state give me a piece of paper to tell me that i am in a relationship. For me marrige will be purly a spiritual commitment between me and my partners and will have nothing to do with the law.

Jools
 

MonoVCPHG

New member
Just to stir things up a bit:

For me primary and secondary labels are merely a way to describe the impact of relationships. Some people may contribute emotionally and physically to a relationship and others may contribute emotionally/physically/financially/parentally/every day chore-ly, and do the the laundry. To think that one will not have a greater impact than the other is naive. Therefore I have no problem identifying one as primary and one as secondary. I identify as secondary in this way and am secure enough to recognize why and the limits of my contribution. I have less impact across a broader spectrum of actually day to day functioning.
Love and connection are extremely important in a deep realtionship...but it takes a lot more than those to raise children and run a home. If people are dedicated to performing the day to day functions of life as a team, no matter how many are involved, than that is the primary structure in my opinion. Those that contribute on fewer levels will not impact the overall structure as severely and therefore are secondary.


Contribution = commitment
Commitment = impact
Impact = importance
Importance determines primary or secondary

Here's a quick exercise - imagine what would happen if you removed each of your relationships from your life one at a time.
Which one would affect your life and the life of those around you most? Which one would cause you the most stress across a broad spectrum? Which one might cause you to lose your house, might disrupt the lives of your family members? Which one might make maintaining your property a greater burden? Would one in particular would cause your children distress if you have them?

Emotional impact is one thing, but it is hardly the only thing. That is how I see the determination of primary and secondary relationships.
 
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Ceoli

Guest
Ok...not what I meant. I was trying to say that the labels have definitions that come along with them that can make expectations of the people involved in the relationship clearer to everyone.

Why not just lay out what each person is looking for and hoping for and what boundaries there are around that? Why the need for a label to provide a definition in order to make expectations?
 

Derbylicious

New member
It's a discussion of pros and cons. I was just offering up my view. My feeling is that sometimes it's easier to use lables for things to have a common language to fall back on. Of course there has to be more discussion on what the relationship expectations are for everyone involved but if you are clearly looking for someone to have the occasional date with due to time constraints ect. why not be upfront when meeting people saying that you are looking for a secondary? Seems to me that it's a good way to avoid crushing people's expectations if they are looking for more from you than you are able to provide.

-Derby
 
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Ceoli

Guest
Contribution = commitment
Commitment = impact
Impact = importance
Importance determines primary or secondary

Here's a quick exercise - imagine what would happen if you removed each of your relationships from your life one at a time.
Which one would affect your life and the life of those around you most? Which one would cause you the most stress across a broad spectrum? Which one might cause you to lose your house, might disrupt the lives of your family members? Which one might make maintaining your property a greater burden? Would one in particular would cause your children distress if you have them?

I get what you mean by this, but this exercise would severely fall down in my life as it stands. Aside from the fact that I don't like to measure my relationships in terms of negative impact, if any of my flatmates decided to leave or change something in our terms, my life would be severely disrupted. In some cases they could disrupt my family. The will most certainly have a huge impact on my finances, my living situation and my ability to maintain my living space. Yet I am not in any kind of primary relationship with them.

Emotional impact is one thing, but it is hardly the only thing. That is how I see the determination of primary and secondary relationships.
I don't think that's the point for people who don't want to use hierarchical models of relationships. If it's a descriptor for how the relationship naturally exists and those words feel right for you then great. Other people would probably use words that don't imply rank because they don't feel the need to rank, but rather fit people into their lives as they will fit. That doesn't mean they are applying some naive view that they are all equal. It means they are applying a system by which each relationship is measured on it's own merit rather than being compared to one another. I personally prefer the latter to the former.

It's a discussion of pros and cons. I was just offering up my view. My feeling is that sometimes it's easier to use lables for things to have a common language to fall back on. Of course there has to be more discussion on what the relationship expectations are for everyone involved but if you are clearly looking for someone to have the occasional date with due to time constraints ect. why not be upfront when meeting people saying that you are looking for a secondary? Seems to me that it's a good way to avoid crushing people's expectations if they are looking for more from you than you are able to provide.

-Derby

That makes sense to have common language and if those terms work to describe the dynamic for some people then there's nothing wrong with that. However, to answer your question from my personal perspective about why not just say that you're looking for a secondary: From my point of view, if I was approaching a relationship and the person said to me that they were looking for a secondary, what that says to me is that they will be measuring the relationship we have against his or her primary relationship. It also tells me that terms have been set about the dynamic that directly impact the relationship I'd be in and that I never get to have a say in. While that may work for some people, that has absolutely zero appeal for me.

If a person approached me for a relationship but was clear about what other relationships they may have at the time and what those relationships meant and what boundaries are there for them, but also with the idea that building a relationship with me is important to them and wanted to explore a partnership with me, I'd be much more interested.

I recognize that there are plenty of people out there that have no problem with the label secondary or primary. And there are plenty of people who have no problem entering into a relationship that carries the label "secondary". I'm just not one of them.

However one thing I would ask those people who are in primary partnerships and looking for "secondary" partners: If you didn't have that primary relationship and your only choice in partnerships was to be someone else's secondary, would that be satisfying to you?

Edit: And just to address the first couple of sentences. Yes, this is a discussion of pros and cons and you were just offering up your views. My questioning of the views you offered was not a questioning of your right to offer them or the validity of those views. My questioning was a continuation of the discussion of the pros and cons, which also involves examining the views that are offered.
 
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LovingRadiance

Active member
Mono-
that is why I say that Maca and GG are both primary in my life. If either of them left/died it would have a MAJOR impact on our family and I could very seriously lose our home, the kids would DEFINATELY lose their education system and we'd likely have a great struggle trying to rebuild our lives...
 

Derbylicious

New member
However one thing I would ask those people who are in primary partnerships and looking for "secondary" partners: If you didn't have that primary relationship and your only choice in partnerships was to be someone else's secondary, would that be satisfying to you?
.

I can only answer this question in the theoretical sense as I've never been in this position. I think if I were to not have a 'primary' relationship I might enjoy being a secondary to 2 or 3 people (at least for a while). It seems to me that in that role when I was with my SO's it would be all about 'us' without all the day to day stuff that gets in the way of truly focusing on being together.

-Derby
 
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