When it comes to things like time contraints, which are a very real limitation on relationships, I try to find out if the upset over the time conflict is because it's a RELATIONSHIP that makes it upsetting, or if someone would be equally unhappy if the same time conflict was caused by a non-relationship issue.
It's not *just* the wording, it's about being able to have a say in how my relationship looks. YGirl said it very concisely and accurately, and I won't be nearly as concise but here's my response:
As an incoming new partner, if I were told that I could only have one day a week and that was non-negotiable, and that and which day it was had been decided before they ever met me, that would be a problem regardless of the wording. If someone I was interested in could not afford to share more than a handful of hours, one day week with me, I'd have to question his ability to be in any additional relationships at all. If your life is that full, perhaps adding another partner is not the best thing to be doing at this point in time. Now, if a new relationship just *happens* to work out to where that's all the time either participant WANTS out of it, then it's a functioning relationship that meets the needs of all involved. But if you tell me that one day a week is all I get whether anyone wants more or not and regardless of my own existing schedule, it doesn't matter what words you use, that's a problem.
But, as YGirl said, it's also not the whole problem. Having an obligation is one thing, having my boyfriend's wife tell me what my time spent with him will look like without any consideration for how I might want to spend that time, especially if it's that limited, is another and more like what Ceoli was referring to.
I can respect and understand a partner having obligations and responsibilities that pre-date a relationship with me, but there needs to be some manner of compromise and some method that allows me to contribute to my own relationship.
I live about 2 hours away from one of my partners, who is married, and they have regular Monday-Friday jobs. This quite naturally places some restrictions on his availability, some of which are non-negotiable. Just because I'm free on Wednesday afternoons and I feel I have the right to shape my relationships according to my needs doesn't mean I can demand he see me on Wednesdays when he has to work that day. He is available on the weekends, so I have to schedule my time with him around that.
But that also means that his wife's availability for non-chore quality time is also on the weekends. It would be unfair of me and stressful on them to expect that all his free time be given to me and the only time he has left for her is the time spent doing chores or sleeping. But, at the same time, it is not fair of them to insist that I not have any input at all in when and how often we get to see each other. Understand that I am not advocating that all the decisions be switched from the couple to the new partner - all good relationships require discussion and compromise and I'm just saying that I ought to be part of the discussion and compromising decisions, and that I should not be the ONLY one to do any compromising.
I am currently the new partner of a married man, and as such, I have some input into how my relationship with him looks and it is not dictated all by her or even by them prior to knowing me. Because she does not view me as a "threat", we often all spend the entire weekend together. Just because the other one of us is around doesn't mean it's not still quality time. Of course we each get our "alone" time too, but when you do not view your metamour as a rival, then the relationship is not zero-sum. She and I work together on conflicts, we talk to each other, and we spell out our expectations and our wants. If she wants a particular weekend to be Their Time, she explains that to me and we work out a compromise. Usually it means the following weekend he comes to visit me instead of me spending the weekend at their house, or I leave early on Sunday instead of late Sunday night, or we split the weekend, or I go visit them but we go to a movie that she picks out or something like that.
All of this can be done because 1) we communicate with each other, and 2) we start from the assumption that no one is a threat to anyone else, we are not rivals, we all want to work together and we all care about everyone else. No rule is necessary dictating when, how, and how often I can see him because of those 2 factors.
She/They did not prescript my relationship for me. In fact, when he and I started dating, we were both under the assumption that it would be really nothing more that "smoochy-friends" - good friends who sometimes make out at parties. But, it turned out that we had such a good foundation from our prior friendship (we've known each other for years before dating), that what the relationship wanted to be was to very quickly turn into a long-term, deeply emotionally intimate relationship.
It was a surprise to all of us, but in particular, they had never been in a poly relationship where they weren't both dating the same person. This was the first time he had a girlfriend that she wasn't also dating. So my relationship with him could have very easily been seen as "threatening" to her, if she had let it.
But, instead, when they agreed that I was acceptable for him to pursue even as a "smoochy-friend", they did not prescript my role as "smoochy-friend". They just opened themselves up to a relationship with me and let it find its own path. He and I just guessed that it would want to be "smoochy-friends", but we didn't write out any rules that said it *had* to be.
So the turn to deep, committed, intimate relationship was surprising but without the prescripted rules, it was allowed to happen with minimal drama. She and I talked about what a Relationship meant to us, where we saw things going, how we would handle various situations that were known triggers, what our communication methods were, how we defined various terms, and in the end, the only "rule" we have is to talk to everyone the moment we realize we have a problem with something. We try to remind ourselves that, when it comes to a matter of interpretation of someone's words regarding their intent, start with the interpretation that puts the speaker in the position of wanting to help, wanting to find a solution, wanting to be considerate, even if that person misunderstood or did something hurtful. Assume it was accidental and communicate the hurt kindly.
I don't use the primary/secondary model because I don't feel it adequately covers things. For instance, my other partner and I feel as though we have a "primary" connection, but we live 3,000 miles away (work constraints - we didn't always live that far away) and even all of our "new" partners that have come into the picture after we began dating think of us as "primary" in spite of the fact that we live apart, because of how important they know we are to each other and that we always consider each other before making any major life decisions (including taking new partners).
So I don't consider myself "secondary" to my married partner either, but many people would categorize it as such, because he and his wife share the day-to-day stuff and I don't, they have a much longer history, etc. I respect their longer history and the responsibilities they have built and share together. And yet, I still have input into how my relationship with him looks. I can still make requests of him, I can still factor them into my life-decisions and they now factor me into their life decisions (like work changes or moving), and we all are committed to the health and happiness of the respective relationships (his and mine, his and hers, mine and hers, and ours).
I can understand that I don't have the power to make decisions about their house, what they do with their money, or to overrule any plans they have together, and I can still expect to have a say in how my relationship with him looks, to be able to express my own feelings and wants and needs and expect to have them heard and considered, and to have some accommodation and compromise made for my sake as much as I would do for either of them. After all, I wouldn't dream of starting a relationship with him and saying that he has no say in when he gets to see me because I've decided that out long ago, even if he were not married and had no other partners, so it shouldn't be unreasonable for me to expect the same from him.
He is in a Relationship WITH me, I was not ordered out of a catalog nor hired to fulfill the job position of Girlfriend. As much as I respect their existing relationship for what it is, it is reasonable for me to expect them to respect my relationship for what *it* is, not to insist that the relationship be what someone else wants it to be.
And because they both *do* respect my relationship with him for what it is, we have no need for rules that they came up with to shape *my* relationship. We talk, we are considerate, and none of us believes that our relationships are so fragile that anyone else would be a "threat" to what we have each built with each other.