Polyamory Weekly mention, and why couples should care about couple privilege

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September 10, 2012 by aggiesez

Many thanks to my friend Cunning Minx for spending a chunk of this week’s Polyamory Weekly podcast telling her many listeners about this blog! I’m so honored! I’ve loved Minx’s work for years, and I think she’s one of the brightest leaders in the poly community.

This especially means a lot to me because like me, Minx is a poly person who does not have and (as far as I know) does not seem to be seeking a primary-style relationship (spouse-like or cohabitating). I also know she has faced many of the same issues I face.

Go listen to that episode. It’s great. Not just because she mentioned SoloPoly.net, but because of this bit of listener feedback she got, which I also found extremely touching, validating, and encouraging. It gets to the heart of why it’s important for couples to care about couple privilege…

The listener feedback segment starts about 29 minutes into the episode.

Back on August 4, Minx wrote a blog post, From two to three: advice on opening up from an HBB. That sparked my Sept. 5 post, Poly couples: What do you really have to offer new partners? (Minx also covered this topic in her Aug. 9 podcast.)

This week, Minx got a $50 tip and a heartfelt note from listener Joan, who is in a primary partnership couple. Here’s what Joan had to say to Minx:

I just put $50 in your tip jar to thank you for the “advice on how to welcome a third” podcast which explains your point of you. I just steered my vee relationship off the rails, and I couldn’t understand why it happened. This podcast illuminated that we pretty much went at everything the wrong way, and why it was the wrong way — and what it was that our third partner Michelle was trying to tell us and ask for all along but we didn’t get it.

I don’t know if I can ever get that relationship back, but you’ve brought me some priceless understanding. And that I hope gives Michelle some much-deserved validation, and a little help in the healing process. Thank you for that.”

Wow, wow, wow… That is exactly what I hope this blog might someday achieve! I hope SoloPoly.net will not only resonate with other solo poly people like me, but also with poly people who are in primary couples who often end up having relationships with solo poly people.

I hope this blog can help poly/open couples recognize that their additional partners are not mere adjuncts to their primary relationship, but human beings who deserve full respect and consideration.

…Or, if the terms of your primary partnership preclude giving additional partners a clear, direct voice and fair consideration in situations and decisions that affect us, we deserve honesty about that, up front — so we can make a fully informed decision about what kind of relationship we wish to have with you.

Privilege — including couple privilege — is most effectively neutralized when people who have privilege recognize it at work in their lives and in the world, and make a conscious choice not to wield it.

Yes, it’s important for those who lack privilege to speak up for themselves, recognize their own worth, and demand fair treatment. But history shows that pervasive unfair situations generally don’t change until privileged people start letting go of their privilege.

Remember the Civil Rights Movement lunch counter sit-ins? It made a huge difference when some white people started joining them, and when some cops stopped arresting them. That’s the dynamic I’m talking about.

Unlearning your privilege is a really, really hard thing to do. I’ve done it — remember, I was once in a poly marriage that had additional partners. It’s a humbling, deeply uncomfortable experience. It requires having the courage to seriously step outside your comfort zone and stay there for a long time — enduring discomfort, feeling a bit stupid and sometimes resentful, and repeatedly apologizing/correcting for your inevitable missteps.

Have faith: eventually your comfort zone will expand to include the territory not covered by your privilege.

Undoing privilege is always a tough learning curve. In the case of couple privilege it’s especially scary because while you’re on this learning curve it feels like you’re putting the most important personal connection in your life at risk. Because, frankly, you are. But realize that you did choose to take that risk when you and your primary partner decided to venture honestly beyond monogamy. Anyway, no existing relationship is ever a 100% iron-clad “sure thing” under any circumstances. The difference here is that by eschewing couple privilege, you’re not expecting your additional partners to shoulder more risk than you are.

Fortunately there are several huge long-term payoffs from undoing couple privilege which make it worth the effort. Poly/open primary couples, here’s what’s in it for you:
Your poly experience will be less drama- and breakup-prone, because your network of relationships will be more stable.
You will attract a better caliber of people as additional partners — because you and your primary partner will become better potential partners, yourselves!
Your good example will influence other poly/open primary couples. They’ll start asking you for advice, since you evidently “do poly so well” — and you can educate them how to unlearn their own couple privilege, and walk that talk in their relationships.
You’ll help change attitudes and culture in the poly/open community. Once enough people start recognizing the negative impacts of couple privilege, and talking about it, it’ll be harder and harder for people to fall back on it reflexively or justify it. After all, in most social circles today if someone starts voicing racist or sexist or heteronormative views, what kind of a reaction do they usually get? It’s just not cool, or even normal, anymore.
You’ll make the world a safer place for solo poly/open people. Because, frankly, right now we usually bear a disproportionate share of the risk in our relationships with people who have a primary partner.
You’ll make the world safer for yourself. Let’s face it: the overwhelming majority of relationships of any type don’t last forever. Chances are good that someday your current primary relationship will end — spouses divorce, couples break up, people die or get abducted by aliens, etc. How would you feel about couple privilege in that case? Think about it.

So thanks again to Minx — and her listener Joan — for plugging this blog and giving me some much-needed encouragement to continue.

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10 thoughts on “Polyamory Weekly mention, and why couples should care about couple privilege

  1. Week Bi Week says:

    I am here from the PW podcast mention and have enjoyed catching up on your previous entries. I am part of a couple who are not poly and may or may not eventually reach that point (though I hope we do someday). For now, I am enthusiastic to learn others’ experiences and resulting insights.

    If we do ever become polyamorous, then I hope we can avoid making some of the more common mistakes, thanks to learning from others’ wisdom. Cunning Minx’s episode about opening up a couple to a third was enlightening (especially her discussion about how veto power can be abused as a replacement for communication). I look forward to learning what you also have to say about being solo and poly, and how couples can avoid mistreating new partners.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks WBW! I appreciate your support, and I wish you and your partner well on your journey — as well as anyone who might eventually join you on that journey. It’s encouraging to hear people new to poly thinking ahead about their existing habits or assumptions that might lead them to treat new partners inconsiderately, and how to counter those tendencies. Good luck!

  2. SHG says:

    Aggie, I understand what you mean by the term couple privilege (at least I think I do), but I would like to see you discuss it in more detail. For example, can intentional behaviour from a person in a primary couple remove it or at least remove its effects? For example, when I, a non-white person, am with a close friend who happens to be white, I don’t feel any negative effects of white privilege, even though the social forces that create that privilege may still exist in the world. Do you think it can be the same in poly relationships?

    • aggiesez says:

      Hi SHG

      Yes, I’ll definitely be exploring this theme more, and welcome to hear (and publish in guest posts) others’ views on couple privilege. I personally believe it is possible for privileged people to work in their own lives and relationships to reduce the amount of privilege they wield over others — I discussed that in this article a bit, as a matter of fact. And personally, I applaud people who are in primary couples who are aware of couple privilege and either try to counteract it, or at least are honest with themselves and others about it if they choose to wield it.

      But can the effects of privilege be entirely eradicated? I’m skeptical of that, since it’s a very insidious thing that often occurs on a subconscious level. Also, privilege is not just an issue for individuals, but for society — and we all exist in a social context. (Hence my “you’re soaking in it” illustration in this article).

      It’s a good question, worth pondering.

      • SHG says:

        Thanks for answering my question Aggie, and thanks for bringing up the subject in the first place. It’s a discussion worht having.

  3. BT says:

    I found your post because I am struggling with this issue myself at the moment. I’ve come a long way in my poly relationship but am having trouble letting go of my own sense of couple privilege which is hurting the relationship. Do you have any advice on what steps I can take as an individual to not feel the need to rely on this?

    • aggiesez says:

      Hi, BT. How about I post that as an open request on SoloPoly, see what my other readers suggest? I just returned from a holiday trip and am pretty slammed catching up, but you shouldn’t have to wait for me! Let me know and I’ll run it as a guest post.

      You might also want to offer some additional detail on how you think couple privilege is hurting your relationships. As is, you question is pretty abstract and vague.

      Best,

      – Aggie

      • BT says:

        Aggie, thank you for the quick reply. Yes please do run as an open request I would be grateful for all advice and suggestions.

        By way of more detail – I have been married to my husband for 21 years and for the past 3 years we have been as FMF triad. Initially she was a secondary but over time as the relationship has evolved naturally we have come to more of a co-primary arrangement (sorry to use all the labels. I know they’re not ideal but they are a quick way to explain).

        The issue is I am now finding this very difficult. I feel that by her having an equal status that this has devalued my marriage. For example, all those little ways that you have of interacting with a long term partner, that are based on many years of shared experience, are no longer relevant. What was the point of me toughing out the bad times for 21 years if the results of that can be dismissed so easily?

        I understand that is not healthy for the relationship and am trying my best not to focus on things like status and equality, but I’m feeling the loss painfully.

        I’d like to hear how other people have moved past this. I understand that I am the one who needs to change my attitude but I don’t know how to.

      • aggiesez says:

        Thanks. Will post it tomorrow. But what, exactly, do you think has been devalued about your marriage by this addition? What has this intrinsically taken away from you besides default status?

  4. BT says:

    Default status is the big one. I am financially affected ( hubby and I both work. She doesn’t and doesn’t want to). Differences between my husband and I that were always accepted are now magnified and since they are much more similar my opinion ends up being the wrong one. My kids have less access to their Dad. Due to work schedules they spend a lot more time one on one. While I don’t need a lot of alone time withy husband I feel like my life is planned out for me and I just hear about it later. So a loss of control and decision making.

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