Couple privilege: Your thoughts?

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December 3, 2012 by aggiesez

No matter how egalitarian you are, privilege exists. We’re all soaking in it — even in the polyamorous/open relationship community. Here, couple privilege is one of the most insidious and controversial forms of ingrained inequality. I’m preparing a post on this topic, and would like to hear your thoughts.

UPDATE DEC. 19: Yeah, I really did open a can of worms here. I’ve gotten a ton of feedback on this topic, and I’m rather overwhelmed by the volume and emotion of it. To be quite honest, a lot of poly people are in a lot of pain — and a lot of denial — about couple privilege. Quite honestly, that’s been bringing me down and I haven’t been quite sure how to proceed. I’ve decided to handle this through a series of posts after the holidays. Thanks so much to everyone who’s been discussing this topic here and elsewhere online. I welcome all feedback and stories, especially from solo poly people and non-primary partners. See the end of this post for how to contribute. Thanks!

I realize I’m opening a can of worms.

Talking about any kind of privilege is awkward and difficult. Inevitably, some people end up feeling maligned, misunderstood or attacked; others dismissed. Discussions about privilege may feel divisive, but handled thoughtfully, they’re not. In fact, such discourse is vital — especially in any community that claims to value honesty, authenticity, respect, fairness and ethical behavior.

Not thinking and talking clearly about couple privilege won’t make it vanish. In fact, avoiding examination and discourse is exactly what makes it easy for any kind of privilege to persist and deepen. Privilege thrives when it can fade into the background.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on couple privilege, followed by a few questions for you. Please comment below, or e-mail me your thoughts.

First, my definition so far of couple privilege:

Couple privilege: In the context of non-monogamous relationships and communities, this is the presumption that socially recognized or sanctioned pair bonds (such as marriage or other forms of primary life partnership) take precedence over, and are more important or valid than, other intimate/romantic/sexual relationships. This prioritization occurs by default and does not warrant negotiation or consent.

More generally, couple privilege also manifests in the body of social, legal, and financial advantages automatically accorded (implicitly or explicitly) to couples who present publicly as being monogamously committed, especially as primary partners. These same advantages generally are not accorded to non-primary relationships, solo or otherwise unpartnered people, or sometimes to primary couples who are publicly “out” as non-monogamous.

An alternate definition, proposed in May 2012 by MayMay, is: “Behaviors that presume people in a dyad are more important than others and entitled to act upon them without consent.”

In society at large, the advantage of couple privilege is a key incentive to ride the traditional relationship escalator — and to stay on it, even if that relationship eventually becomes unfulfilling or harmful.

Couple privilege also influences non-romantic/sexual relationships and communities that also are important: friendships, family, neighborhoods, etc. But here, I’m choosing to focus on how it affect non-monogamous relationships and the poly/open community.

For poly/open relationships, couple privilege has internal implications between the people involved. These may include veto power, reserving certain sex acts or intimacies only for primary partners (as a means to reinforce hierarchy or accommodate insecurity, not strictly for health or family planning) — or the presumption (but not necessarily consensual agreement) that that the primary partner’s (or couple’s) needs, wishes, schedule, or preferences automatically take precedence over those of non-primary partners in all circumstances.

Couple privilege also means that non-primary partners typically shoulder disproportionate risk in poly/open relationships. For instance, we’re more likely to get dumped. We may not have (or be offered) a voice in decisions that affect the scope or future of our relationships. We may be expected to subordinate our own needs. And we’re often treated as if we’re a secret — and expected to be complicit in maintaining that secrecy, even in long-term relationships.

There are also external implications. Primary couples who “come out” as poly/open by publicly acknowledging their additional partners and relationships may face negative consequences. These can involve concrete discrimination or risk (jobs, housing, child custody, etc.), loss of social status, or alienation of friends, family, or other communities or networks. Sometimes these external risks are demonstrably real (as in employment contracts that include a “morals” clause). Other times they’re reflexively assumed and feared without being examined or tested; and sometimes they’re presented as straw men to thwart challenges to couple privilege.

In the real world, differences exist — including in relationships. Handling relationships differently does not always indicate couple privilege at work. Rather, how we recognize and accommodate differences in our relationships can be a key tool in minimizing the adverse or unintended effects of couple privilege.

People are free to make their own choices about their own relationships. If you don’t think couple privilege is a problem, and if you prefer to effectively enshrine it in your relationships, that’s a valid choice. No one is trying to be the polyamory police here. I’m just saying, it helps everyone to be conscious and responsible for how that choice gets made and implemented, including thinking and communicating clearly about it.

A lot of poly people take the view that what I’m trying to describe here is not really “privilege” in the sense of white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, and other types of invisible backpacks. Commonly this objection is phrased this way: “I see that choice, while it may be unfair, as more of an interpersonal issue (an issue which, if there are kids within the relationship, may be perfectly valid).”

While I understand this line of reasoning, personally I don’t buy it — even though I respect the right of people to make whatever consensual decisions they want for their own relationships. My reason is the presumption that I pointed out in my definition, and the entitlement that MayMay mentioned in his.

Privilege isn’t only about special advantages or rights; privilege is also about entitlement. It’s about assuming (typically without consciously considering, and definitely without asking) that simply because you possess characteristic X you’re entitled to do Y — even if Y happens at the expense of others (or worse, it doesn’t even occur to you that your choice might cost others). This can include making decisions on behalf of others without their consent, or not taking the needs or perspective of others into account, or assuming other people (and your relationship with them) are inherently more disposable or less important or valid. Presumption and entitlement mean that you don’t really believe you always have to treat others fairly. (And remember: “fair” does not necessarily mean “equal.”)

Also, I don’t believe couple privilege is synonymous with monogamy privilege. This has been suggested to me, but so far I reject that interpretation. Here’s why:

Monogamy privilege is accorded to people who identify or present as monogamous regardless of their relationship status. For example, in the context of dating (at least in the straight community) the default presumption is that single people are, or desire to be, monogamous. Consequently, openly nonmonogamous people often get marginalized or ostracized in straight dating.

Meanwhile, couple privilege is accorded specifically to people who present as being in a primary couple — regardless of whether they’re actually or ostensibly monogamous. (Check out infidelity statistics: most primary couples and ostensibly monogamous people are not really monogamous, but that doesn’t seem to diminish couple privilege.)

Share your thoughts and experiences on couple privilege

That’s my thinking so far on this. Before I get further with developing this post, I’d love input from the poly/open community — especially from non-primary partners and solos (people who don’t have and maybe don’t want a primary partner). Here are my questions:

  1. Do you believe couple privilege exists? How would you define it? (Or how would you adjust my proposed definition?)
  2. How have you seen couple privilege manifest in poly/open relationships? (Examples)
  3. Is couple privilege harmful, neutral or beneficial in poly/open relationships, or in the poly/open community? Why or why not?
  4. How has couple privilege affected your personal experience of poly/open relationships? Specific examples or personal stories are welcome.
  5. How would you like to see couple privilege addressed in the poly/open community at large?
  6. If you are part of a primary couple that chooses to handle relationships with additional intimate partners in hierarchical ways that may seem to reinforce couple privilege, what is your rationale or intent for those choices?
  7. If you eschew hierarchy in your poly/open relationships, how do you “walk that talk” regarding couple privilege?
  8. If you are a non-primary partner or solo poly/open person, how have you adapted to couple privilege in terms of how you handle relationships and what you’re willing to accommodate?

In addition, feel free to comment on any of the couple privilege issues I outlined, or raise new ones. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything!

When you respond, I’d appreciate if you’d clarify whether you identify as poly/open (or not), and whether you currently have a primary partner, and whether you currently are in a non-primary relationship. I’m happy to consider input from anyone, but that it crucial context for understanding your perspective.

Again, you can comment below or e-mail me confidentially. I will not identify specific contributors — but as in my prior crowdsourced post on treating non-primary partners well, I will quote from selected responses.

Thanks! Please spread the word of this project in your poly/open communities and network.

38 thoughts on “Couple privilege: Your thoughts?

  1. polyhydra says:

    I do think that couple privilege exists and I think that I live it too. I also think that there is nothing wrong with it – in so far as when you build an intimate relationship to someone, you tend to be very close to them and the closeness of a relationship does in my opinion give a priority to that relationship over others. Saying that though, there is only so much priority or privilege that is reasonable. There is some line somewhere where I would say, no, this relationship is not worth the sacrifices of the multiple “lesser” relationships and overall, I would prefer to maintain those over a single “primary” relationship (as an example).
    At the same time there are non-sexual relationships that I would hold over and above some sexual relationships and would therefore apply the same weighting of decision-making to those, i.e. where is the overall benefit for myself and the people involved and which decision can I predict will give the greatest overall happiness and contentedness?
    I am personally at a real quandary here. I am more of a relationship anarchist and would prefer to let everything flow without constraint of powers such as veto rights. However, I am also married and my wife is monogamous and holds strongly to such rights/powers. There is a balance here that I must tread carefully to maintain a sense of worth for myself and my wife as well as my non-primary partners. It’s difficult, but something I must learn and that I will undoubtedly make me a much more mature relationship partner over time.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks, Polyhydra

      Indeed — there are ideals, and then there is life. Many poly people declare themselves to be “relationship anarchists,” and that can be a laudable goal. But then, significant relationships do involve being accountable to others — whether to intimate partners, life partners, family, or your closest friends. Striking the balance between constructive anarchy (as opposed to simple recklessness) and accountability is challenging.

  2. SHG says:

    As the person who lives on her own, I think the context where I most felt an imbalance with my bf was that, when we first got together, he already had an emotional anchor outside of our relationship. I did not. I was going through a period of transition and I didn’t really even have any close friends. I mentioned this in my guest post. I was afraid of partially losing my identity in the relationship. I didn’t want to make my world revolve around him, which would not have been my desire even if it could have been reciprocated. For that reason, I was much more wary of commitment than he was. Compared to me, it was really easy for him to jump in, use the “l-word”, and talk about the future.

    The way I dealt with it was to learn to become more anchored in *myself*. I really had to look within myself and make sure I knew who I was and what I wanted. I had to learn to put my people pleaser tendencies in check. (He was very supportive with that!) Nowadays, not only do I feel strongly anchored to myself, but I have multiple people who also act as anchors in my life. I find it easy, and it makes me happy, to treat him like a deeply committed life partner. (I guess what many people refer to as a primary partner.)

    A practical example of how this has affected my life is how we deal with holidays. The first year I was invited to take part in Christmas, I was honoured to be accepted into the family, not only by bf, but also by his wife. But I was sad that I didn’t have any traditions of my own to add to the celebration. I had that insecurity around losing my identity. Some introspection led me to realize that Christmas was not that significant to me, but the winter solstice was. Next year, I told my bf, I’d do whatever he wanted for Christmas. He and his wife made the decisions together. I hosted a celebration for the Solstice, and I made all the decisions about that. :) If we both cared about Christmas or both cared about the Solstice, we could have come to some kind of arrangement, whether a blending of traditions, or having separate celebrations (xmas morning my place, xmas dinner your place), or something else altogether.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks once again for your insight, SHG. Yes, yes yes — learning how to be emotionally anchored in yourself, and to have a strong network of friends, allies and confidantes is crucial. That gives you the grounding to navigate any kind of relationship (or breakup) well.

  3. SunPisces says:

    At least from our perspective, couple privilege comes from things beyond sexual and romantic. After all, we’ve built a domestic life together, own real-estate together, have significant financial ties, children, grand-children and all the family ties that go with all that, not to mention the depth of shared experiences together. Aside from that, we see each other every day, sleep together most every night, have many common interests and activities and a deep and abiding friendship that transcends sex and romance. Regardless of our outside romantic and sexual interests, all those things combine to add a huge amount of commitment and bias to preserving the “couple-ness” of the partnership. At the same time our outside relationships generally don’t even have the possibility of those things given the length and depth of our time together.

    I hate to say it, but our outside relationships don’t have a chance of becoming that deep – in fact I don’t believe either of us wants them to. They are, in a way, an escape from the seriousness and responsibility of the relationship we have with one another. They are more fun, more free in a way as they don’t carry the heaviness and mutual responsibilities of all the non-romantic and non-sexual aspects of our couple-ness. Given the depth and breadth of our ties, we obviously have a commitment to preserve the primary relationship – even at the expense of our outside relationships. Is it fair to the feelings of the people we’re involved with outside the primary relationship? No. Can it be? I don’t think so – at least not without walking away from all those other aspects of the relationship that we share aside from sex, romance and mutual affection. All relationships are not on an equal footing and given those sorts of ties, cannot even aspire to be. While in the moment there may be more intense feelings and desires for our secondary partners, in the larger scheme of things the depth and breadth of all those ties and that commitment can’t let the secondary relationships be fully equal.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks. I hear ya — a lot of couples looking to open up an established marriage really value the security and stability of their marriage and want to put that ahead of everything else. That’s totally valid, as long as you & your spouse are clear on that not only with yourselves but with anyone you might get involved with, up front. It’s crucial context, from the perspective of a non-primary partner.

      Speaking of the perspective of a non-primary partner, if you want to have additional partners that go beyond occasional flings, it’s important to look realistically at what you have to offer from their perspective. And also, don’t assume that just because having a spouse or other cohabitating primary partner is central to your life and happiness, that other people necessarily want the same thing from relationships. There are plenty of poly folk, solo and otherwise, who are quite happy with less-entangled non-primary relationships.

      …That doesn’t mean, of course, that we non-primary partners treat our relationships lightly or don’t value them much. Quite the contrary. Just because we don’t want to live with someone or see them every day doesn’t mean we don’t get deeply emotionally invested and committed. Which means for many of us, realizing that even if a relationship with you were to endure for a long time, it might be summarily axed because your primary partner gets insecure or uncomfortable, or your decide to close your relationship for other reasons, that just won’t work for us. That feels disrespectful to the love and commitment we have to offer. We need to know if that is or may be a risk before we get very deeply involved with you.

      I’m not saying all of us feel that way, but many of us do.

      • Gisa says:

        Your last paragraph (Aggie) – it speaks volumes about how I feel as a non primary partner.
        No matter the shared feelings, the shared memories, “dates”; nothing will erase the fear and inevitable rearing head of Couple’s Privilege (that does and will forever exist) that may or may not include getting shunned when the primary partner feels insecure or the couple decides to close the relationship.

        As a non primary, it is not only highly disrespectful, but hurtful and in essence, a slap in the face. It leaves the non primary feeling without self worth in the relationship, in themselves and oftentimes without a say in the decision making.

        But then again, maybe that relationship was never worth that kind of investment to begin with. Here, is where discussion and conversation are deeply important.

  4. melanie says:

    I am poly and only date people who already have a primary relationship. I believe that couple privilege exists and I am totally fine with it. My metamours that are wives or who came before me and I communicate regularly. But they live with my boyfriends, so there is of course going to be some imbalance as to the privileges they get, over the ones I do. But I am okay with all of that. In fact, as I am not interested in a primary, couple privilege is actually to my benefit, as I don’t want a partner who is with me all of the time.

    I recently had a relationship end where I had to realize that just because some things were okay with his wife, didn’t mean that those things had to be accepted by me. I discussed this with both he, and her, at length, and decided the relationship was just not a good place for me to be. I actually was going to try and work through it, but then he said things weren’t working for him, and that was totally okay with me.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks Melanie. You raise a good point: that non-primary partners have a variety of perspectives on couple privilege and how much of it they’re willing to accommodate in relationships — so it’s important to discuss this clearly and make a conscious choice whether to accept it or not, if that’s part of the package. Some non-primary partners are fine with it and willing to roll with it, at least to some extent. But that shouldn’t be assumed.

      • SunPisces says:

        I think things go beyond romance and sex once you start getting into domestic issues. Owning real estate, having joint bank accounts, having children and eventually grandkids, negotiating car insurance…. Many relationships are just for fun and sex but if you get into a PRIMARY relationship, it is about much more than the fun and joy and nookie. In the best iteration, it is about friendship and mutual support and all the rest that goes with a domestic relationship. Not every relationship is about that. There are probably lots of relationships we could have that are good for a weekend, and lots of relationships we could have that are good for a few months or even a few years. All relationships are unique and are the combinations of two unique personalities. Some (very few) are worth lifetime commitment because of the chemistry of the two people involved. Some would best be left to a hot weekend despite our wishes that they would last longer.

      • aggiesez says:

        I dunno, as far as I’m concerned — the sweet spot “Woo hoo I won the lottery” relationship for me, really — is one that is emotionally invested and mutually committed and supportive for the long term AND that does not involve sharing a home, finances, etc. I’m happy with less significant connections too, but that would be about as far as I’d want to take it. And that’s definitely way beyond “romance and sex.”

        Your concepts of relationship options seem to leave no room for that possibility. Just goes to show you how some people’s concepts of “relationship” might make them totally incompatible right out of the gate.

      • scattered_kisses says:

        I’d like to add that we aren’t just weird outliers with different values. Even in a monogamous model, financial/domestic commitments are not integral to each “primary” relationship one has. One can happily be with another for years without having to share a bank account or have children. Not everyone subscribes to the escalator model, regardless of “relationship orientation,” and that opens up a lot more possibilities and viewpoints. The depth of feeling and commitment within my relationships is definitely on a “primary” level, but I *really* like living on my own and don’t see that changing any time soon.

        Though I tell my partners about big life decisions and solicit feedback, they would never really have a say in my accepting a job, buying a car, moving, etc. Is that an example of “I am my own primary” privilege? :P

  5. SunPisces says:

    Not arguing with ya’ about things from an emotional and romantic standpoint. Just looking at things from a somewhat practical perspective. Once you get seriously domestic – with things like real estate and financial stuff and especially the web of day to day life, there is more than just a romantic and sexual and feelings based relationship involved.

    • aggiesez says:

      I understand what you’re saying, I do get your perspective.

      I’m just saying that it’s also entirely possible for a non-domestic ongoing relationship to be “more than just romantic and sexual and feelings.” And for some of us, that’s the best option for long-term relationships. We don’t all have to ride the relationship escalator in order to have deep love and commitment for the long haul. :-)

      YMMV, of course.

      • SunPisces says:

        Not arguing that. Non-primary relationships may have a lot more than romantic and sexual feelings involved. All that stuff takes mileage together though. The more mileage a relationship has, the more stuff it has besides purely fun and games. It is a rare non-primary relationship that has anything like the same mileage. My one “girlfriend” has been a close and dear friend for over 17 years – longer than I’ve known my primary mate of 15 years. That actually made it ridiculously difficult for the relationship to turn romantic/sexual because of all the mileage we had invested as a friendship. If she wasn’t monogamish and 7 hours away, it would be worth working with that.

  6. […] read a few things about the difference between equality and fairness in poly relationships (i.e. Couple privilage and Rewriting The Rules), especially to do with non-primary partners. Mostly it’s been about […]

  7. Matt says:

    I’m poly and currently with one non-primary relationship. I really like your discussion of couple privilege. I think it is definitely something that can be a problem if not acknowledged, but I don’t see a hierarchical relationship structure as inherently bad.

    (Caveat lector: I generally prefer to have a partner who I can identify as “primary,” and I am happily dating someone who has a primary partner. I am also in my late 20s and move across the country every couple of years for my job, so I haven’t had the chance to exploret the long term consequences of this kind of relationship.)

    Every relationship is going to have a different level of commitment based on a lot of factors, including personal choice. I don’t think having one partner with a greater level of commitment is a problem so long as the person is up front about this with possible partners. That way, if your partners aren’t comfortable with that style of relationship, they can move on.

    Veto power is kind of a weird thing that makes me uncomfortable. I would class unceremoniously dumping someone at your partner’s behest under the category of “being an asshole” and also “dating an asshole,” but not under “couple privilege.”

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks Matt. Seems to me that often privilege encourages/allows people to feel free/entitled to act like assholes. But that doesn’t mean privilege doesn’t exist.

      • Matt says:

        I agree that entitlement is pretty insidious, especially in the poly community. If you are open-minded enough to set aside the usual cultural norm of the monogamous relationship, then you ought to be open-minded enough to try to understand the feelings and experience of others and communicate your own needs and feelings so that others can try to understand you.

        For that matter, it is hard for me to believe that there are poly people out there who don”t advocate for feminism or who are racist, but I guess we have all kinds.

      • aggiesez says:

        Wow, Matt, that 1st paragraph really nails it. I’ll incorporate that into the main page, thanks!

      • scattered_kisses says:

        “For that matter, it is hard for me to believe that there are poly people out there who don”t advocate for feminism or who are racist, but I guess we have all kinds.”

        I recently ragequit my local poly group over those exact issues. :/

  8. Matt says:

    Thank you. I love this blog. I discovered it a few weeks ago and I really enjoy your perspective and insights into relationships.

  9. Week Bi Week says:

    Warning: Really long comment.

    For reference: I am a married woman in a currently monogamous (monogamish?) relationship. For the past year and more, we have had a “friend with benefits” relationship with one man and hope to establish similar relationships with more people. I also want to open ourselves to polyamory and my husband wants to stay monoamorous. To sum up, my perspective is that of one poly-friendly monogamously married person.

    I do not support couple privilege as much as the recognition of primary responsibilities, risks, and rights. (“Primary privilege”? “Primary rights”?) Being part of a primary partnership — including sharing a home, intertwining finances, and raising a family together — requires constant work and magnifies risks to the primary partners.

    (I employ for this discussion the definitions that primary partners are those that share finances, residence, and other major life details while non-primary partners do not, but the terms do not imply an emotional investment or lack thereof. Likewise, non-primary partners refer to both people in the non-primary relationship. In an example “V” relationship of a married couple who live together and the husband’s girlfriend who does not live with them, Wife and Husband are primary partners to each other, while Husband and Girlfriend are non-primary partners to each other. It is not just that Girlfriend is the non-primary partner, all on her own.)

    Couple privilege includes advantages that are not earned by the efforts involved in being a couple. However, being a primary partner (whether as a couple, thruple, etc.) does take work and heighten risk, and that should be taken into consideration. In my example “V”, Wife and Husband have responsibilities to Girlfriend. They need to treat her with respect and remember that she is a human being with her own needs, wants, expectations, schedule, etc. This has been covered well in recent SoloPoly posts and comments. However, Wife and Husband also have responsibilities to each other, and should be able to expect certain rights. Likewise, Girlfriend also has responsibilities to Wife and Husband.

    Regardless of emotional investment, being primary partners requires a much bigger life investment than being non-primary partners. (Previous SoloPoly posts have pointed out some advantages to being non-primary.)

    Example 1a:
    If Girlfriend suddenly goes crazy and gambles her life savings away, then Husband may have to determine whether he wants to cover their dates entirely for a while, and ask whether he wants to continue a relationship with someone so irresponsible.
    Example 1b:
    If Wife suddenly goes on crazy and gambles their life savings away, then Husband is not only left having to decide whether he wants to be tied to someone so irresponsible, but he also has to figure out how he is going to pay for food and the roof over his head; that was his money, too.

    Example 2a:
    If Husband abruptly cancels a date with Girlfriend to go drinking with the boys, then Girlfriend unexpectedly has her night open, which sucks, but she can find something else to do and start rethinking whether she wants to date someone so inconsiderate.
    Example 2b:
    If Husband was going to spend a family night with Wife and Child or was going to watch Child while Wife went out and Husband instead decides to abruptly to go out on the town, then Wife has to cancel her date or be alone with Child, either way having to explain to Child why Husband just bailed.

    In either case, Husband and Wife have a much higher hurdle if their problems require a breakup. While a breakup could be painful for Husband and Girlfriend, it would require legal, material, and financial considerations for Wife and Husband.

    By living together and sharing their financial, home, and other burdens, Husband and Wife jostle each other much more easily, and factors that jostle one much more easily jostle the other. Again, none of this even looks at how long any of the relationships has lasted or how emotionally serious they are; this is about the sheer logistics of intertwining lives to the level that separates primary partnerships from non-primary partnerships.

    I do agree that couple privilege is hurtful for the reasons cited in the post, and certainly agree that non-primary partners have rights and responsibilities. However, while attempting to treat non-primary partners well, primary partner responsibilities, risks, and rights should not be forgotten or ignored.

    • Week Bi Week says:

      Darn it, after that careful proof-reading and formatting, I still left too much italicized.

      • aggiesez says:

        I think I fixed that. Thanks!

      • SunPisces says:

        There is no doubt that couple privilege leave non-primary partners wounded if things go south. The same can be said the other way if a primary partnership breaks up because of a relationship with a non-primary, though with much greater consequence than just hurt feelings. Very nice post Week Bi Week….

      • aggiesez says:

        Whoa, “just hurt feelings?” I realize you didn’t intend it that way, but that trivializes what non-primary partners often invest in long term relationships — including structuring our own lives to accommodate those relationships. Speaking from experience.

      • SunPisces says:

        In an effort at brevity, I’m sorry if I sounded like I was blowing off the consequences to a non-primary partner at breakup. Certainly there are a wide ranging list of consequences to the non-primary.

    • polyhydra says:

      Very lucid and not at all too long. An excellent comment that I fully agree with.

  10. Emma says:

    I have had several run-ins with “couple privilege” and appreciate all of your thoughts on this – and the great responses! So many perspectives!
    Maybe one that I can offer, which hasn’t yet been said, is that couple privilege and heterosexism often get together to form “one penis policies,” or, less explicitly, regulations of the non-primary partners’ genders.
    (background – I have been poly for about 8 years now, in both primary and non-primary roles, and have fluctuated in terms of gender/sexuality quite a bit. Currently I identify as gender-queer, female bodied and dyke affiliated. I have one cisgender female partner and one cisgender male partner (who are both in hetero marriages – not with each other)).

    My past attempts at dating bisexual married women have often involved this strange presumption on the part of their husbands; that I am non threatening because I don’t have a bio-cock. Not only is this incredibly patronizing to all involved parties, but it makes for very uncomfortable situations when I’m around them and am attired/behaving very “butch.” I thought this phenomenon was unique to transmen, but I get the sense of gender surveillance (to the point in one case of openly staring at my crotch). Usually it’s more unstated – stuff like calling dates with me “girls night” or being sort of unsure how to interact with me once I made it clear that I had no interest in flirting with them.

    Sometimes this combination of heterosexism and couple privilege means I get to date and become very intimately attached to women who I wouldn’t have access to at all if I had a male body, or maybe even a masculine sounding name. But that access comes with being treated like the sexual/romantic equivalent of a fad-diet.

    • aggiesez says:

      That’s really interesting, Emma. You’ve seen Franklin Veaux’s Venn diagram of overlapping privileges in polyamory? OPP’s lie at the intersection of couple privilege and male entitlement, IIRC.

  11. Gned the Gnome says:

    A while back, I entered a secondary relationship with a lady in a FMF triad. I still dated but she seemed to get jealous over it, especially when she met the other lady, which puzzled me all the more in that I figured I could never be more than a secondary to her (her triad always came first) yet she wanted to be a primary to me? and even exclusive at that? Anyway it ended for other reasons, and wouldn’t’ve lasted anyway because we were incompatible in certain fundamental areas, but I thought it was strange. Too bad, we were good together for a while.

    • aggiesez says:

      Jealousy sometimes happens along with couple privilege, but they’re not the same thing. Its important to separate out issues like that if you want to address them.

  12. […] I’ve read a bit about ‘couple privilege’, specifically in the context of polyamory, but it definitely exists in society at large […]

  13. […] 2. http://solopoly.net/2012/12/03/couple-privilege-your-thoughts/ […]

  14. […] for the couple to take or leave as they choose — obviously not a fair or kind dynamic. Here’s a link from — hey! — the Solopoly blog that explains more if you’d like to learn more about […]

  15. […] Del original de aggiesez en Solopoly, Couple Privilege, Your Thoughts? […]

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