Updates to tips for treating non-primary partners well

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January 15, 2013 by aggiesez

I'm writing a book about non-standard approaches to relationships. Want to help? Take this survey to share your views and experiences of relationships that aren't on society's standard relationship escalator.

I’M WRITING A BOOK about non-standard approaches to relationships.
Want to help? Take this survey to share your views and experiences of relationships that aren’t on society’s standard relationship escalator

The most popular post on this blog — by far — was my crowdsourced list of tips: Non-primary partners tell how to treat us well. So far, that article has been read over 14,000 times, and traffic is still going strong!

Which is great, because it’s a living document, intended to be amended and expanded over time with help from the wider poly/open community.

Today I’ve posted a significant update to this resource. It includes two new items on the “DO” list:

  • DO expect to be surprised by your own emotional reactions. A commenter observed that you can’t always anticipate what will (or won’t) cause you discomfort. Here’s some advice on handling surprises.
  • DO trust what your non-primary partner says about their relationship goals. In many poly forums, I’ve heard people (especially hetero married poly couples) say they prefer to avoid relationships with single/solo people because they believe solo people will probably “want too much.” While people are of course free to set their priorities and boundaries however they wish, this particular line of reasoning appears to represent a fallacy rooted in competitive monogamist presumptions that probably won’t benefit (and could undermine) any poly network of relationships. In other words, avoiding single/solo partners may not really help primary partners protect their existing relationship or achieve other goals.

 
Also, I’ve significantly expanded the first item on the “DON’T” list:

  • DON’T bail at the first bump. A well respected leader in the poly community told me, “What’s really radical about polyamory is not that you have multiple relationships, or that everyone involved knows about it — but that you don’t automatically jettison new partners when there’s trouble.” I discuss the importance of committing to hanging in there and working together to find solutions and options (or simply to allow your comfort zone to expand), while keeping all of the significant relationships in the network intact.

Again, that article remains a work in progress. If you have suggestions, please post a comment (ideally to the original article) or e-mail me.

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11 thoughts on “Updates to tips for treating non-primary partners well

  1. Shay says:

    Do not treat us like the safety net. Having a tough day with your primary partner? We’re not the escape pod to make you feel better so you can return to your primary. This is a whole relationship too.

    • aggiesez says:

      Good suggestion. I’ll consider it, thanks!

    • Drew says:

      I agree that each relationship is separate, but they are also intertwined. We all draw strength together and help all partners through the day. When one person is down, the others (individually or together) will help bring him/her up. It’s one of the strengths of polyamory.

      That being said, we never discuss negatives in our relationships with our other partners. This prevents anyone from feeling “ganged up on” by the other partners.

      • aggiesez says:

        Well, I think this is one of those situations where the key is to ask the non-primary partner what their preference is on this point — don’t make assumptions about it.

  2. […] The Solopoly blog (“Life, relationships, and dating as a free agent”) — a really well-designed and very clearly written blog — is the perspective from a solo polyamorist woman who may or may not develop any number of different kinds of relationships at any time. But they won’t be ‘secondary’ ones. She recently created a post that went viral: Tips for Treating Non-Primary Partners Well. […]

  3. Stella says:

    Non-primaries should be aware of how they “punish” their lover when he/she goes “back” to the primary (e.g. By disconnecting from fear of the other disconnecting first, or by sly devilish deeds rooted in wanting reassurance, hard-to-handle jealousy, etc.). It takes confidence/self-love and time/precedent/water under the bridge to be convinced they are still “with” you even though theyre with the other.

    • aggiesez says:

      Hmmmm… I wouldn’t assume that non-primaries are “punishing” their partners who have primaries simply because they prefer to moderate how emotionally invested they get, or how they express that commitment on a day-to-day basis. That kind of leap can sabotage a non-primary relationship.

      Please realize that due to couple privilege, there is a power differential in this situation. The non-primary partner usually faces much greater risk by letting strong feelings of attachment flow all the time toward someone with a primary. Many of us are self-protective based on experience, and it takes time to gain trust that we won’t be treated dismissively or disposably. Plus, we have our own lives which don’t revolve around out partners, and we may have other partners of our own, and our lives, interests, and needs matter as much as yours or your primary’s.

      That said, anyone can do passive aggressive behavior, to try to manipulate people into meeting needs they aren’t willing to voice. And that’s a problem when it happens. I agree with that.

      It takes confidence and self-love to embrace a relationship that isn’t supported by social recognition, norms, and conditioning. And it’s easy for people who have a primary partner to expect that any partner will or should treat them that way. Generally it takes a lot of time, experience, and trust for everyone to gain that confidence — Including for partners who also have a primary to gain the confidence and sense of security that when the non-primary partner isn’t focusing on them nonstop, that they are still loved and the relationship is still good.

      It’s better to discuss and negotiate what kind of ongoing connection/reassurance all partners need, and what needs they have for autonomy/separateness as well.

      • Stella says:

        Wow i read that completely differently last nite, replied and comment got lost. Fate! Now i see what u r saying and am aware if my own babygames as seeking reassurance.

        I realize the power dynamics depends a lot on how you feel about yourself… When your feeling low you can sink into all kinds of lowly self-doubt and tumble onto erstwhile cliches, that ur second-best, must have low self-esteem to choose this or that it must be pathological at worst or egotistical at best, to share a man.

        Yet ive always held the notion that the bilateral relationship (the couple) is rather limited and a falsely narrow depiction of the socirally-blessed union.

        In fact, we all share our loves, if not with their wives and other mistresses, than with their kids, their mothers, their fantasies and passions, their hopes and dreams… And thats a good thing.

        Now how can i convey to my sweetheart that i want very much to spend my birthday with him (though we live in different places and gave time/money/work/kids constraints) without making him feel pressured, nor me frustrated by his passivity in coming up with a plan since our last date fell through and he clearly said the onus is on him.

        How can we make it happen and it also feel right, as we did the last 4 times we met?

  4. Stella says:

    Sorry for the typos:( promise to proofread next time:)

  5. Stella says:

    Wow just went back and read my post from a few weeks (month?) back. By writing, reflecting, letting time show the way, we found a gentle way forward, with both finding their comfort level and neither feeling they would be giving up too much. Have booked a ticket to meet my lover on his turf (because he simply could not afford in time or money to cone to mine) and we will have a weekend together, exciting!

    Interesting reaction after clarifying plans, we both fall silent as the anticipation and desire flame slowly builds. Keep writing your blog aggie and great you are recovering your strength and dating again. It takes time to heal even from the ones you know were bad for you… But what I have found in the last 20 years since I moved out from my hysband to a nearby village and the 15 lovers ive enjoyed and suffered: the ones you truly loved, you will always love. The love is out there, in the universe, even if you cant “be with” them.

  6. […] The Solopoly blog (“Life, relationships, and dating as a free agent”) — a really well-designed and very clearly written blog — is the perspective from a solo polyamorist woman who may or may not develop any number of different kinds of relationships at any time. But they won’t be ‘secondary’ ones. She recently created a post that went viral: Tips for Treating Non-Primary Partners Well. […]

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