Seven Articles in Seven Days – 6: Primary, Secondary, and Power Relations

(Icon chosen because it amused me, and because I totally feel like one after all the thinking about, talking about and dissecting of relationships I’ve been doing on here this week!)

In principal, relationship hierarchies are something I’d prefer not to use at all. But the thing is, I’m not convinced it’s possible to erase them entirely. Whether or not we choose to use terms such as primary and secondary, which is all down to individual choice and preference, it would be a fallacy to suggest that all relationships can be absolutely equal. Human attraction, emotions and relationships simply don’t work that way.

So what I want to address in today’s post are some of the potential power imbalances between relationships of a different hierarchical status, whether that distinction is explicit or implicit.

In the former, many of the issues are obvious. Everybody defines their terms differently, so I am trying to avoid making sweeping generalisations here – but in general, it seems that somebody who is explicitly labelled as a ‘primary partner’ has certain powers within the relationship, which ‘lower level’ (term used for want of a better one) partners may not have. This commonly extends to things such as veto-power over their partner’s new relationships (or even existing ones, ie. ‘you must stop seeing X because I say so,’) and always coming first. I don’t think these things are inherently problematic, but they very easily have the ability to become so if somebody is inclined to misuse their privileged position. Saying that their sweetie must cancel a date with somebody else because they’re having a genuine emergency or crisis? Fair enough. Demanding the same thing because they just feel like it strikes me as an abuse of the power of their ‘primary’ status.

For a secondary or non-primary or ‘other’ partner, these power imbalances can range from not an issue at all to a severe problem. But denying that they are there strikes me as pointless. Dealing with them head on in a way which makes everyone happy is much better. Personally, I’ve been very lucky, having a completely awesome metamour who has never taken advantage of Primary Power. (Did I just coin a new phrase there? :-) )

I imagine these imbalances would be even more difficult to navigate under circumstances where the hierarchy is implicit. I think it’s almost always important to be specific about who has what level of power in the relationship(s.) Some people do not give labels to their different levels of relationship at all, and in these situations where there isn’t a clear order of importance, then it can become rather unclear who has what degree of power and control over what goes on. Does everyone have veto-power, for example? Does nobody? Do some and not others? I don’t think a person’s two (or more) relationships can ever be absolutely 100% equal, because we’re all different and people relate to each other in different ways.

I struggle occasionally with the feeling of being ‘out of control’ in my relationship (which is totally my issue, not through anything my partner has done wrong.) I’ve been able to negate this to the point of being much less common than it used to be, through lots of discussion, through learning to actually ask for what I want/need, and through doing things such as initiating communication to help me feel a part of things instead of powerless. Becoming close friends with my metamour didn’t hurt, either!

Just like my argument about ‘rules’ in my previous post, I think specified relationship statuses/levels are perfectly fine if they’re done in a way which makes everyone involved happy, but they are ultimately only as good as the people following them.  And at the end of the day, anyone only has as much power as the other party in the relationship actually gives them. I’ve learned this through bitter experience, after having been the primary-who-was-left-for-the-secondary. And it’s so much better if all can negotiate openly and get their needs met, and nobody (whether partners or metamours) is attempting to wield power unnecessarily over somebody else.

What do you guys think? How do you feel about power imbalances between different relationships, and how do you deal with those in your experience?


5 thoughts on “Seven Articles in Seven Days – 6: Primary, Secondary, and Power Relations

  1. Nomad says:

    You ask: What do _I_ think? I think you’re frackin’ awesome, Sweetheart! And I’ve been having a great time reading your series of articles this week, too! My only complaint is that the week is almost over — I’m going to miss having my daily dose when you’re done!



    • Jess says:

      Awww! Trust you to know exactly what to say to bring a huge smile to my face, my Love! *smile* *blush*

      I’m really glad you’ve been enjoying the posts this week. Posting will probably slow down a bit after tomorrow, but I still anticipate pretty frequent updates! The more I’ve been writing this week, the more ideas it’s given me for things I want to write about!


      I love you LOTS!

  2. Dragonmamma says:

    I dont know any of the answers (why would I?) but thank you for raising all the questions. It has made me think a lot about these issues and has helped to raise my awareness and understading. This is all good. As a general rule of thumb, I would have thought that clear communication is the way to go, but I know how hard that can be sometimes even in a monogamous relationship!!

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes…. absolutely! I think open and honest communication is pretty much the foundation of every good relationship, whether monogamous or poly…. but it’s not always the easiest thing to practice!

      The difficulty with relationships, especially those which fall outside of ‘the norms,’ is that none of us know the answers. We’re really all just making it all up as we go along, writing our own scripts. I think that’s part of what makes love so exciting but so terrifying at the same time!

  3. Aegithalos caudatus says:

    I totally agree with you. I’ve seen plenty of blogs decrying the need for hierarchies and even hinting that the primary/secondary concept is nothing other than wholly damaging. But as you point out: as long as everyone involved is happy with the set-up then what’s the problem? I have what could be classified as a secondary and two tertiary relationships alongside my ‘primary’, and everyone involved is really happy. My ‘secondary’ doesn’t want to be my primary partner, and my ‘tertiaries’ and I are happy with seeing each other every now and again on a very casual basis.

    In polyamory everything is up for negotiation, and as long as everyone is happy then it’s great🙂

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