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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Which came first, the Primary or the Secondary?

I stumbled across an interesting forum post the other day while flitting about the wonderful Web.

Most books, articles, and How To help guides about Polyamory assume that a Primary relationship will come first. Once rules, limits, etc. have been discussed and agreed upon then the couple will venture out into the world to find a Secondary.

But what happens when you have an established Secondary relationship and find someone with which you want a Primary relationship? Do you put the Secondary on hold while you build your new Primary relationship? Do you just "grandfather" the Secondary relationship even if it defies the proposed rules and agreements of your new Primary relationship?

I've been in this situation before and handled it quite poorly. I had an established relationship which we had mutually agreed was a Secondary relationship. (Disclaimer: I don't believe in applying the terms Primary and Secondary to my partners and use them only as a communication tool when necessary). We both knew that although we had a great physical relationship and a fairly solid emotional relationship neither of us had any interest in merging our lives and living under the same roof. A lot of our lifestyles were much different from each other and we both knew trying to cohabitate or take our relationship to a higher level of commitment would probably destroy our relationship.

Things were going along quite nicely until I met and started dating a new woman. Although we were nowhere near looking at each other as Primary partners, my current Secondary became unreasonably jealous of my new SO and asserted herself as my current Primary, insisting her feelings and desires were to be considered first and foremost. My initial response was to have conversations with my Secondary and try to understand why she was feeling the way she was and if she was now wanting to take our relationship to a different level and become my Primary. She did not. Her intention wasn't to change our relationship but rather to protect her relationship with me by asserting herself as the Primary.

My feeling was that it was unfair of her to assert herself as a Primary when she only wanted to be a Secondary. With more conversation we realized that we were no longer on the same page with our relationship. At that point I told her I felt we needed to renegotiate our relationship to which she replied as long as we kept having sex regularly that was fine. I disagreed and ask that while we renegotiated we abstain from sex allowing us to focus on agreements and emotional aspects. At the same time I was going to continue development of my new relationship and we would see how the two would fit together. She promptly discarded me like a used paper-towel without further discussion. Although I was disappointed with her decision, I can't blame her a bit.

Looking back I still struggle with how I could have handled things differently. In my mind she was being unreasonable and renegotiation was our only option. At the same time had I been in her shoes I probably would have done the same thing. But, I'm a bit off point here.

What I learned was that it is never okay (for me) to put an existing relationship, regardless of the level of that relationship, on hold while building a new relationship with another person. Although I may someday become involved with someone who would be okay putting our relationship on hold while I developed a new relationship with someone else, I think most people would feel very hurt in that position. I know I probably would.

Fortunately because of the equality I desire in relationships I don't see this being a problem I will have regularly and have in fact encountered it only once in my life. Should I run into it again I will try having more group conversations and try to forge agreements between everyone about how things will be handled.

Some other methods I've seen or heard of are:
-Put only some aspects of the current relationship(s) on hold such as not having sex, but still communicate as needed.
-Make acceptance of existing relationships, regardless of status, a requirement of any new partners.
-Get everyone together so they all know what is going on and build consensus around how to move forward.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ideas out there. What are yours? How would you handle creating a Primary relationship with a new person while you had an existing Secondary relationship in place? (Remember, the terms are only for convenience, it is the type of relationships we are talking about). Have you done this before and what did you do? Did it work or did you fail as I did?

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