Couple's Supremacy

mine2A lot of what I am thinking about here has been talked about with couple’s privilege. I’m not really saying something new, but I do feel like I need to say something and it’s that there is couple’s privilege and there is couple’s supremacy. I have to admit that all those dreadful talks about privilege in poly internet groups MADE ME CRAZY. The reason they made me crazy is that it felt like a bunch of people nitpicking infinitesimal crap that has nothing to do with real life.

I’m starting to get it though. I’m pretty lucky that the people I am dating are very generous and fair and giving and thoughtful. My partners try REALLY HARD to do the right thing, and I’m finding that this is rare. But I have to admit that even there, in these smart, loving, thoughtful, giving situations there does exist a couple’s primacy. It’s okay in my case. Primacy isn’t supremacy. I have only been with my partners a year or less and I have thoughtful partners. Unfortunately I’m seeing supremacy EVERYWHERE around me though. I thought it was nuts to talk about this stuff all the time because everybody knows it’s lame to treat people that you love super unfairly and to say this human is worth more than this human. Nobody I know would do that. Sheesh.

But they do.

I quit a few internet groups over such long windy discussions. I was married and poly and I would NEVER do the things they were talking about. I posted a picture of a kitten with a gun to its head saying “SAY PRIVILEGE ONE MORE TIME”. I was so tired of the bleeding soapbox ramblings and 14- post discussions back and forth about minutia.

I love when people want to honor their existing commitments. I talk about it all the time. I’m not saying that people honoring their relationships is a bad thing. I’m not even saying protecting connections is a bad thing. I am saying that having couple’s supremacy kinda sucks though. Why does holding x down make y stronger?

I read posts all the time about how okay and supportive a couple is of real connections with other people and how they are so inclusive or good to their others, and never jealous and so compersive, and in the same breath say things like they “aren’t comfortable” with having overnights and won’t ever have them, now or in the future. Seriously? That just feels like right out the gate you are saying that other partners will never be as worthy as you. You are the husband or the wife and it’s vital that all 7 nights of the week belong to you? It’s okay if your spouse has a relationship with this person but you will make sure you are number one by saying they can’t fall asleep together. Or you’ve grown used to sleeping together and can’t change so other people can have the joy of sleeping with the person they love too? They better come home where they belong.. with you.. alone.  And this will NEVER change.

Or people talk about scheduling their dates around their husband’s/wife’s schedule. “Oh.. It’s easy for me! I just make sure I schedule my dates/overnights/whatever when Mr. X is doing this or that.” Or “sure.. we can plan a date. Let me just clear that with my wife”. I’m not saying couples shouldn’t be considerate and plan with each other. I am NOT saying not to talk to your spouse about scheduling.  But why wouldn’t that same person ever tell his wife “Yeah.. we can maybe go to Tahoe this weekend. Lemme let my girlfriend know and/or make sure we don’t have big plans”. Because let’s be clear.. he’s being considerate to his wife by checking her feelings about him disappearing all weekend. My question is why isn’t he considerate to his girlfriend too?  It doesn’t have to be the SAME consideration, but why isn’t there consideration? The girlfriend is simply informed and not expected or rarely permitted to have a response. “Oh.. by the way.. it’s been decided that I am going to do this. I’m just telling you and you will adjust”. It might affect the girlfriend. That’s fine.. but it does kind of chap my ass a little that it’s just so expected. It seems ludicrous to ask the girlfriend “Hey.. the wife and I are thinking of taking that trip in May. Early May and Mid May seem to work best. Any thoughts”? I’m not saying she has to okay trips with his wife, but why is it such a ridiculous notion to consult or include the girlfriend or boyfriend at all and such an expected right that wives or husbands must be consulted always and in all things? I know there are exceptions to this.. of course.. I’ve been that exception.. but it’s not super common.

imagesI’m not saying every poly couple must plan every damn thing by committee or that girlfriends or boyfriends or husbands or wives must “permit” their partners to do things. I’m just saying that it really must blow to be a non-primary or a girlfriend sometimes. There is the assumption that the primary or the husband or the wife or whatever must be respected or considered or told and there is NO ASSUMPTION that anyone else deserves ANY consideration. Again.. I’m not saying that all relationships from conception must be equal … but would you always want to be the girlfriend or boyfriend in that, when they can NEVER be equal?

How on Earth does it seem okay to say that this relationship can be all of these things but that it can’t ever include stuff like overnights because those are just for me? Many people don’t do overnights for a host of reasonable reasons… responsibilities at home and car conflicts and all kinds of things, but to arbitrarily say you can fuck and date and kiss and hold and be with them, but you must come home every night to me, for no reason but that I am your live-in partner and therefore must be allowed things that others are not.. well.. it’s couple supremacy.

There’s lots of examples.

  • Couples that try poly and if it’s not working can just dump the people that invested in them and go be mono.
  • It’s perfectly okay for members of a couple to want to meet and be okay with who their partners date but not expecting to meet or respect non-primary partners when you date others.
  • Overnights or holidays or birthdays or special occasions are the property of primary partners alone.. just assumed.
  • Partners must always be available to their primaries and will drop their other partners if their primary wants/needs/or expects them
  • Members of the couple can cancel dates with outside partners. (and of course outside partners cannot do the same to members of the couple)
  • Insistence that certain partners must have the most time (not saying that primaries generally having more time because of shared space and time is this.. I am talking specifically about people who have the idea that no matter what inside partners MUST have more time than outside partners)
  • If any problem happens then the primary partner wins instead of the assumption that all members matter and must be adults and work to resolve the conflict
  • If on a date with my secondary my husband can call, of course, but when I am with my husband I don’t answer my secondary. Or versions of this. (A glaring example is basically not treating partner calls the same – one set of rules and responses for a spouse and another for a non-primary partner)
  • The seemingly natural assumption that because this person came second or third they will ALWAYS be lesser.

The hardest part about this is that it’s generally perpetrated by super well meaning people who actually love the people they are treating like second class citizens.

mine all mine

Some good suggestions on how to treat everyone well..

  • when setting up dates thinking about what works best for everyone and understanding that there is usually no perfect solution and WE ALL give up things sometimes. Traveler many times has scheduled dates with his girlfriends when his wife is home. She’s an adult and amuses herself. Of course he tries to schedule around her but she is understanding when he cannot.  Hubby and I scheduled dates with each other and with our other partners, not only seeing our other partners when it was convenient to members of the “primary” couple. Many times we amused ourselves while the other was on a date.
  • Acknowledging that other partners have needs for time and connection and not limiting THESE partners to only weekdays or only until 12pm or only when the primary is busy. Allowing all relationships to be whole and include things like trips, special occasions, regular old days, overnights, shared intimacy, sex, meals, hobbies etc.. you know.. like any other relationship.
  • Trying to be considerate of everyone’s time. Keeping non-primary partners informed of schedules and changes just as you would primary partners.
  • Not cancelling any partners for any other partners except for true emergencies.
  • Being with who you are with when you are with them. Not texting and calling your boyfriend constantly during dates with your spouse or having the spouse interrupt time with the other partner either. Allowing each to contact you or not contact you with similar parameters. (Realizing of course that if you live together some of your partner’s time at home will obviously need to be spent contacting others.)
  • Trying to be either inclusive or taking turns or sharing special days and holidays.
  • Not setting arbitrary limits on some relationships. You can contact them only once a week or you can only have date/dates 3 times a month. (An exception might be during the very beginning or “new relationship energy”.  Some couples wish to slowly build connections and will try not to spend 7 days a week with a new beau.. also helpful when respecting existing relationships)
  • Realizing that all partners are full humans. You can’t ask for their love and trust and then veto them or dump them to suit the primary couple. They are not expendable things for your amusement.
  • Not dropping everyone and everything flat because your husband or wife is home. Other people’s time matters too. Certainly we all want to take advantage of and see our loved ones as much as we can… but it feels like shit when your husband drops everything, including you, because his girlfriend is suddenly available.
  • Allowing for growth. It’s not reasonable to assume that this partner will ALWAYS come first because they came 18 months or 18 years earlier. Some relationships over time will become larger investment relationships too. It’s unfair and hurtful to assume that all of our partner’s connections will always be just a little less than our connection to them, or to ask for that. If we decide to be open, really be open. Sharing my loved ones means actually sharing their time and attention and energy and space and life.

Just some stuff I’m thinking of. Just a little rant about some observations.

14 Comments

  1. Oooh, my partner and I definitely are still finding our way with poly. We’ve gained and lost partners, and there’s been a lot of heartache among us. Still feeling out where our boundaries are. What feels healthy and good as opposed to forced and sickening. It’s been tough. We go through guilt trip spirals, worrying that we are ignoring a partner if we go out with another. And the frustration builds and we struggle to find appropriate outlets and workarounds.

    How do you keep from not feeling alone when your partner is spending time with another partner? Indeed,I know he loves me, but I have irrational insecurities that nudge me every now and then.

    Great post, by the way. I’d always wondered about “couples supremacy,” even though I hadn’t thought of it that way.

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  2. The reason for your rant, of course, is how some (not all) couples see their relationship as the primary relationship and, thus, everyone else is not only secondary but not always privy to things they see as exclusively theirs, like those overnighters your mentioned. Folks who are married and decide to stick their toes into the poly pool has to agree to do this and it’s not going to be done without a lot of internal rules along with the ones, say, you’d find out about – and those rules are strictly about preserving the integrity of THEIR relationship.

    Then it’s about managing their side of the poly relationship but within the restrictions of their internal rules. When I read the list of scenarios, I just shook my head with a lot of sadness and thought that people who behave like this aren’t really poly – they’re just swingers who don’t have what it takes to play in the pool with the big people.

    At the same time, everyone in a poly connection is and will always be responsible for managing their lives and, yeah, management is usually a problem with making a poly connection work well. So, in a way, thinking in terms of primary, secondary, etc., makes sense in that you gotta have a way to keep everything straight in your head while maintaining the ‘sanctity’ of their relationship… and, yeah, that can mean that you (generally) could wind up getting dissed and totally assed out in favor of their priorities.

    It’s a pretty mess, ain’t it?

    It’s hard enough trying to spend quality time with a lot of other people; even in my quartet, one of my biggest problems was making sure I spent enough time with the three of them. And, yes, I got that whole “You spend more time with her than you do with me” thing and I was quick to point out just how untrue, unfair, and patently ridiculous it was to say that to me since there were three of them and one of me.

    Duh.

    What people don’t seem to understand about being poly is that it’s about breaking down those barriers so that instead of it being “us and them” there’s only us and, at some level, we are all interacting with each other. It’s about being connected by whatever it is that’s connecting everyone and that requires a high degree of openness.

    I know I wouldn’t tolerate anything less than that because if you’re asking me to put myself out there, then you either come with me or stay on the porch, little dogs.

    If you’re in a poly group, you just can’t shut the other people out of “certain” aspects of your life; to me, it defeats the purpose of being poly and it makes your other partners feel as if they’re not important – unless you want to fuck them, that is; THEN they’re important. I figure it like this: If you think I’m good enough to fuck but not good enough to spend the night in your home, I’m outta here ’cause I’m not your plaything for you to use and ‘put away’ when you’re done with it.

    Great topic to rant about, hon!

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  3. This is why I was never that interested in dating guys with partners to begin with. Remember my post that made it to Reddit and got me vilified? I mentioned these partner “rules” as my biggest pet peeve. My thoughts? The mind sometimes makes decisions the heart can’t follow through on. A person spends years putting their spouse first in all things and I think for some people to not do that feels like a betrayal.

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  4. A very very interesting post.
    I can see where being a secondary to a married partner could be hurtful at times. But as a wife myself, an almost stranger coming in and being given the same considerations and priorities as me is hurtful to. I say that because I’ve put 21 years of blood, sweat and tears into this relationship. I was there through the births and deaths, the sickness and injuries and hospital stays. I was there when we barely had money to keep a roof over our head or feed our kids. I’ve been here through every manner of high and low. Damn right I expect certain considerations and priority over someone he just met.
    Now I can absolutely understand be a grown up and not a petty d-bag about it. But still, in my opinion, marriage (love with a life and a history) should be given its due respect.
    Also I think someone going into a relationship with a married person should be prepared to be in a secondary position. If you don’t want to be a secondary do not date a married person.

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    • First, thanks for commenting and I have to say that I agree with a lot of what you said. I opened up my marriage 12 years in. I did 12 years as a Navy wife. That’s hard time. I didn’t want “some stranger” to usurp or replace me either. I have been with my current boyfriends 4 months and 1 year. I am not and in no way expect to get the SAME considerations as their wives of 13 years and 18 years. That’d be just goofy. I said in my post that my partners wives had some primacy and that this is not the same as supremacy. Of course connections we’ve had with people for years and years would carry more weight and have more consideration in things than people we’ve dated 4 months. My boyfriends and hopefully their wives would tell you that I am not some crazy girl rushing in here and expecting to run the show. Good lord!

      Marriage is due respect and I tell my newer partner all the time to make sure he lets his wife know it. My boyfriends are very loving husbands and they do put their wives first, and they should. But they don’t push or hold me down to make that happen. I have dates and overnights and hobbies and times of doing projects together and meals and all sorts of things. I have FULL relationships with my boyfriends because that’s what they are. I am not “equal” to their wives, but I am not treated as a second class citizen either. They don’t break dates with me at the whim of their wives or only see me if she’s busy because all I’m worth is scraps. They communicate well with me and with their wives and keep me informed on schedules and changes for the most part. My sweeties wives are not insecure women who need me to be held back to feel safe. When they need extra attention or time or whatever they ask their Hubbies for it. They don’t say.. you know.. I’m your wife and all of the weekends belong to me, or you can only see her this much. Do you see the difference?

      Some poly people practice heirarchies and have primaries and secondaries and some do not. People should communicate clearly which they are and what that will mean and then make decisions accordingly. But the statement that people who date married people should be prepared to be in a secondary position is kinda bullshit. If you are a married person and you decide to be poly.. as in multiple loving relationships you should be prepared that your spouses relationships will be relationships and not expect that you will forever and always be above your love’s other loves. Over time you should expect that relationships will grow and will gain importance too and that you will need to be okay with actually sharing your spouse if you are deciding to share them. If you date a poly person or a married person you do need to be prepared for the fact that you may in some ways be “secondary” or never someone’s one and only. You need to be prepared to respect their existing connections and commitments AND THE CONNECTIONS AND COMMITMENTS THEY WILL MAKE. You cannot expect that you will come in and instantly have the same investment as a person who has been there for years and years and you cannot expect that you will never really share them with other people. If you want to be someone’s primary forever and ever and never really share them, then I think you should consider swinging or progressive swinging or even your own brand of an open relationship and let people that you date know the score. But I think it IS douchbaggy to expect that HUMANS will invest in you and love you and give you their time and energy and heart and you will never ever consider them equal.

      It’s a matter of degree, right? That’s why it’s hard to talk about this. The extremes are both wrong. It’s the gray we shoot for here. On one end would be having zero consideration for our existing connections and burning through people with no honor and no commitment. My wife of 13 years or this girl I’ve known 3 months.. the same! That’s insane. On the other end is here is my wife of 23 years and my girlfriend of 13. My girlfriend is lesser to me and always will be and we will forever have rules to keep her in her place because hey.. people who got here first are just better people and worth more and if you were second or third, no matter how long you are here, you can never expect to be my full and whole partner. You will always be less. Seems wrong too, huh? I’m saying there is a middle road and I think for the most part that I’ve found it with my partners and that I’m sad it seems kinda rare. I love slowly and intelligently building connections and as a newcomer I need to understand that this will take a lot of time, but I’m also given the opportunity and respect as I’m building these relationships. I just wish saw more of that and less of the “fear holding people back” stuff.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope I’ve been more clear.

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  5. Just now merging to a full polyamorous circle, we have been able to figure a lot of things out along the way and work out kinks, as friends. Now we are working on the relationships we have newly established. I sometimes think, even though it was hard at times, moving from swinging to poly was/is a good thing. I get frustrated with my husband when he says I’m texting my boyfriend too much. My boyfriend and I talk, a lot. We love texting each other and keeping communication open. But I know where it’s coming from with my husband. He’s feeling left out and not getting enough attention so I then know I have to make an extra effort to show him I love him just as much and I want to shower him with attention just as much. The other thing that frustrates me, highly frustrates me, is my boyfriend’s wife’s attitude about time together. My husband’s and her schedules don’t match up like my boyfriend and I. Him and I work the same hours and off the same days. That’s not our fault but she gets insanely jealous of that and has this tit-4-tat attitude and will say that he can’t spend a night with me until she gets to spend her night with my husband. I hate that. My boyfriend says it’s only fair so that everyone is happy and I try to keep a positive attitude about it but it pisses me off.

    I really really try my hardest to make sure that my boyfriend feels equal to my husband in our relationships and I know he does the same for me, even when restrictions come up. We just deal with them and move on.

    Thank you for this insightful blog, as always!

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  6. Couple’s privilege will always be worse in those couples in which one or both members of the”primary” couple aren’t out to their families.

    For that reason, it’s important to build poly family traditions as much as possible. Cause holidays can be a hard time for some. And the spouse of record will always be privileged in closeted relationships.

    I would also remind you that my couple’s privilege doesn’t extend to my other meaningful relationship. Certain experiences are reserved for them (my OSO and his partner) only. So, I am personally privileged and disprivileged, depending on the relationship. Remembering that may make things just a tad easier. Not that I feel this post is about our murder, just in general I’m talking.

    Are you at the point where you’re starting to be ready for a “primary” relationship? How would you structure it so as to guard against privilege?

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    • I have no idea how I will structure my relationships. I know I’m not ready for a primary relationship at this time. I’m not sure if I will ever pursue or desire a “primary” relationship again right now. It’s too fresh to say. I don’t want to be married again. I think I would like a greater commitment at some point in the future, but not for a while and I’m not sure what kind, maybe just more of a shared life. I think I’d like to live with a partner or partners or in close proximity though. I rather like the idea of “separate togetherness”, such as some space that is mine but close to or near or sharing with people I love, like HBO’s Big Love, but I’m not sure how or when I’d want that. I think I need more time to heal and my being alone a lot right now helps that.

      I don’t know what will happen with my current relationships or how they will look over time and I don’t know what my ideal relationship configuration would be. I know I like my current relationships. For now I am enjoying time to myself and dates with Cleveland and Traveler and time with my metamours and friends and doing stuff as a “murder”. I’m not done dating but I’m not pursuing really hard either.

      I guess if I had to guess right now, I’d say that if I had more of a primary type thing with someone I’d try to keep some of what I liked about my primary relationship with Hubby and hopefully find a way to balance things with other partners in a way that was respectful. My guess is it’d take a lot of communication. I think I would try a little harder when I have conflicts to think about what I want or need instead of what they are getting or how I feel about that. I think even as a secondary that’s a good skill and thankfully one I’m remembering. I’m also out, which I agree with you helps. My family and friends all know and a few coworkers know too and the rest can know any time that makes sense. It is easier not to marginalize partners if you don’t have to pretend they don’t exist any time you are with your family or people visit or there is an event. Both of my partners are closeted and I don’t always love that aspect of it, but it doesn’t effect me very much so I don’t feel very strongly about it.

      When I started out with Hubby and Rollergirl I wanted things that were just mine and I get why people do that, but over time that faded and I let it go and found that some things were mine naturally and not based in fear. Cribbage was our thing, not because I denied it to her, but because we enjoyed it and she didn’t. Concerts were their thing as I only really like a few a year and they love them. I didn’t need to demand things from their relationship to be special. I just was. It works better to get what I need by looking at my relationship and figuring out what I’m craving instead of being upset with theirs or wanting to ensure I protect mine by limiting theirs. I feel stupid sometimes talking about things that went well with Hubby and I because of how everything turned out, but there were aspects I liked and things I learned there that I’m keeping. We didn’t do EVERYTHING wrong.

      I don’t personally struggle a lot with the idea of privilege but I could see where I would if I was with someone very very long term. I do have difficulty with supremacy though. To me they are different. Primacy is more that some things are just more developed or longer or more tied or have greater commitments. Supremacy to me is about putting the non-primary things down, with intent or not. One is saying my wife is so important to me and her opinion carries a lot of weight because of all of our history and trust and experience and all the things we’ve built, and the other is saying my wife is the only important thing and you are less because you were not here first and you’re only a girlfriend, you know?
      As you know, you and your husband do not do that to Peaches and I. He does honor you and hold your marriage first in many ways, but in a more natural kind of way. He doesn’t blow us off or tell us we can never never never be important or that we couldn’t grow over time and I’ve never felt like you put ANY arbitrary rules on what he can do to be sure you hold us bitches in our place. I don’t know. It’s just different to me. I think there is privilege that comes from society and some from being closeted and some from marriage and some from long association and not all of that is a bad thing, you know? The stuff that chaps my ass is more the disregard for others that I see some places. I get that it’s not intentional and I am quite sure I’ll do it again by accident, but I like to try to think about it and be aware and hopefully do better.

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      • That’s an important realization.. That both matter to your happiness. I also don’t like the closeting as a rule. I feel a small responsibility to be out and I’m luckily able to. It’s for the same reason I came out as bi when I was a teen. The more people that are out, the better for all of us living this way. Its also that I hate being dishonest and I don’t have to lie about simple things like what I did this weekend or talk about relationships that are really important to me as “this friend”. It gets easier and easier and it’s surprising how quickly it’s really normal. But I know not everyone can do it for a variety of reasons.

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  7. Pingback: Growth restriction | Not Just Happenstance

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