December 31, 2013 at 8:50 pm #2147
We get a lot of questions about use of the terms “primary” and “secondary” to describe poly relationships, so we’ve decided to make a sticky thread about it for future reference.
Some suggested questions to ponder:
- Do you use these terms?
- Why or why not?
- What do they mean to you and your partner/s?
- What has been your experience with them?
- How do you feel about these terms?
- Do you have any opinion about other people using them?
- How do non-polys react when you use these terms?
Feel free to answer any or all of these questions specifically, or just summarize your own thoughts on the topic in a paragraph or two.January 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm #2151
In my situation, we use the terms to indicate the level of entanglement. A primary relationship has significant legal entanglements such as marriage, child rearing, mortgage, insurance coverage, etc. A secondary relationship does not have this sort of entanglement.
Of course, we have a co-primary situation. 😀 Wife is entangled on a number of levels with both men in her life.January 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm #2152
I do use the terms primary and secondary. I also tend to get involved with my partners in a D/s familial dynamic. So while the heads of the family may be primary to each other and I am secondary to them, they as a unit can be primary to me. Very confusing to those not in the relationship sometimes.
I will also use it as 1WickedLush does and use it to indicate levels of entanglement on a legal level, but again as he says various levels of entanglement can occur with many partners so the term gets a little fluid in that regard as well.January 4, 2014 at 5:18 pm #2153
I don’t use it in conversation, but I admit I think about it, particularly in terms of what I am able to handle at a given time — I’m a one-primary-sort-of-person and I’m in grad school, so my bandwidth is really limited and I’m extremely cautious of overcommitting. Anyone I get involved without outside my partner needs to be well-supported in their life overall, because I cannot count on being able to provide that for them.
My husband does not use those terms, or at least didn’t when last we talked about it. He is very much a “let things find their own level” sort of person, and if that meant he was deeply compatible and entangled with multiple people at the same time on whatever levels worked, the more the merrier.
His girlfriend very much uses primary/secondary terminology, at least in part to manage her own expectations of behavior and access for herself and my husband.January 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm #2154
Use of the terms “primary” and “secondary” to describe poly relationships
Do you use these terms?
Why or why not?
Same reason you’d use any word – in context with people who use that word as I do, it’s shorthand.
What do they mean to you and your partner/s?
They describe the levels of interwoven lives and commitments we’ve chosen to share.
What has been your experience with them?
They tend to upset people who are being described as filling a role they find doesn’t fit their needs or perhaps doesn’t fit the situation they’re actually in.
They tend to work for people who are comfortable in their relationships and occasionally need a descriptive word to explain the way a particular relationship is functioning at this time.
How do you feel about these terms? Do you have any opinion about other people using them?
They don’t bother me per se.
I find I have stronger negative feelings when other people use them to force a role or demand control over the emotions of another.
How do non-polys react when you use these terms?
Same way poly people do – with a variety of assumptions, preconceived notions, and their own history and experiences coloring their world view.January 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2155
I don’t do the whole “primary” “secondary” thing, my relationships all have different qualities and I can’t/don’t measure those against each other. After all what’s the smell of an apple worth vs. the sound of a piece of classical music? Which one of those is “primary”?
Personally I don’t particularly like seeing the terms but I accept their usage. It just seems like having a hierarchy gives an easy excuse to dismiss certain people as less important or valid (maybe that’s just my baggage though from having to deal with the trans community and some annoyingly idiotic “transier than thou” types).January 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2156
I don’t use the terms because too many people use them in too many different ways. I find them too ambiguous. For some people these words hold meanings that don’t apply to my life. I don’t want to use words which could be interpreted as saying something about my personal life that is not actually true.
When it comes to emotional issues, as much as possible, I like to use clear, precise, unambiguous, easy to understand terms. Due to the nature of language, this is never 100%, but it’s easier to do when using words that I and the people in my life have a shared meaning for. (Such as girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, friend, etc.)
Do you have any opinion about other people using them?
Not much. The context of the words usually tells me what is meant, rather than the words themselves.
How do non-polys react when you use these terms?
In my experience, they thought of a “primary relationship” as something that a person can only have one of, and as the only real relationship.January 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2157
I use the terms when I’m describing poly options in the abstract, but when I’m talking about my actual relationships, I use “husband” and “boyfriend” which I consider more descriptive anyway.
I have absolutely no problem with the terms if they are used descriptively–that is, if they describe a relationship that has grown up organically. My husband is my primary because we’ve been together a long time, we share finances, we pay a mortgage together, we live together, the government recognizes us a a unit…all that stuff.
My boyfriend is not less dear to me, or less part of my emotional landscape, but he is less part of my day to day life. We don’t live together and we don’t share any finances or legal stuff.
Now if primary/secondary are proscriptive I have a problem. If someone announces “I have a primary and you will never ever be anything other than a secondary and you have to accept that” I accept it by walking away. I don’t care if I’m secondary, but I care a lot if I’m boxed in from the beginning, with no chance for organic growth.January 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2158
I only use the terms when talking here on Fet about the concept of one relationship being more entangled than another. In my own life, my husband and I have many friends, some of whom are closer than others, but either we’re referring to the people by name or else there’s no need to specify anything beyond “friend.”January 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2159
I don’t use those terms for my boyfriends pretty much the same reason I don’t use those terms for my parents: I have two of them, the relationships with each are different, and there’s no need to invoke hierarchical assumptions about how I relate to anyone.January 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2160
I think primary denotes an ultimate level of commitment such as marriage. When you are that committed to someone it tends to involve more than just emotional support. It usually involves finances and a domestic partnership, maybe children, etc. It is in one’s best interest to nurture and preserve the primary relationship, even at the expense of secondary relationships if needed, (so long as the primary is still a healthy and viable option, sometimes you just need a divorce). Ending a primary relationship tends to majorly disrupt one’s life in more than emotional ways.
This does not mean that one cares for secondaries any less, or thinks of them as less important of a person. It just denotes levels of commitment. In fact I think most secondary relationships go better if both of their primary relationships are healthy.
I don’t think everyone needs to use these terms, as not everyone truly has a primary or wishes to depend on another for non- sexual/emotional life needs.January 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm #2161
ok. is there a term for a couple who isnt totally an open relationship. only if both r involved with another person sexually?February 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm #2162
polyfidelity or closed poly is when everyone involved agrees that no new relationships will be formed. Mostly, although not always, this involved tight-knit groups where everyone is dating everyone else.
If you want the term specifically for two people who both start dating a third person, so you have three people all involved, that’s a triad
If there is a couple who want a third sex partner but not a an emotional connection, that’s a threesome.February 6, 2014 at 5:11 am #2163
As part of a triad that’s hoping to become a quartet, we don’t use primary and secondary to describe our relationships. I use “wife” and “boyfriend” because multiple marriage isn’t yet legal, and it helps others understand who I’m talking about. I understand when others use it, and it didn’t really bother me, but for my situation they don’t really work.February 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm #2164
I use the terms “primary” and “secondary” to talk about degrees of life entanglement. For me, a primary is like a spouse or partner – someone you live with and share major decisions with. A secondary is like a boyfriend or girlfriend – doesn’t mean you love them less but you probably have separate finances and living space.
With that being said I don’t usually say “My secondary X…” I just say boyfriend, or girlfriend, or sweetheart, or whatever.
I have also seen – and like – the terms “domestic” and “feral” poly to talk about whether you have a live-in relationship.
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