Thursday, November 22, 2012

Balancing Power in Hierarchical Polyamory

My wife and I observe a flavor of Polyamory called hierarchical poly.

In hierarchical polyamory, there is the recognition of a primary relationship.

It's referred to as primary because it receives conscious privilege over other relationships that I might have, where hard decisions may eventually defer to the needs of the primary relationship.

For me, primary privilege exists because:

1. My wife and I are married - there's a legal, familial, and societal commitment there that can't easily be ignored;

2. My primary partner and I commingle our finances;

3. We are parents with shared family obligations;

4. My primary and I live together in a house that we both own.

Primary privilege exists due to the acknowledgement of risk.  There's an exceptional degree of risk in extending ourselves to other partners. Should the primary relationship deteriorate, dissolution introduces life upheaval at a scale much greater than my other relationships.  Therefore to manage risk, preference is extended to the primary relationship.

Now there are some folks who practice a more egalitarian view of Polyamory that puts all relationships on the same plane as the principal, marital relationship, as they're concerned that their secondaries would feel  3D (diminished, disenfranchised, and disempowered) by primary privilege. Egalitarian Poly suggests all partners should have an equal say in decisions; all partners receive the same privilege; all partners have the same jeopardy.

Above all, those who practice Egalitarian Poly want to assure all of their relationships that there isn't the threat of the Nuclear Option - the veto - where one partner absolutely denies or forbids the incorporation of a new relationship.

In order to function in Polyamory, for me, that risk management piece has to exist. I've just got more skin in the game with my primary. I need assurances that we can work together to solve problems so that it doesn't put my assets, kids, family, and property at risk. I'd find it difficult to ignore that risk and sacrifice all controls to protect it or acknowledge it in favor of making people feel good; to me, this is just a reality of my life.

Regardless of my belief in primary privilege, this doesn't mean my secondary partner is "less-than". It means that I, as a fulcrum (the person inbetween my wife and my partner), have to work harder to facilitate conversation, help build a relationship between them, and establish trust in us - all three of us.

Recently I felt it was very important that my wife and I reach out to my secondary partner and assure her that the Nuclear Option wasn't ever on the table. This was a conscious effort on both of our parts: we wanted to lay a joint foundation for trust and for building the relationship with my secondary. I wanted to share it with you.

We staged it a little like an intervention. My wife and I met her for dinner. We both each sat on either side of her and we both held her hand. My wife and I both admitted that the relationship that I had with her was very important, and that we could all work together to get what we wanted. My wife acknowledged her, her importance in our lives, and admitted her own fears. I thought it was extremely important that my secondary hear that from my wife without me as a filter.

After a few tears and lots of hugs, at the end of the dinner, active communication from both my wife and I built a bridge of trust: trust in the primary relationship, trust in the actions and motivations of my wife, and trust in us going forward. We built a process for trust and growth, even within the framework of Hierarchical Poly.

In my opinion, you don't need a model like Egalitarian Poly to eliminate 3D effects through structure. What you need is a process for communicating that clarifies intentions, extends control to the secondary, and includes the secondary in joint decision-making. It creates a foundation for trusting primary privilege and for meeting everyone's needs.

Russell
(s1m0n)

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