Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emotional Economics

Many people, but certainly not all, seem to arrive in polyamory as part of an established couple.  They often have a high degree of entanglement on both practical and emotional levels.  Other relationships that become part of the environment find themselves, at least at first, in the position of being a version of the "latte factor", as a financial adviser once termed it.  The latte factor is the disposable income.  The money that isn't essential for keeping one housed, fed, and clothed with the utilities on.

An established dyad in poly has an emotional household budget, and it's kind of important to make sure those benchmarks are met, otherwise your emotional home (your relationship) goes into foreclosure.   This is one of the aspects of poly that can make it feel very unsettling when a new relationship of high significance, and "cost", enters the picture.  How is the mortgage going to be paid if the money is being directed elsewhere?

There are a variety of ways to manage that situation.  The most common in my experience, is that the existing partners decide to privilege their relationship and not create space in the budget for the new relationship.  The second most common, and also pretty tragic, is that one partner decides they would rather have a mortgage with the new shiny, and exits the existing relationship.

Some people choose instead to keep their relationships smaller across the board (maybe they "rent"?), with less load on any given connection, so it's more simple to make changes to accommodate new partners.

This is looking pretty dire!  Am I saying that there is no room for anything but "latte factor", or all medium-level relationships outside of deeply involved couples in poly?  No, but it does take a LOT of work and active management from all people impacted, in my experience.

Here are a couple possibilities:

  1. The existing couple decides to downsize their relationship into a "smaller house", or "refinance" into a lower interest rate.  They opt to invest a bit less intensively in their relationship to free up more resources for an expanding connection.  This isn't always a bad thing, but tricky to manage, to say the least.  A high level of mutual desire for this solution is important, or this will blow up into the first or second options, with a lot of hurt feelings, resentment, and damage for all involved. 
  2. A new budget goes into place to shift payments from different accounts with the agreement, cooperation, and collaboration of all involved.  Let's say that existing partner who isn't New Shiny accepts partial payment on the emotional mortgage via shared time, and everyone is on board with that.  Some of the needs there are shifted into a different type of payment, but the lights stay on.  What if New Shiny needs more overnights to feel like their emotional overhead is covered? Perhaps a deal can be struck for co-sleeping, or shifting an existing date to an overnight to pay that bill. 

I'm sure there are many other options that people have designed to fit the needs of their emotional economics within their relationships.  Please let me know what some of your creative solutions have been to "shift the budget" and make space for an additional big relationship!

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