Primaries and Hierarchical Poly

I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately, which lends itself to a lot of rumination. And what I’ve been pondering the last few weeks is the notion of “primaries,” in relationship structure. In particular, my relationship structure with Adam.

Adam and I have been living apart for some time now (a little over a year.) And as I’ve noted, I really enjoy my solo life – and in addition, I enjoy the time I do spend with him a lot more. I’ve finally structured my life in a way that works for me: I see V twice a week, with him over at my house 2 Mondays a month and one weekend night (I’d like this to be more flexible, with some daytime activities or additional time thrown in there, but for now I am okay with things); I see Adam one weekend night and one weekend day, plus 1-2 weeknights, usually determined by me and my desire or need for time on my own or wanting company. Yes, I know that sounds a bit selfish, but it’s worked for both of us, as he tends to need a lot of downtime, and doesn’t often have the motivation to plan anything on his own.

Now, I don’t mean this to be a dialogue on the pros and cons of hierarchical relationships, nor do I want to debate whether or not they are ethical or unethical. That debate has happened ad nauseum in various online discussion groups. I did read an excellent response to that question though:

Original question: OP: “I would like to hear from anyone that is married and is in a non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship. How did you navigate into that space? How does it work for you?”


Reply: “I think you can be nesting or married couple and have another /others without being hierarchical.


This is how I see it; having a nesting and non-nesting partner may mean you have different dynamics or amount of time with each. However, being non-hierarchical, it is how that time and each person is treated and responded to. That the non-nester is treated with EQUAL respect, that they are valued and it is appreciated that a non-nesting partners emotions, feelings and views are considered as just as valid and worthy. Hurt or worry or difficult emotions can be as equally appreciated for each, both nester and non-nester.


That the non-nesting person is not treated in a palpably different way, an example may be that a date is kept unless in emergencies, that a date cannot be interrupted just because. That there can be check-ins with the absent partner briefly if this is needed: for both, not just one person. That unilateral decisions aren’t made. That the non-nester is treated as a human being in the same manner as anyone close to you is.


So, this is how you can potentially act with non-hierarchical ways, while still maintaining different dynamics.”

I really found the response helpful. I am in a relationship of almost 3 yrs with a man who has been married 20 years. They have a child together, own a home together, share finances. He and I do none of these things. So where my place is in the relationship is definitely hierarchical, but that seems only natural to me. I have struggled to get my mind around how it could be otherwise with the depth and breadth of a 20-year relationship on one side of the equation. That reply helped me to see ways in which V interacts with me that, while not denying the inherent imbalances, shows me that our relationship is as important in its way to him as his primary relationship.

So now how does this relate to Adam and my relationship? He is the partner I have spent ⅓ of my life with; who I have lived with; who, if I decided to move, I would consult, and hope that he would move with me. I hope that we will still be connected, in some way, as we grow old; that we will be a comfort to each other in our sunset years. If he were gravely ill, I would be the one to care for him; if he lost the ability to earn a living I would support him.


I have a hard time thinking of him as my “primary.”  I’m not sure why this designation doesn’t fit to me. Maybe it has to do with the fact that V and I are so deeply and intimately connected to each other, thru D/s. I answer to V in a way that I do not with Adam. Most of my daily decisions about what I am doing, what I am planning, who I’ll be seeing, etc., while not dictated by V, are at least run by him. I don’t exactly ask permission to do what I do when I am not with V, but if he made that a requirement of our D/s, I would do so. We feel more connected in a daily way than Adam and I are, and he has a more direct impact on my life than Adam does in many ways.


Does that make him my primary? I don’t know (although I have said many times that it is hard to have a primary with whom I am a secondary.) None of those things that I listed up there are or could be true of our relationship: we will never live together, we’ve spent less than ⅕ of the time together that Adam and I have, if he were to move away (or I was to) we would not consult the other – well, I’d probably consult him, because of the nature of our relationship. But any discussions he would have – that would have impact on whether or not he move – would be had with his wife, not me. He will not be my caretaker should I fall ill, and although I might want to be there for him, I don’t think that would be my role with him either. We won’t grow old together – that is for he and his wife to do.

A term I ran across recently seems to personify my feelings for Adam: anchor partner. He is a solid anchor in my life. A touchstone. No, I don’t consult with him about what I’m doing or where I’m going, sometimes we only exchange one “hi, how ya doing” text message all day, but he is the person I know will be there through thick and thin, as I will be for him – even if our romantic/sexual relationship were to end.

I know, nothing is ever truly black and white, is it?

What got me to pondering all this was actually a question posed by V: “What if Adam’s new relationship decides she wants Adam as her primary (assuming that he does too)?”

How would I feel about that?

It’s hard to know until you are in a situation how you’ll react, of course. I have been known to react quite poorly in the past, in spite of truly feeling supportive and even wanting a partner to be with someone else. So I can’t speak to what my reaction might be. But I can say this about it: there is no part of me that feels it is ethical or moral to attempt to keep another person from whatever kind of relationship they wish to explore. Up to and including becoming “primaries” with someone else, or even choosing to live monogamously with someone else and leave our relationship behind.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be sad. I very well might be. I might feel jealous or even angry, though I don’t feel any of that now, when I think about it. What I do feel is a concern that if that were to happen it might preclude he and I “growing old together,”  or cut me off from the opportunity of being able to decide I don’t like living solo anymore and asking him to live with me. But see how selfish that way of thinking is? “I don’t want him to form a primary bond with someone that does want to bond with him because I might want to at some point in the future.” Fuck that. I have no right to say or do that. I will not be that kind of person. I want him to love and be loved…in whatever form that takes.


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