Primary Partners in Open Relationships
By Frank Kermit
In the hierarchy of relationships and dating, the position of Primary Partner on the Non-Monogamous Branch of the hierarchy, which is the level equal to Exclusive Partner on the Monogamous branch, often raises a number of eyebrows. After all, it seems almost a contradiction in terms to say that someone is primary to you, if you are still dating other people. Yet, that is exactly what it means. When you are in some kind of open-relationship structure where you and your partner come to terms with having certain permissions for one, or both of you, to date other people then the issue becomes how to define what separates and makes your Primary Partner a distinct priority, over your other non-exclusive partners.
For some people, this can be an easily made distinction. The Primary Partner is deemed to be the only partner that is being considered as a future fiancé, spouse, and life partner. (This may even include the idea of becoming parents with the Primary Partner).
For others, this can be a very confusing set of parameters that can be ever changing with a Primary Partner being demoted to Secondary Partner, and a Secondary Partner being promoted to Primary depending on circumstances which may be beyond the control of the people involved. For example, if two people consider each other a Primary Partner in an open relationship, but one of them is called away on a work assignment or for school, to travel away from home for an extended period of time (could be months, even years), then the Primary Partner position may rarely be stable.
A Primary Partner enjoys certain rights and privileges that other non-exclusive partners do not share in. These may include rules such as, only Primary Partners may engage in unprotected sex, the Primary Partner is the only one to meet members of the significant others family and friends, and the Primary Partner gets a say (maybe even a Veto) on who else can become a non-exclusive partner of the significant other.
It is up to the individuals in the relationships to decide what rules they will follow, based on what they believe they can and cannot handle. However, there are some basic general rules to help newcomers to non-monogamy navigate a multi-partner lifestyle.
Never define a partner as being a Primary Partner just because you end up happening to spend lots of time with that partner. The amount of time you spend with someone can be an indicator of the level of commitment you share, but it is not, nor should it be, the sole telling criteria.
It is highly suggested that you do not make someone your Primary Partner who does not consider you a Primary as well. Making someone your Primary when you are that person’s Secondary (or lower down the hierarchy) means that your needs and concerns come after your Primary Partners other partner(s) who are more a Primary priority than you. However, this does not apply for individuals who enjoy a lifestyle of not being, nor having, a Primary. Some individuals thrive on their freedom, and likely do not even consider the partner they connect with most, a primary. In fact, it is very possible to be involved with multiple people, without ever having a true Primary Partner because of the extra responsibility that it would entail.
Is it ever possible to have two Primary Partners? For example, do those individuals that actually want to seek out two husbands, or two wives, aim to have two Primary Partners? I will leave that discussion for a possible future article.
Dr. Laurie Betito Quotes