By Micah Schneider
Time is the one thing you can never have enough of, and time management is an essential relationship skill, particularly for poly people. There are only so many hours in the day, and after all of the stuff you have to do, figuring out how to juggle your partners and their wants and needs can be daunting.
The first thing to remember is the most obvious. Before you can prioritize your partner’s needs, you need to know what they are. And the best way to do that is to ask them. Go through any Internet group or message board, and you’ll find numerous examples of people that forget this most basic rule. As always, the Threefold Law of Relationships comes first: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
What do you do if your partners needs conflict with each other? It is probably never a bad idea to prioritize the needs of the partner you live with over one(s) that you don’t. If the person or people you are living with are not happy with how much time you’re spending basking in NRE with your new sweetie, or mad at you for canceling plans in order to jump in the sack with your OSO, you’re quickly going to have some pissed off people in your life. Anger and fighting at home do not make for happy relationships, whether or not they live with you. How long do you think your non-cohabiting partner is going to listen to you whine about your relationship troubles before they start to get tired of it?
This doesn’t mean that you should always choose the needs of your primary (a term I dislike, and will talk about at a future date) or live-in partner(s) over everyone else. No one wants to feel like they are the lowest priority on your totem pole. How long do you think your OSO is going to put up with you canceling plans because “something came up” at home?
Finding the balance between the two is obviously important. It will help a lot of your partners like each other, or are at least civil, and can help work this stuff out. Being able to negotiate competing needs directly with each other makes it much easier to figure out. It is important to remember that there are no guarantees in life or love. Sometimes, competing priorities cannot be reconciled, no matter how long you talk about them. Talking about them is great, and certainly helps, but simply communicating isn’t a magic bullet.
If all of you live together, like my family, things are no different. We spend a lot time communicating our needs to each other, planning around them, and have learned the importance of compromise. Since we all love each other, we’ve got a good base to work on. We’re not actively trying to push each other out of the relationship, compete with each other or monopolize time. These kinds of issues are one of the ways that jealousy can easily make its presence known.
Which makes this a good time to remind you all to be self-aware. That thing that you think is a priority, that you want your sweetie to drop everything to do with/for you, is it maybe just a “want”. Maybe a really bad “want”, but something you can compromise on? Or is it really important enough to put your loved one in a potentially awkward spot? Before you ask your partners to meet your priorities, make sure they really are.
You also have to make yourself a priority. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but no planned down time can make Jack psychotic. You cannot expect to run continuously from one activity to another, one partner to another, sacrificing yourself in the process. Moderation is the key.
To someone that’s never been poly, “moderation” might sound strange. Aren’t poly people all about not having to limit yourself? Being free to explore possibilities with anyone you meet? Sure, we are, to an extent. No matter how free you are or want to be, you still have the same number of hours in a day as the rest of us. Spread yourself too thin, and your partners will let you know it. Hopefully, you won’t learn it the hard way, by looking around and suddenly noticing they’re all gone.