Prioritizing Your Partners

 Posted by on May 22, 2011
May 222011

By Micah Schneider

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about something repeatedly. It isn’t too surprising, as the last few months have been really busy for my family. We welcomed the birth of our first child in early April, and naturally, he takes up a lot of our time and energy. His arrival has caused the four of us to re-examine how we prioritize our lives, and each other.

It really started back in March. We did a talk/presentation/Q&A session about polyamory for a conference on queer sexuality at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. We talked about our family, how we came together, how our dynamics work, did a little bit of polyamory 101 and answered questions. Some folks in the audience expressed disbelief. We made it sound too easy. The way we’ve been living lately reminds me of that. It does feel easy, and if I were reading about it on some website, I wouldn’t believe it, either. But it only feels that way because we laid the groundwork years ago. Being poly isn’t easy. We’re constantly checking in with each other, talking about our lives, our goals, our fears, all that relationship stuff. Our family didn’t happen automagically, although someone just meeting us now wouldn’t really know that.

We made a conscious choice to prioritize each other, and that, more than anything else, is the secret to our success as a poly family. Communication is easier if you know that every one of your partners will make the time to talk to you if you need them. Dividing up labor is simpler if you know your partners will do things for you simply because you asked. They might even do it specifically how you want it done if you ask nicely enough, or explain why it matters. Knowing that you are a priority makes it much easier to reciprocate in kind.

Because we made each other our priorities, we’ve found a way to work through every issue that’s come up, large or small. When one of us had an outside partner that wasn’t good for any of us, we fought long and hard over it. But because we knew that our priority was the family, we had the courage to work through some very scary stuff. Being able to remember, in the heat of an argument, that yes, my partner really does make me a priority, even though you may not be able to see it just then, is an enormous comfort.

I was recently reading a thread on Fetlife that touches on this subject. Someone wondered if the “third” in a triad (meaning, the new partner added to an existing couple) is ever really a “primary”, on equal footing with the original two. It’s a common problem in poly relationship dynamics. At the first sign of trouble, the original couple “steps back” to work on their relationship, often leaving the third partner on the outside looking in. To me, this looks like a question of priorities. Each member has to feel like they are on equal footing, that their needs, desires and concerns are equally important, valid and supported. And like most advice for polys, it applies equally to everyone. Can you imagine a dyad surviving very long if the needs and desires of one person in the relationship were always assumed to be more important than that of the other? I’m not talking about a power exchange relationship here, so don’t jump to conclusions. There is a major difference between assumptions and a negotiated relationship. But even in TPEs, what sub or bottom is going to stick around if their needs aren’t being met, too, or they feel that they aren’t important, or don’t matter?

Making your partners a priority is not a magic bullet. If relationships were that easy, an entire segment of the book industry wouldn’t exist, and tons of therapists would be out of work. But if you make your partners, however many you’ve got, feel like they are important, that their needs matter, and that they are your priority, you’ll building your relationship on a strong foundation.