I’d like to see a column on “secondary” relationships and/or on the concept of how setting boundaries in a multi-adult relationship works in a relationship that actually works.
The quotes there on secondary are because I know the whole concept of hierarchical relationships is a hot topic, but in this case I specifically mean something like two people, who are each married to others, who have a relationship, and they both fully acknowledge that their marriages (and the related children, bills, etc) must be their first loyalty.
I ran into a situation a couple years back where boundaries were negotiated, and the wife of the person I was dating thought that the appropriate way to address things that weren’t working for her was to tell him as he walked out the door for a date that there were new rules. Rules frequently got more lax when she had a new person to date, and were more stringent again when those relationships ended.
Eventually my relationship with her husband ended because the wife came to the conclusion that poly wasn’t for her – which was all well and good, really, since it became obvious to us all that things weren’t going to work for her no matter what happened or what was agreed to.
Lesson number one for me from the whole situation is to ask, “when you say you have a veto rule, what do you mean by that? How often has it been used? What were the circumstances surrounding its use?”
So, what do you think? Is it controlling to expect people to follow rules they’ve agreed to or negotiate new ones? Appropriate to change the rules without discussing first? Do “secondary” partners give up any and all rights to have input on the boundaries in their relationships? Inquiring minds want to know 🙂
No, secondary partners most certainly do not give up rights. My word! So as not to reinvent the wheel, please allow me to point to what I consider one of the best pieces on secondary rights in polyamory writing: Successful Secondaries. The proposed Secondary’s Bill of Rights is well thought-out and sensitive to both sides of the equation.
What you describe is probably a textbook example of why I not only would be reluctant to date someone new to poly, but date a member of a couple where vetoes exist. I know that my opinion isn’t all that popular in the poly community, but I am not a fan of vetoes at all! However, if you’re willing to be involved in relationships where they exist (and many polys are, you’re hardly alone in that), yes, getting a solid definition of exactly what that entails is a great idea. The more information you have, the better!
Expecting people to follow through on agreed-upon rules is hardly controlling. However, I wanna get to boundaries for a minute. People mis-use that word a whole bunch. I’m not saying you are, but I want to be incredibly clear about what they really mean. “You must…” isn’t a boundary. It’s an order. “I will…” or “I will not…” is a boundary. It’s all about understanding whose behavior you control. (You know it’s just yours, right?) The difference is subtle, but once you’ve wrapped your mind around it, interpersonal relationship drama of all sorts (not just the romantic ones) is cut to about a tenth of what it was.
So, with that in mind, “You can’t change the rules at the last minute” isn’t a boundary.
“I choose not to remain in relationships with arbitrary rule changes,” is a boundary. In fact, it’s a good one!
Human beings are allowed boundaries, so of course you’re allowed them in a secondary relationship as much as in a primary one. It’s merely a matter of understanding what you want, what you will do, what you’re happy to have in a relationship and what you choose to walk away from. I’m not trying to put relationships out there as disposable. They’re not. But no relationship is worth being badly-treated to have. If being treated as an object is a condition of the relationship, you don’t need it.