omeone over in Polytical introduced the idea of “primary privilege” in a comment there. I haven’t even managed to read all of the comments on the original post, but so far, there’s some really interesting discussion going on. I recommend checking it out. In particular, I think that the concept of “primary privilege” is an interesting one, and I spent some time looking at that myself and how it relates–or doesn’t–to security in relationships. I thought it might be interesting to share that commentary here.
As always, feel free to comment here, in my Facebook, or contact me privately. I may not always have time to comment back, and it might take a little while for me to approve your comments if you’re new here, but so long as you remain respectful of everyone, your comments are welcome. A diversity of thought and discussion is good!
I was always uncomfortable with a “veto” [one strong form of “primary privilege,” which confers the right to summarily end another’s relationship without negotiation.] Unfortunately, there’s really NOTHING that guarantees security in relationship — not veto power, not Agreements, not processing, not the mythical lack of jealousy. Ultimately, we are all in a dance with one another, and if one person decides that they are done with the dance, then they are DONE. They let go, and the other person is suddenly without their partner. What happens next, is entirely up to each individual; there is no more “we.”
Ironically how this happened for me was that I was in a primary relationship, married, and secure and stable for many years, with a variety of partners of each of us, and some shared partners. I was almost never jealous (my primary partner was “the jealous one” of the pair; I considered myself blessed to be not jealous, rather than “enlightened.”)
And then my primary decided he wanted to have a new primary. I never asked her to end her relationship with my primary. I just wasn’t “in love” with her nor did I wish to be “married” to her. My options at that point were limited. I could choose to accept his decision that — without my permission, without much discussion, and against my wishes — she was now “co-primary” in our then 17-year marriage, and I would effectively “answer to her” as much as to him. Or I could let him leave (more or less “with her”), or I could leave myself. Arguably, either she co-opted my “primary privilege,” or he gave it to her — or I never really had it at all. No amount of discussion, therapy, or negotiation changed his decision, or gave me back that power.
Primary relationships (or any relationships) MUST be based on trust, and I clearly (at least in my mind) could not trust either one of them to support me in my own power to choose (unless my choice aligned with theirs). Therefore, I could not choose to be “co-primary.” Life now was an experiment in learning to live without guarantees, and in finding my own power again. In effect, I was now the secondary, despite what the piece of paper said.
I still believe that Agreements (as distinct from Rules) can be a useful tool for navigating mis-matches in poly (or other) relationships. Certainly the process of making them can help clarify thinking. I now understand however, in a way that I did not before, that they only have the power that each individual gives them, and that the moment one person no longer agrees, they cease to exist (until and unless they are re-negotiated).
Ultimately, although we can use various tools to help us out, security is an illusion, and can come only from within. No one else can give it to you. Kinda sucks, but there we are.
©2012, Dawn M. Davidson