“I’m wondering for those who ventured into poly by “opening up” a mono marriage, how do you work with being poly yet minimize the hierarchy that can come with having a spouse/nesting partner?
We are not planning to enmesh living situations or finances with other partners, and are dating separately. I feel like this in itself already sets up a primary-secondary nature to all other partnerships. It hasn’t been a problem yet, but what are some discussions we could be having, boundaries or agreements to make, etc that could get me more cognizant of hierarchies that are present in this sort of relationship and ways to realistically minimize them?”
Dear Kase Maschine,
First step might be to recognize that there will always be some sort of hierarchy baked into each of your relationships. I talked a bit in a previous column about the difference between prescriptive and descriptive hierarchies. There are inherent prescriptive hierarchies built into modern marriage. Recognize that some of those are necessary part of that arrangement. Some non-hierarchical poly couples have considered just getting a divorce to make sure that everyone stands on even ground. So that could be an option for you as well, to further deconstruct your personal hierarchies. But I do recognize that getting a divorce to make your relationships more equal might be a very extreme option. So here is what I’ve arrived to.
In my own personal pursuit of non-hierarchical polyamory, I have decided to do my best to deconstruct explicit hierarchies to my best abilities, pursue fairness instead of equality, and leave the door open for further enmeshment with any and all of my partners.
Deconstructing explicit hierarchies means a complete rejection of rules designed to only protect the “primary” relationship. That means looking at all boundaries and agreements and doing a deep dive to determine the intention and purpose for each of those boundaries and agreements. Pursuing fairness instead of equality was a conscious and intentional development of mine.
I had to recognize that even despite my best efforts, I could not deconstruct all of my internal and external hierarchies. So instead of getting frustrated at what I could not accomplish, I strove for respectful and fair levels of enmeshment across different relationships. Different relationships feel differently for me. So I had to accept that my brand new relationships do not have to be as intimate and enmeshed, and that my old relationships do not have to be as passionate and sexual.
Lastly, I consciously left that door open for more enmeshment with each of my partner down the road. There is a minor but important difference between “not planning to enmesh” and “open to enmesh.” Former is a lack of conversation about enmeshment with others with a hint at an exclusive hierarchy to be enmeshed to your current spouse. Latter is a presence of a conversation about enmeshment not just with your spouse but also with your partners. Having an ongoing conversation with your partner about expectations regarding enmeshment would be a good start.
I do feel that some level of enmeshment hierarchy is sensible. For example, if you are already completely enmeshed with your partner financially, then deciding to be financially enmeshed to your metamour could be a a very discomforting conjecture for you. If you do have such hierarchies or enmeshment, the best thing you can do is to communicate those hierarchies as early as reasonable so that everyone can make the most informed decisions regarding their respective emotional investments.
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