Letting Go of Primary Without Letting Go of Priority

When I first started exploring the idea of taking the monogamy out of my marriage with my husband of 3 years, Calvin, I went into it the same way a lot of monogamous couples do; assuming our relationship was the constant unchanging relationship and everyone else would be secondary and could be dropped if things didn’t work out with this polyamory thing. Neither of us saw the flaw in this logic until I took action and started talking to a friend as a potential romantic interest.

Oh How I Was Wrong…

All of a sudden, things were less theoretical, and I remembered an important fact: other people have opinions and feelings. Other people are just that...people. That sounds silly, and I don’t mean to imply that I never gave a thought to the idea before approaching someone new. But it did flip the switch in my head and changed the tone of my discussions with my husband Calvin when all of a sudden I was making a real life effort to respect another person’s privacy and boundaries without feeling like I was betraying my commitment to Calvin. That was a very different experience than having theoretical conversations about a vague yet imaginary person.

De-Primaritizing

From that point on, Calvin and I began to slowly de-primaritizing (it isn’t technically a word, but it should be) our relationship as we learned and discussed more about polyamory. At some point, it just didn’t make sense anymore to say Calvin had to remain my primary partner in all aspects of my life. It wasn’t actually a new concept, just one I hadn’t applied specifically to my romantic life. I’m a fairly extroverted person with a wide support network. I talk and write my feelings out with multiple people, sometimes a bit too much, actually. I’m definitely a spewer, not a chewer, and I’m used to juggling a lot of relationships.

I began to see how it would be hard for me to call someone a secondary partner. While a hierarchical relationship can work if approached correctly, I realized it just wasn’t the right relationship type for me. To me, it would be calling someone second-best as a person, and I didn’t like that thought. I’d rather just refer to a partner with whatever name felt right, not a set system.

After all, I don’t follow that pattern in any other relationship in my life. I don’t have a primary parent, and I certainly don’t plan on having a primary child (once I have more than one). I also don’t have friends ranked in a nice, neat list. I do have some I’d call best friends and some I’d term acquaintances, but within the groups, there’s no specific order. For the most part, I’ve found it to be mainly a mental readjustment. Practically speaking, it has been pretty easy to treat others as people who matter just as much as Calvin or me, not objects to fit into the existing framework. Obviously, there’s a learning curve, and I haven’t been perfect at it.

Newbie Naivety

One of the biggest topics we talked about was love -- falling in love and saying the words to someone new.  Calvin and I both assumed at the beginning that we could limit feelings and just say, “Nope, that won’t happen, we will just love each other but date other people less seriously.” Once feelings started to develop for other people, we began to realize that it was really out of our hands. Feelings aren’t something anyone can control, so we might as well get ahead of it and make peace with that idea, rather than cling to the theory we could only love each other or our relationship wouldn’t work.

Again, it came down to the concept that playing favorites feels a bit weird. Why can’t I love two romantic partners a roughly equal amount in different ways? I already do that with friends and family. Embracing the concept that all the love I experience is just different flavors or varieties of the same basic thing made it matter less to me that he give me the primary label. Love for other people won’t diminish our relationship.

It’s like being a wine lover. It makes no sense to say, “You can have some Pinot Noir, but you better not love it as much as Zinfandel since you loved that first.” No, thank you. I’ll have a glass of each and some champagne as well, and I’ll love them all, thank you very much. After all, there’s no way to quantify love in the first place so why try and rank it?

The Simple Reminders

One of the things that surprised me was that removing the primary title from our relationship made us appreciate each other more as we realized we are staying together by choice, not just because of a marriage certificate. It reminded us to prioritize our relationship and spend quality time together since we started spending more time apart or with other people. Having a child with Calvin made him family. We will be in each other’s lives for good, no matter what our relationship looks like. It is easy to take family for granted sometimes, since they generally have to stick around.

Once Calvin started talking to someone new, I noticed a change in his behavior. He started picking up more of the slack in home chores and childcare without me asking. I stay at home full time with my daughter currently, so this was a big deal to me. At first I was thrilled. Then the afternoon right before his first date, he did the dishes and was extra sweet to me. Instead of being appreciative, I got the idea in my head that I was being buttered up and I got a little upset about it while he was out on his date. Talking to Calvin though, I realized what was actually happening. He said he remembered what it was like in a new relationship where you worked a little harder to impress someone. This made him remember that I deserved that too. Sometimes having a primary label only serves to make you take someone for granted.

Non-Primary ≠ Non-Priority

Now there are some aspects of life where my husband will stay my primary partner by default because we live together, share finances, and have a daughter together. This is where we fall into the descriptive primary category. I call it logistically primary because there are a lot of logistics involved, especially relating to children.  Someone always has to be watching our toddler so we have to coordinate and know where each other is at all times to make sure she’s taken care of. We both also need to be reachable while we are out with someone else, just in case of emergency. I don’t need constant communication if he stays over with a partner, but I do need his cell phone ringer turned on in case I need him to meet me at the ER in the middle of the night for a sick child. But all of these things are more to do with juggling logistics and schedules, nothing really on an emotional level.

Moving my relationship with my husband to a space that avoids hierarchy while keeping our relationship healthy has been one of the most eye-opening experiences so far in the transition away from monogamy. Before starting this journey, I would have said that taking the primary out of our relationship would be detrimental. After starting that transition, I’d say it was actually one of the most positive things we’ve done for our marriage. We have both come to take each other for granted less after remembering we are with each other by choice, not by default, after letting go of the primary partner idea and title. It has forced us to confront jealousy and insecurities in an open way and discuss issues we might have continued to overlook.  While we have worked to make our relationship less hierarchical, we have worked just as hard to keep our relationship a priority. Turns out, ditching the default primary label was the best way to remind myself why my relationship with Calvin is a priority.


Mia is a polyamorous stay at home mom. When she’s not chasing toddlers and wiping butts, she’s sending flirty texts and looking for dates.