Note: While this outline will give you some things to talk about actually reading More Than Two is probably going to be incredibly valuable. I have outlined and asked questions about the things I have found interesting and thought-provoking, but you may find different things more helpful to yourself.
This was made for use by The Denver Nontraditional Relationships Meetup. Feel free to use it for other groups or for your own use as long as you credit Poly Talk. Going through it with a partner or your polycule might be especially helpful!
Chapter 11 Hierarchy and Primary/ Secondary Poly
How Hierarchies Emerge
What are some things that can lead to a power imbalance in relationships?
New relationships can lead to fear and the people in the existing relationship might use the power within the existing relationship to implement restrictions.
Characteristics that define hierarchy:
- Authority- primaries have some control over secondary relationship
- Asymmetry- people in secondary relationships don’t have the same amount of authority
What is Hierarchy?
Hierarchy does not necessarily exist just because one couple has kids, is married, lives together, etc. Hierarchy has to involve a power dynamic where one someone outside the relationship controls it in some way.
Ideas of hierarchy:
- Couple comes first
- Couple gets certain privileges
What are some examples of hierarchy in action? What does this look like?
A lot of times people think no one gets hurt in hierarchy because secondaries are all casual. This is not the case- secondaries can be very serious!
Prioritization does not mean hierarchy. You may have to pay your rent with a cohabiting partner before going on other dates.
Coparents agreeing on who they are okay with meeting their kids isn’t hierarchy, but parents making decisions in each others relationship is.
How might couples accidentally end up hierarchical even if it isn’t their intent? How do you tell if this is happening in your relationships?
How does the idea that you can only have one main partner compare to monogamy?
Reasons For Hierarchy
Those of you who have been or who are hierarchical why were/ are you hierarchical?
- Think it will protect from risk
- Seems to promise stability and continuity
- Seems less threatening
- Distances us from metamours and partners other relationships
How do these reasons often backfire?
Assumption underlying hierarchy: “We can’t really trust our partners to act well without a set of rules.” How and why does this cause problems?
The Power Dynamics of Hierarchy
Communication and commitment don’t flow freely between everyone involved. Instead the primary relationship acts as a gate to allow, or not, access to the other relationship. (The picture in the book helps visualize this).
Who has been a secondary? Did you feel these power dynamics?
Rights to secondaries are withheld because they are newer, but not all secondary relationships stay new. How can this cause problems when the relationship sticks around?
Often secondaries date other people, but they don’t have the control they have over their primary and have more problems.
Not Everyone Uses Primary and Secondary
Problems with using ‘primary,’ ‘secondary,’ and ‘tertiary’:
- Ranking people so explicitly is hurtful
- They mean different things to different people
What words do you prefer?
Thought that secondary owes the primary couple for being with them (babysitting, cleaning, sex acts)
This is based on the idea the a new person takes something away- not that they add value. Why is this a dangerous viewpoint?
Hierarchy and Ethics
It is possible to do hierarchy ethically, but takes a lot of communication. Tips:
- Think of how your decisions affect secondaries
- Be specific on expectations
- Check Out the Relationship Bill of Rights (there will be a separate discussion for this)
Note: A lot of hierarchical couples say “it works for us” but it is important to consider if it is working for secondaries too
Do you think hierarchy is inherently disempowering? Have you seen it done ethically? Does it protect the couple?
Would you date a hierarchical couple as a secondary again? How can RA people and solo poly people protect and navigate dating hierarchical people?
We don’t just see hierarchy in romantic relationships. Where else do they exist?
Chapter 12 Veto Arrangements
Veto= “I forbid”
- Unilateral (comes from one side)
- Binding (expectation that it will be followed)
Veto of an Existing Relationship
Who has been vetoed? Who has had a partner veto their partner? Who has vetoed someone?
Veto seems like the ultimate fallback- if they can’t overcome jealousy, if it is too complicated, if polyamory isn’t right for me, etc. It can seem like such a safe choice that people forget that people on the other side are getting hurt.
Many people won’t date people who practice veto power. Why might they feel like their relationship is never safe no matter their own behavior?
Veto places the consequences of jealousy and insecurity on others.
The ethical responsibility lies on the person doing the breaking up even when veto is played. Why is this? How can the party doing the breaking up feel violated as well as the person being broken up with?
Vetoes end communication, not start it. Stops people from learning from their mistakes.
Screening veto is the same, but happens earlier on when choosing a partner.
How can veto lead to resentment? What can be a problem with the idea that only relationships that enhance existing relationships should be added?
Ethical Problems With Veto
Why is veto even in the face of unhealthy relationships a bad idea?
Problems with veto:
- Values relationships over the people in them
- Treats people like things
Submit boundaries instead of a veto. Control your own behavior, not others. How can someone seem like they are stating boundaries, but actually manipulate the situation?
Practical Problems With Veto
Baggage from past bad behavior of partners can punish new ones.
Escalation- forcing partner to break up with partner “or else”
Trust imbalance- being vetoed says “I don’t trust you” and having veto power demands trust that it won’t be misused
Is veto power a deal breaker for you?
Alternatives to Veto
No veto does not mean no input at all, but communication is important.
Sometimes vetos are protection from cowboys. Cowboys are people who enter polyamorous relationships with the intent to ‘steal’ the person away from their partner. But people can’t be stolen, so why does this protection not work?
Line Item Vetoes and Force of Drama
Not all vetos are prenegotiated and explicit.
Line-item veto= gradually restrict what, where, or when in terms of your partner seeing others to limit intimacy and eventually cause breakup
Emotional Blackmail = making your partner pay a price for not doing what you want
- Have a breakdown right before their date (intentionally)
- Threaten harm to yourself if you don’t get what you want
- Interrupts dates
- People enable this behavior because they want to care for the other person and therefore give them exactly what they want
How can we make sure we are not doing this? How can we recognize it in others?
“I’m afraid of this, so don’t do it until I’m okay with it”
- When your reward for feeling secure is something you don’t want you aren’t going to work hard to get there
- Poly readiness can be a form of pocket veto
- How do you find the line between being prepared for polyamory and the pocket veto?
- Set specific timeline to overcome fear. If you cross over it you are using pocket veto
Does anyone see the value in veto power? Has anyone been involved in a situation where it was used and a bad situation and bad feelings didn’t follow?
Chapter 13 Empowered Relationships
Elements of Empowered Relationships:
- Engaging in decision making process for decisions that affect you
- Full range of options (not accept or leave attitude)
- Agency over body, relationship, and life
- Expressing needs and boundaries
- Ability to give and withdraw consent
Equal power is not what makes for empowered relationships. Why is equal power an unreasonable explanation?
Empowerment is Not Equality
Empowerment is a good alternative to hierarchy.
Sweat equity- accumulated compromise, responsibilities, sacrifices, and obligations over the relationship. What would be an example of empowerment, not equality, in terms of sweat equity?
Owning Your Power
It is hard to see the power you have yourself, but important to acknowledge it for empowered relationships. How can you see this power in yourself and talk about it with others?
Starting New Relationships In The Face of Existing Commitments
What questions should we ask about existing relationships our new potential partners have? What should we make sure to share with others about our existing relationship?
Flexibility in commitments is key. For example, instead of saying you can only spend $30 each date due to rent the agreement it would be better to say you can spend as much as you like as long as rent is met each month. What are other examples of flexible agreements in meeting previous commitments?
Empowered Relationships and Children
It has been claimed that hierarchy is necessary or impossible to avoid if you have children. Do you agree with this or not?
How do the topics we discussed on hierarchy earlier about trusting our partner apply here? Instead of seeking hierarchy what characteristics should we look for in potential copartners? Why is having fulfilled, happy relationships more important than staying with a co parent?
Trust and Courage
Empowered relationships require trust in yourself and in your partner as well as well as the courage to communicate.