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But Who Comes First? The Difference Between Prescriptive And Descriptive Hierarchy

But Who Comes First? The Difference Between Prescriptive and Descriptive Hierarchy

The argument over hierarchy is one of the most contentious ones in the polyamorous community. Many people find it important to label their relationships Primary, Secondary, and sometimes even Tertiary. Others are militant in stating that terms like that are unfair to those labeled Secondary or Tertiary. Some have used terms that attempt to remove the hierarchy, such as nesting partner or anchor partner, sometimes in place of the term Primary. The argument has been made that a nesting (cohabiting) relationship or a marriage automatically enforces a hierarchy, and those in nesting relationships are unable to be non-hierarchical.

This argument is rehashed constantly, probably second only to the argument over unicorn hunters. Something I’ve realized, however, is that often those that argue will end up agreeing on everything except what the term “hierarchy” even means.

There is a solution to this argument, and it lies in the concept of prescriptive hierarchies versus descriptive hierarchies.

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The Difference Between “I Will” And “You Won’t”: Healthy Boundaries In Polyamory

The Difference Between “I Will” and “You Won’t”: Healthy Boundaries in Polyamory

When it comes to polyamory, there can be two extremes: One set of people demand relationship rules to, in theory, make sure relationships go exactly as they want. Other people reject the entire concept of rules, and try to ignore or rebel against them, solely because they’re rules. While there are plenty of people in the middle, the two extremes are certainly the loudest. A problem with both sides, is that they often lump rules and boundaries together. A lot of people feel like rules and boundaries are the same thing, but they most definitely are not.

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Rules Are Made For Those That Break Them

Rules Are Made for Those That Break Them

There is a school of thought in the polyamory community that you shouldn’t have rules, only personal boundaries, which you make agreements around. This may seem like a subtle distinction, or maybe even just wordplay, but it’s an important difference.

In poly, making a distinction between rules and boundaries is important, because it’s no longer about two people. Two people in a relationship with only each other can make rules with each other all day long as long as they both agree to them. In poly, when you create a rule between two people instead of stating your personal boundaries, the rule also affects any future third party but they didn’t have any say in it.*

Rules are declarations, whether agreed to or not, that you will enforce someone else’s behavior otherwise they will face consequences. Boundaries are clear definitions that you state about what you are comfortable with, and you act on your boundaries, instead of demanding that someone follow your rules. When it comes down to it, you are deciding whether you’re controlling someone else’s autonomy, rather than your own.

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Why Fair Does Not Mean Equal: On Keeping Score

As everyone finds out at some point, jealousy is something that will come up in every relationship, polyamorous or not. It’s really easy to try and find an easy way out of it, some way to tame the beast without actually trying to solve the jealousy.

Our culture tells us that jealousy is a healthy thing, that if you love someone, you will be jealous when they even glance at someone they find attractive. Hell, there’s even a popular song that came out recently titled Jealous that glorifies it. Some people even try to stoke jealousy in their partners as some sort of “proof” that they love them. It’s getting out of hand.

Instead of facing jealousy (which is a whole different series of posts…), so many people try to make up rules to try and skirt around the jealousy. One idea that keeps coming back for many new poly couples is making sure things are equal. Tit-for-tat, keeping score, even – whatever you want to call it, it only makes things worse.

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