Priorities and Polyamory

Moderation in all things is the key to success in relationships, says Micah Schneider. All the more so when you have more than one relationship.

Time is the one thing you can never have enough of, and time management is an essential relationship skill. It is particularly so for polyamorous people. There are only so many hours in the day, and after all of the stuff you have to do (work, household chores, family responsibilities, etc.), figuring out how to juggle your partners and their wants and needs can be daunting.

Spread yourself too thin, and your partners will let you know it.

The first thing to remember is the most obvious. Before you can prioritize your partner’s needs, you need to know what they are. And the best way to do that is to ask them. Go through any Internet group or message board, and you’ll find numerous examples of people that forget this most basic rule. As always, the Threefold Law of Relationships comes first: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

What do you do if your partners’ needs conflict with each other? It is probably never a bad idea to prioritize the needs of the partner you live with over one(s) that you don’t. If the person or people you are living with are not happy with how much time you’re spending basking in New Relationship Energy (NRE) with your new sweetie, or mad at you for cancelling plans in order to jump in the sack with your Other Significant Other (OSO), you’re quickly going to have some pissed off people in your life. Anger and fighting at home do not make for happy relationships, whether or not they live with you. How long do you think your non-cohabiting partner is going to listen to you whine about your relationship troubles before it starts to get old? Especially if the problems are of your own making?

This doesn’t mean that you should always choose the needs of your primary partner (a term I dislike, and will talk about at a future date) or live-in partner(s) over everyone else. No one wants to feel like they are the lowest priority on your totem pole. How long do you think your secondary partner (again, a term I dislike and will talk about some other time) or OSO is going to put up with you cancelling plans because “something came up” at home? Not long, and I speak from experience on that one.

Finding the balance between the two is obviously important. It will help if your partners like each other, or are at least civil, and can help work this stuff out. Being able to negotiate competing needs directly with each other makes it much easier to figure out. It is important to remember that there are no guarantees in life or love. Sometimes, competing priorities cannot be reconciled, no matter how long you talk about them. Talking about them is great, and certainly helps, but simply communicating isn’t a magic bullet.

If all of you live together, like my family, things are no different. We spend a lot time communicating our needs to each other, planning around them, and have learned the importance of compromise. Since we all love each other, we’ve got a good base to work on. We’re not actively trying to push each other out of the relationship, compete with each other or monopolize time. These kinds of issues are one of the ways that jealousy can easily make its presence known.

Which makes this a good time to remind you of the importance of self-awareness. That thing that you think is a priority, that you want your sweetie to drop everything to do with/for you, is it maybe just a “want”? Maybe a really bad “want,” but something you can compromise on? Or is it really important enough to put your loved one in a potentially awkward spot? Before you ask your partners to meet your priorities, make sure they really are priorities.

You also have to make yourself a priority. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but no planned down time can make Jack psychotic. You cannot expect to run continuously from one activity to another, one partner to another, sacrificing yourself in the process. Moderation is the key.

To someone that’s never been poly, “moderation” might sound strange. Aren’t poly people all about not having to limit themselves? Being free to explore possibilities with anyone you meet? Sure, we are, to an extent. No matter how free you are or want to be, you still have the same number of hours in a day as the rest of us. Spread yourself too thin, and your partners will let you know it. Hopefully, you won’t learn it the hard way, by looking around and suddenly noticing they’re all gone.


—Photo Brighton Guy/Flickr


  1. Valter Viglietti says:

    Thank you, interesting thoughts.
    I’ve never been polyamorous, but I found it can suit me, eventually. So I’m eager to know more.

    I agree with you with the importance of balance and moderation, like ancient Greeks already said:
    “In medio stat virtus.”
    People like extremes because they’re exciting, and they look for absolutes because they’re reassuring…
    but, in the end, real life have seldom extremes and no absolutes.

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