Poly Hierarchy

Want to know the right way to do poly? I have the answer.

The answer is…….there is no right way! Sorry.

There may be a right way for one person, however, that may not be the right way for another, or anyone else for that matter. One part of “doing poly” is how you describe your poly. What words do you use to describe various partners, metamours, or yourself?

It seems that the hierarchical terms of “primary” and “secondary” were pretty accepted universally (back in the day). This acceptance seems to be changing. Many poly folks do not like these terms because it makes it sound like a “primary” partner is more important than a “secondary” one. So there have been a few solutions to this. One is finding different terms. One I like is “anchor partner” or “nesting partner” (yes these would take the place of various types of primary partners). Others do away with terms altogether.

I would like to state my personal opinion, however, which is counter to the popular one. I am, personally, not offended by the use of primary and secondary. I was in a relationship triad where I was the secondary partner, or “third”. For me it helped form my role within the triad. I knew what to expect as well as what was expected of me. I never assigned a “less than” meaning to it. It was more of a descriptor of my role. In my current relationship status I have an “anchor” partner, or primary, and I am with someone to whom I am a secondary partner and she is my secondary partner as well. She has her own primary (or nesting partner) – since they share a home. Our relationship is different than my relationship with my primary and it’s different then her relationship with hers. Different is ok. It doesn’t mean we aren’t important to one another. If I need to go to the hospital, my anchor partner is most likely the one to take me. If I need to discuss financial issues, etc – I am more likely to discuss it with my anchor because it effects his life more that hers. It just is what it is. I also see my anchor partner almost every day, while my secondary partner and I see one another when we can, however, due to our schedules and distance it’s usually only 1-3 times a month on average.

My opinion is that if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And that duck is no more or less important that another swan in the pond – only different. I also realize that some poly tribes honestly have no hierarchy – no life crossovers (finances, kids, shared household, etc.) and so hierarchical terms don’t fit anyway. I also understand that many people don’t like the terms because it sounds like they imply better or worse.
My opinion is that words hold the weight that you assign them. I have never attached value to these descriptors – only used them as an easier way to explain the situation and relationships I’m in.

Just like everything else with poly – come up with and use words that work for you and your people.

Jennifer Masri is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in Alternative Lifestyles for individual and relationship issues. She also teaches the BDSM 101 class series at Sanctuary LAX in Los Angeles every Monday evening. Read more about Jennifer on her blog, A Kink Shrink.


  1. haha “theres no right way” good one

    • Jo (Lupe Wolf) Schansberg says:

      I REALLY liked this article. So wonderful! I Like Anchor & Nesting. Very descriptive.

  2. Tracy Greene says:

    I’m always interested in hearing the terms folks use in their to describe their relationships, poly or otherwise.

Speak Your Mind