Primary and secondary (relationship)

Primary and secondary (and occasionally tertiary) are words used by some polyamorists to distinguish between different degrees of relationship and to describe participants in those relationships (e.g. "John is my primary").

These terms indicate degrees of entanglement and involvement: 'primary' indicates a closer degree of involvement than 'secondary', and 'secondary' closer than 'tertiary'. However, the type of entanglement/involvement described varies according to the speaker. There is no single universally-accepted definition, but the terms generally refer to one or more of the following:

(It is not always the case that the existence of a primary relationship excludes the possibility of other primary relationships; some polyamorists consider themselves to have more than one primary relationship, along with one or more secondaries.)

'Primary/secondary/tertiary' terminology is not universally accepted among polyamorists. Some consider it as demeaning to 'secondaries' and 'tertiaries', or as an undesirable form of pigeonholing, and so prefer not to classify their relationships in this way.

Among those who use these terms, the issue of prescription and description arises. Most prefer to take a descriptive approach, using these terms to convey the nature of their relationships to others but not to decide the nature of those relationships. However, some also use them prescriptively. The distinction may be understood by comparing two rather simplified examples:

"I spend more time with Alice than with Jane, so Alice is my primary partner." "Alice is my primary partner, therefore I should place my relationship with her ahead of that with Jane."

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