If you go through a break-up with your primary, how do you negotiate the suddenly less clearly defined status of your secondaries? Were they "promoted" to primary by default? How do you avoid all the heaviness that brings with it?
First of all, my condolences for the end of your primary relationship - regardless of how it ended, relationship transitions are always complicated and destabilizing to an extent.
I’ve been here. Oh, how I’ve been here.
When this happens, I try and prepare my other partner(s) for the impending break-up as best I can. I reinforce how much I love them and how much they mean to me, and then I lay out how I anticipate I may feel - and what I anticipate I may need from them - in the coming weeks or months post-break-up. If it’s a particularly rough, jarring break-up - or perhaps one that wasn’t initiated by me, catching me off guard - that could mean that I’m looking to my other partner(s) for a little additional emotional support, physical time spent together, etc. It’s important for them to know this so that they can communicate with their other partners about the development and adjust their availability for the short term.
It could also mean the polar opposite: that I’m feeling generally overwhelmed and need to prioritize taking solo time and reconnecting with myself. Transitioning out of a relationship involves a great deal of time, energy, and emotional labor; sometimes I need to take personal space from my other relationship(s) when I feel I’m spreading myself too thin and want a break from being held accountable to other people. Because I’ve prepared my partner(s) to expect this from me, however, it’s rarely a problem.
It’s important to remember, above everything else, that just because one of your relationships evolves, you’re not obligated to evolve any of your other relationships along with it. There’s no “promotion by default” in relationships.
Speaking to the flip side of the issue, It’s perfectly natural - as a peripheral partner who desires and cares for you - to hope for increased time and intimacy with you once the initial pain and shock of your break-up has passed. However, again, preemptive communication is everything. While you’re preparing your other partner(s) for the changes that your break-up will bring, it’s also crucial to check in with them about what your relationship with them will look like moving forward. Emphasize your needs, then ask them how they’re feeling about your transition with your primary. This will often be telling as to whether or not they’re hoping for a “promotion”.
Regardless of what they say, be kind, yet firm and unambiguous in your response. Something along the lines of, “I’m really enjoying where you and I are right now, and if we could continue in this vein for the foreseeable future, that would be amazing. Sound good?” The more confidence and levity you bring to the topic, the less “heavy” it will feel for everyone involved. If they want to remain in your life as an intimate partner, they’re likely to concede