Andre Shakti addresses the pitfalls of couples' privilege for a budding triad!
I am (very slowly) entering a poly relationship with a preexisting couple. I initially became intimate with one of the women but as our feelings developed she wants to incorporate me more into her relationship. Both her and her partner are poly but her partner is struggling a bit. So we talked and have decided to take this very slowly. I am feeling however a bit lost. As they both know each other so well, I find it difficult to articulate how I feel and what I want. I don’t really feel as though I am a key voice in this relationship.
First of all, reader, I want to congratulate you on your keen intuition as you embark on this new journey. When presented with the possibility of onboarding two new partners, a sense of immediacy often takes hold of us as we fall victim to New Relationship Energy (NRE). This can lead to us throwing intentionality to the wind as we eagerly rush into our new dynamic, typically to our (and our partners’) detriment. Instead, you obviously possess enough emotional intelligence to advocate for building these relationships from the ground up. Well done.
Without any specific information available on your gender -- or preexisting experience vs lack of experience with non-monogamy -- much of my advice is going to be rather generalized. For that, forgive me!
You’re right to be treading slowly down the path to partnership with these two women. While this continues to be debated in the polyamorous community, I believe couples’ privilege to be a real, tangible thing (and not just because Franklin Veaux insisted on it in “More Than Two”…which I don’t suggest Googling, because he’s a jerk). I always caution individuals who are considering joining a preexisting couple to do their homework on what to expect first before letting their NRE expedite the relationship process.
As a sex educator, I believe in risk assessment and harm reduction education above everything else. Unpacking couples’ privilege isn’t a means of dissuading you from entering into the polyamorous triad of your dreams; it’s about making sure you’re as informed as possible regarding all the potential challenges and outcomes. When you’re entering into a relationship with a preexisting couple -- particularly a couple that has been together for a long time -- there are going to be certain advantages that the couple stands to benefit from that you won’t.*
(For the record, having couples’ privilege doesn’t inherently make you an asshole -- it just provides you with new opportunities to inadvertently be one!)
First, if you’re agreeing to a closed triad where you’re not seeing anyone else sexually or romantically outside of it, the couple has the advantage of “less to lose”. Should they decide to break things off with you -- potentially because of the strain that dating you together has placed on their relationship -- they have each other to lean on as they heal. You, on the other hand, won’t have another partner at your side to support you through the transition. Having a strong community network will be extra critical as you travel down this road so that you have friends to lean on in times of strife.
Second, a break-up with one partner is more likely to lead to a break-up with the other partner when they’re dating each other (especially if they’re nesting partners). If things don’t work out between you and one of these women, chances are that the other woman is no longer going to want to be privy to the intimacy you and her partner still share -- at least temporarily, if not permanently. That’s likely to cause a tension between them that they may attempt to rectify by removing you from the picture altogether, prioritizing the more established partnership. In this case it’s easy to feel disposable and disregarded, so make sure you have a solid self care plan in place to address and mitigate those emotions.
Third, you must come to terms with the fact that the preexisting couple will always possess a bond based on history and longevity with one another that you can’t replicate with them individually. However, that doesn’t mean that their connection with each other will always supercede their connection with you; it’s not “better”, just different. You will bring your own unique energy to these relationships to create bonds that are entirely new, and that’s really exciting!
In terms of advocating for yourself verbally within these pre-commitment conversations, I recommend being as forthcoming as possible regarding your hesitations, fears and concerns. It sounds as though this would be your first triad -- if not your first polyamorous relationship altogether -- and it’s important that you all cultivate a safe space where you feel comfortable sharing vulnerably with one another (also, vulnerable sharing tends to be contagious -- if you take a leap of faith and choose to be vulnerable with another person, chances are that they’ll take it as permission to be vulnerable back).
Set aside some intentional time together, then tell them what you’re feeling -- hesitant, intimidated, disempowered, scared -- and about your desire to rectify it. Ask them for their help in brainstorming ways in which you can feel validated and prioritized in the relationship. Then encourage them to share any anxieties that are plaguing the two of them, as well as how you may be able to assist in managing those anxieties. Attacking your fears at the onset -- as a team -- will not only prepare you all for addressing future conflict, but it will also forge feelings of closeness between you as you slowly allow yourselves to lean on one another.
Finally, it’d be irresponsible of me not to bring attention to the part of your query where you say, “...as our feelings developed she wants to incorporate me more into her relationship.” It sounds like this may be a case of one partner wanting a triad while the other partner isn’t all that keen on it (we call that “polyamory under duress”). If that’s true, the responsible thing to do would be to extricate yourself from the situation until the couple has come to a mutually consensual conclusion about how -- and when -- to move forward. Jumping into a triad when the two preexisting partners are going through a period of destabilization almost guarantees the triad’s failure.
Best of luck to you!
*For more information on other ways in which couples’ privilege can impact everyone involved - as well as how you can best anticipate and prepare for it - I like this essay by Chelsey Dagger via “Polyamory for Us”, as well as these resources provided by “Black & Poly”.