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Polyamorous holidays: When you’re the secondary

December 3, 2015

This is a guest post by longtime poly blogger Noël Figart, author of the Polyamorous Misanthrope blog. A friend of mine sent me a question last week about surviving the holidays as a polyamorous secondary partner, and Franklin and I chewed on it for awhile before finally throwing in the towel. It sucks (I’ve been through it), and we empathize…but we couldn’t think of any concrete solutions. So we turned to someone else we trusted. I’ve followed Noël’s blog almost since the inception of my own non-monogamy journey, and she gives great poly advice that is grounded in respect, love and being a grown-up. When we cast around for someone to take this one on, she was the first who came to mind. Feel free to post your own suggestions (or empathy and support) in the comments.

I’m looking for advice on surviving the holidays as a Secondary. My only current partner is married, and also lives very close to his biological family, whom he is also very close to emotionally. He’s told at least his mother that he’s dating someone, but she has essentially bent over backwards to ignore our relationship. Although we don’t subscribe to an emotional hierarchy, there’s still the functional/social hierarchy of him living with her, being accepted by his family, etc., and holidays really seem to heighten that glitch in the matrix.

My own biological family lives too far away for me to spend time with. My partner is spending the holidays with his family (no big surprise) and his wife (also not a surprise.) We’re doing some personal celebration things on days around the holidays, but they’re very solitary activities. I find that it’s very much getting to me that I’m alone during this time of family togetherness. I’m making the best of it spending time with friends, but it hurts to not be able to spend the time with the person I love the most, and additionally to feel like I am socially “erased” from his life during this time. I’d like to know how other people have dealt with similar feelings of being the Invisible Partner during a very rough part of the year to be alone.


That hurts and it’s tough. And guess what? There is some social erasure going on in this.

Is it avoidable?

© Michal Moravcik/

To not be publicly acknowledged as a partner or to be erased from public celebrations can be painful. Photo © Michal Moravcik/

That’s a tough one. One of the problems with polyamory is that in general they are very much “roll your own” relationships, which means that while we’re reared to specific social expectations, the realities of our relationships often don’t follow that social expectation. Which for the hot threesome can be awesome, but it can suck when it’s bumping up against an expectation of the inherently social and community-oriented time of the holidays being something you expect, are taught to value, and to be frank… Kinda do value! So to not be acknowledged and to be erased from the more public celebrations can be painful.

In my perfect world, families of origin would be accepting of the people who are close to their members and welcome them into family celebrations. I’m sorry that it doesn’t work that way all the time. It hurts like crazy.

That doesn’t mean you’re totally helpless in the face of the situation, though.

Let’s break this down in terms of relationship skill sets. I’m sure you’ve run across the idea before that it’s important to ask for what you want. It is crucial, so get it out there. Don’t worry about whether what you want is too much to ask: once you know what you want, ask for it. This can be scary, but I think all good relationships require a bit of courage. Yes, you’re setting yourself up for a refusal, but if you don’t ask, you don’t give them the opportunity to say yes.

So try it out, “Honey, I feel really alone during the holidays. Since we are partners, I feel like we’re family, too, and I want to be able to be included in some big holiday gatherings. Is there any way this can happen at all?”

Notice that this is open-ended. You’re asking for what you want, but you’re not telling anyone how to give it to you. That’s good, because chances are better that you’ll get some suggested solutions that you might not even have thought of.

Yes, I’m presuming good will here. After all, you’re partners and you love each other, right?

You mention that you’re doing a small, private celebration with your partner. Maybe it shouldn’t be (just) a small, private celebration. Maybe at some point a big holiday party that you and your partner and metamour host might be a good idea. It doesn’t have to be a holiday in and of itself. I used to throw a big tree decorating party the first of December ever year.

As for the specific holidays themselves, I used to be a member of a group marriage. While we got enough wrong that it did eventually dissolve, one of the things we got right was that we hosted holidays at our house. That kept us from having to choose among families of origin. People who wanted to visit on a holiday were welcomed. It worked out okay. Nothing’s perfect, but it was a good solution for us, as it did keep us on more equal ground with each other.

For those of us who have the couple privilege—that is, those of us who are in public, socially recognized and sanctioned couples—I do think we need to have a heart here. While I’m certainly poly enough that I don’t think it is healthy for anyone to be anyone else’s sole social and emotional support, at least one of the factors incumbent on polyamorous relationships is the reality that romantic relationships are often our most deeply intimate ties. As such, the social bonding rituals that celebrate and reinforce these ties need to be recognized, and all our partners included.

I encourage anyone who is in this situation to try to think of ways you can show your partners how loved and valued they are as members of your personal community.

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  1. Elana permalink
    December 3, 2015 10:09 pm

    So, one idea might be smaller gatherings too? Including secondary partners in in a smaller family gather with just the immediate family might be a great solution. Family holiday dinner with the partner, metamour, and any children extended family or friends who are open and welcoming to the secondary partner could go a long way toward making a family unit for the secondary partner to reside in. It’s not perfect, but finding ways to do scaled back celebrations that can include all the metamour circle can be a great way to foster metamour relations as well. Maybe a party with the unwelcoming family would do more damage than good, but a more select group could be great! Good luck and happy holidays!

  2. Juliette permalink
    December 4, 2015 4:07 am

    Good comment, Elena. I’ve always thought it important to de-emphasize “The Day” (e.g., Christmas day) and have several celebrations throughout the month. My biological family can rarely all be together on The Day, so we usually have a Christmas on a day we can all be together, and then my home family has another Christmas on another day we can be together. Thanksgiving (here in Europe) *never* falls on the actual Thanksgiving day, and so far the turkey still tastes delicious and the family still feels thankful.

    So I say ditch the calendar and celebrate as many times as you need to, on the days that work for you and your loved ones, rather than trying to fit yourselves to the existing social structure (which we don’t really fit into anyway, right?).

    • S S permalink
      December 5, 2015 2:12 pm

      Having celebrations throughout the month rather than trying to have everyone open on one day seems like a better idea in general, polyamorous or not. I’d much rather see everyone at some point during the season than see only the people who can come over on one specific day. No one needs to arrange for a large party on one day. Besides, whether you’re a couple or a larger group, it eliminates the dilemma of “Do we see your family or mine?” every year.

  3. Miranda permalink
    December 25, 2015 8:57 am

    All us secondaries should get together for Christmas and holidays! :3 thank you for posting this it really helped me out today.

  4. sally permalink
    December 27, 2015 12:37 pm

    The problem here is that we still call them “primary” and “secondary” relationships. I’m sorry -and I am sorry to sound so harsh- but there is a reason why this happens. The primary is the one who will get the most attention and be the one who will be a constant until the event of a divorce or break-up. The secondary is still loved but they will be broken up with before the primary because the primary will come first, unless the secondary is to become the primary. As much as this specific situation hurts, if it is more beneficial for your partner and his primary to be with his family without you, then that is something you need to accept. It is rare for there to be no emotional hierarchy, we wll need accept this and thn proceed with caution keeping in mind the pitfalls. Do the small gatherings with friends and family. However, you may have to accept that you will not be included in his biological family and that you are second in the emotional hierarchy. This does not sound like an egletarian relationship.

  5. December 28, 2015 3:37 pm

    I want to say that if I was the one with the close family or friends, and one of my partners had nobody to spend the holidays with, I would bring them along. To hell with the consequences.

    Sometimes you have to remind your family and friends that your life might not work exactly the way THEY want it to.

    If you bring two partners and say “These are the people I love, I brought them to celebrate Christmas” and that’s not acceptable, then you have to wonder if you want those people to be part of your life anymore.

    • Gina permalink
      December 23, 2016 7:56 pm

      I agree!!!

    • Vmay permalink
      October 10, 2018 5:34 am

      Yes bring us along! And as a secondary to a 40 year relationship one of the hardest things about inclusion (and not just holidays) is not having a voice in making decisions about family life! To be brought along feels like tagging along, like a child or a pet. Agreed…its the nature of the relationship (at least for now) and that its up to me to ask for what i want and need. So.. i would ask to be included in making decisions of this nature. I would want to work towards a more equal relationship with my partner and her wife. And i would use these difficult times as opportunities to grow and to love more fully and selflessly.

  6. Des permalink
    December 30, 2015 1:27 am

    This holiday was a huge step for me. My boyfriend of 6 years and I just brought our secondary girlfriend of 3 years to spend the holidays with his family for the first time. Usually we spend a very traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas with them, and this was the first year we’ve introduced our third. I was super nervous because they are all much older, traditional, and of Swedish and Danish descent.

    We also went to our company Christmas party where he is the owner and I am his office manager and HR Manager… yes, the HR Manager! I have to say, I think I was the MOST nervous of the group, but everything ended up fine. Everyone was very welcoming and sweet all around. A couple people thought we were messing with them at first. There were some surprised faces, lots of Q&A throughout the night, but everyone seemed very comfortable with the situation by the end of the evening. It all turned out very surprisingly pleasant!

  7. Novalady permalink
    January 6, 2016 1:51 am

    I don’t subject my partners or my husband to my work holiday parties. My prospects could be at risk.

    It took years for me, whose sibling was a born again evangelical Christian, to broach that one of the reasons why I didn’t come to Christmas is that my very important partner can’t be included. Last year my sibling and I came to an accord and realized when I said I had been like this for years and wasn’t going to move just because he thought it amoral, that he needs to make allowances. My partner met my sibling and we had a great Christmas day.. I found that this year, as this partner carefully found another partner and my child grew enough to get into everything, that hosting at my house, inviting the paramour, whose family is too far to see, and coming to see my siblings on boxing day worked out better. This is where I was this year.

    My relationships don’t roll as much as everything else because my partners are my family.

    A couple of things to note. One, I think being family is something the primary couple should encourage all year. My partner is part of the family around like family, and expected, with prenegotiated exception, at family gatherings. My partner is truly a partner in my life. No one should be left out, including me. My thinking is that if you love someone, then you love where they are in life too. My partner loves and watches my child independently even though my partner does not live with me. The idea that my partner wouldn’t be there at Christmas would be very saddening. My partner loves my child on that level.

    Two, be careful of those who’d treat these times like a date night. They really aren’t. We come together to make it through, to have commonality with our fellows, and date night thinking is immediately divisive and counter to that end. Set bounds. This is family time.

    Three,beware those who act badly at holidays. Some people don’t do anything that matters to them well. Their crecendos are disruptive. Those who flip out enough to impact children get asked to leave. People should endeavor to keep present. Some people use this to resolve beef or play for power. I find this repugnant and don’t entertain it…those who engage get asked to leave.

    There are boundaries and needs met.

  8. Lisa permalink
    December 23, 2016 8:31 pm

    I’m not alone on holidays, but I still miss my secondary of two years. I am very definitely not welcome at family events of my secondary’s, even just dropping by, holiday prep or immediate family things, although his family all knows me and our children are close and I get along with his partner. I would not ever expect to be introduced to his elderly parents, but I’m not even able to be in contact with him aside from a couple of quick texts on holidays (or any days they are prepping for the holidays together.) He (and any of his family) would be welcome at my family’s holidays but it doesn’t come up because they take family holidays super seriously so he would never be free to do so. I’m used to splitting holidays up between my kids’ dad, my boyfriend, and my family of origin, and also including stray friends when needed, so I am more flexible about my holiday traditions. I hold out hope that in future years I might be a little bit more included as at least a family friend, but right now it is what it is and I miss seeing one of the people I love most on important days.

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