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What Couple Privilege Is & How to Navigate It

·896 words·5 mins


If you’ve been polyamorous for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly seen couple privilege in action.

I’ve found in my own travels that like many things, it’s easier to spot couple privilege in other people’s relationships than in your own.

But couple privilege is very common and can be very damaging if not identified and handled properly.

Today I’d like to talk about what it is and how to navigate it.

What Is Couple Privilege?

Couple privilege refers to the inherent advantages and benefits that established couples may experience in comparison to individuals or relationships outside of that core partnership.

These advantages can include societal recognition and validation, ease of decision-making, and even the emotional security that comes with an established bond.

Unfortunately these advantages can negatively impact those outside that bond, whereby the needs and wants of other relationships become lower priority and sometimes even ignored.

Recognizing the Dynamic & Its Impact on Others

To effectively navigate couple privilege, the first step is recognizing its existence and the layers it brings to relationships.

There’s no getting around it. An established couple enjoys an array of built-in supports, including shared history, familiarity, and a sense of security that often eludes newcomers.

This dynamic can inadvertently create barriers, causing those outside the couple to feel like they are knocking at a door that’s not entirely open.

This can lead to feelings of isolation, a lack of voice in decision-making, and emotional invisibility.

Couple privilege, even when unintended, can influence the overall emotional climate of a relationship web. Acknowledging this is crucial. And so is acknowledging the impact of this dynamic.

Foster Communication

Couple privilege causes the worst issues when its very existence is denied. Unfortunately, many couples take this approach, thinking that if they simply say they do not believe in couple privilege that this power dynamic will not exist.

In fact, the opposite is true. Denying the existence of couple privilege just forces it underground where it can’t be discussed or addressed. This can foster resentment and be psychologically damaging to partners negatively impacted by it.

So whatever you do, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And the more openly you can discuss couple privilege, the better.

Partners should foster conversations about this dynamic to build understanding and address potential challenges.

Honest conversations can dispel misunderstandings, validate feelings, and ultimately lead to a more inclusive and empathetic relationship system.

Address Hierarchies

Couple privilege often leads to hierarchical dynamics, where the established partnership holds more weight than other connections.

Understandably, this imbalance can lead to unfair situations and even resentment if not handled properly.

While hierarchies can naturally emerge, it’s essential to continuously evaluate their impact and strive to minimize them.

It is imperative to treat all relationships with respect and value the unique bonds you share.

Remember That Every Relationship Is Unique

Each and every relationship is unique. Keep this front of mind as you navigate them. Cultivate a mindset that appreciates the individuality of each connection, irrespective of its current age or status.

Celebrating the diverse facets of your relationships helps break down the walls of couple privilege and fosters an environment where all partners feel equally valued.

Take Steps to Actively Promote Emotional Safety

Couple privilege can inadvertently create emotional barriers for new partners.

Taking intentional steps to nurture emotional safety and openness is crucial.

Whenever possible, create opportunities for sharing difficult thoughts and feelings.

Encourage partners to express their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment. Seriously. This one might take some effort, but it’s absolutely vital. It’s important to actively create an environment where everyone’s emotional well-being is prioritized.

Embrace Compersion

Compersion, the joyful feeling derived from seeing one’s partner experience happiness with others, can be a powerful tool in addressing couple privilege.

It’s not a cure-all, but every little bit of compersion helps. Genuinely celebrating your partners’ other connections can go a long way in fostering a more inclusive outlook.

Educate Yourself

Educating yourself about couple privilege, along with its potential challenges and implications, is essential for growth.

Engage in forum discussions, read articles and books, and watch videos on the subject to expand your knowledge.

As we learn more about the pitfalls and insidious ways these dynamics can manifest, we become better equipped to navigate relationships with awareness and sensitivity.

Whenever Possible, Engage in Collaborative Decision-Making

In relationships with couple privilege, decisions can often lean toward the convenience and comfort of the established partnership.

Break down this dynamic by actively engaging in collaborative decision-making that takes everyone’s wants and needs into account.

Shifting towards collaborative decision-making ensures that everyone’s needs and desires are considered, promoting fairness, inclusivity, and stronger relationships.

It’s Well Worth the Effort

There’s no quick and easy fix for getting rid of couple privilege. In fact, I’d argue that the phenomenon never really goes away. However, there’s a lot you can do to handle it better and mitigate any negative impacts.

Navigating couple privilege takes self-awareness, communication, and a commitment to equitable connections. That said, it’s well worth the effort.

It’s important to strive to break down the barriers that couple privilege may unintentionally erect. By fostering an environment of inclusivity, empathy, and respect, you can create a space where all partners can thrive and be heard and valued — and have better relationships with one another.


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