top of page

Mitigating Couple's Privilege

Let's talk Couple's Privilege. I came here to answer a question from my TikTok and Instagram about what we can do to mitigate couple's privilege (we'll get there) and realized that I have a podcast episode but no blog post about this topic directly. So, let's give you the short-short version of what couple's privilege is.


Couple's privilege is a term we use for the systemic ways in which pair-bonding is encouraged and rewarded in our culture. This is everything from the way your aunt asks when you're getting married if she sees a partner at a second family event, to the VAST assortment of laws and legal rights that accrue when one marries (1100+ laws that accrue federally, plus some state laws in the US, for example, for insurance, inheritance, paternity, and more!). In the most basic sense - are you apparently in a straight, dyadic, married relationship? You have the highest level of couple's privilege. Are you in a paired and "real-looking" escalator relationship folks outside your dyad would recognize without poking to do so? You have some couple's privilege. If you're in one escalator relationship, family will happily attend a wedding for you. If you're in several, you may or may not get these kinds of acceptance; you may get questions about "which is the real relationship?"


Additionally, this term of couple's privilege gets used to refer to social choices that we can also attribute to hierarchical relationships - the pre-existing escalator relationship that has the couple's privilege enshrines that privilege with additional social choices; like open phone policies, social media policies that emphasize the importance of the privileged relationship and deemphasize other relationships, controlling rules around secondary relationships, etc. People often colloquially attribute their problems in these relationships to "unexamined couple's privilege" but I would prefer to limit couple's privilege as a concept to systemic issues that are external and morally neutral.


Having privilege is neutral; how you behave when you realize you have privilege is not. That is to say: you can have privilege through no fault of your own, but if you have that privilege and ignore it and don't try to fix the effect of that on the relationship network, that then creates fault.


Legally speaking, there are work-arounds for many issues, if someone is a partner who you're engaging with in the long-term or they're becoming a life partner, even if they aren't becoming a legal spouse. It is worth it to examine your options, especially if assets, children, or medical issues are in play.



Socially, I want to be clear that there is no magic wand with which you remove all couple's privilege or with which you make everyone's experience identical. It's impossible to make everyone outside of your relationship network understand that your relationships are equally important to you when you're only married to one of them. (and note: it's OKAY if one or two of your relationships are prioritized! so long as your partners are on board with that! We're just talking today about what to do socially if you're trying to mitigate public misunderstanding when there isn't a major hierarchy.) But there are some things that socially mitigate some of the couple's privilege. Little things like, if you're a social media user, posting things with your non-spouses as well as with your spouse so there are reminders that all your relationships are important. Things like if you get a generic plus one to a wedding alternating who you bring as a guest, unless its a particular friend of your spouse. Having social events that celebrate our commitments to our non-marriage relationships, to say "this is also a real relationship," for those aunties and mothers who ask when we're getting married and which one is real (though they might not believe you). Including all your partners in your big milestone celebrations whenever you have the ability to goes a long way.


Different people may want different relationships, and the most important thing is asking about it and making sure that folks are on board with the amount and type of recognition they receive. Some people really want to come to every one of your family's holidays, and some people would rather be eaten alive by wild animals. (I date one of the latter ones, who very politely stops by at least one thing a season for about half an hour before RUNNING AWAY because it's important to me.) Some people really are very private with their relationships and find the whole business of having to mitigate couple's privilege by being a little louder about all of their relationships so people don't assume wrong a pain in the ass that they're only doing from an activist standpoint, and if we already lived in a just world, they would not do it. If one of your partners is in no relationships that benefit from couple's privilege, they may have a different relationship with the concept than if all of your partners are in networks where at least one relationship in which they're engaged does.


Remember, you and your partners get to make all your choices. If you want to only make your choices in private, and correcting people's assumptions truly matters not at all to you and you're only concerned about legal protections and about how all of you in your polycule interact - that's great. I'd argue that all those legal issues are couple's privilege, but you need to see a lawyer local to you to get real advice for your particular situation - some people will need medical powers and some people different ways to deal with inheritance issues, and owning and inheriting property jointly can be achieved many different ways, including using LLCs and trusts, for example.


The baseline of all this remains that we consider which of our relationships within our networks benefit from couple's privilege and don't, and what we're going to do to support our partners who don't benefit from the same privileges we do.

629 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 comentário


Newel Sebastian
Newel Sebastian
01 de abr.

May be you know a fun card game called uno online where you have to clear all cards to win this game.

Curtir
bottom of page