We've talked a lot on the blog about hierarchies, implied, presumed, explicit, prescriptive and descriptive. The underlying message of all these conversations is the same - our lives all have priorities and these priorities shape the way we expend our time and energy, whether or not we create an explicit hierarchy of partners as part of them. Often, people come out against hierarchies and then spend time backpedaling around all the priorities that create patterns that look like hierarchy in their lives. Simultaneously, we use this work "priority" or "prioritize" to mean a feeling of being taken seriously and held in emotional safety and honesty and importance in a given relationship. Let's look, now, at reframing this as what in a relationship makes us feel valued and aligns with our values of relating - how do we create emotional safety within interpersonal relationships, without considering priority, rank, or relative position to other considerations in our partners' lives?
Priorities are not the best means to look at feeling valued because there are so many non-romance things in our lives that hold priority for us. Our work, our hobbies, our children, our parents, other family members chosen and biological, and our own health needs, all might be higher priorities than any intimate relationship. There's no guarantee ever that logistics outside a given relationship might not impact how those priorities shift over time. Needing to "feel like #1" or "feel high on the priority list" is a recipe for dissatisfaction when a season comes where your partner is busy at work, having medical or familial issues, or otherwise unable to place you first.
Having a concrete sense of what actions make you feel valued - for me, some examples are consistent scheduled time with partners on the calendar, a partner reaching out to me to check on my day or my situations that are ongoing in ways that show they listened to our previous conversations, being able to mark milestones together in private and public, and making time for one another within a day or so of Big Extenuating Circumstances to show support - can give you a better feeling of control over how you are interacting and whether the relationship is meeting needs in terms of "feeling valued." Some people like to look at this in terms of love languages - are you and your partner speaking each others'? Some people feel valued in terms of time and scheduling - for me it's more about consistency than absolute time but many people would rather have more time on less notice - figure out what works for you and communicate with your partner(s) about it to build the relationships that feel good for you.
In terms of whether a relationship overall aligns with our values for relating, we have to figure out what those values are so that we can live them. What are our boundaries and expectations that apply to all our relationships? Are we following our desires in terms of breaking down norms? In terms of maintaining those norms we are choosing to uphold? Are we in agreement with our partners about these values? Where we aren't, is there enough overlap to conduct our relationship anyway? If there isn't, leaving the relationship is a better choice than letting resentment between you fester. If there isn't, papering over the lack of aligned values with hierarchy or "prioritization" will not fix the issues you're having.
How do we create emotional safety in our relationships? Emphasizing empathy, validation, responsive body language, and being a space of receptivity for the people we're in relationships with empowers us to build real understanding and secure connections. Are you giving each other the benefit of the doubt and trying to avoid defensiveness? Jessica Fern's HEARTS method of looking at connection and attachment from Polysecure (Being Here, Expressing Delight in one another, practicing Attunement, developing Rituals & Routines, Turning Towards one another after conflict, and caring for your Self) can be really helpful in creating emotionally safe relationships for ongoing communication, even where there are conflicts, changes and challenges.
So, next time you worry about whether you're a priority for a given partner, or if you're prioritizing someone enough, try this reframing: is the relationship aligned with each of your values? Are you showing each other that you value the relationship you have? Do you feel emotionally safe within it? If all of these are a yes, you're doing alright - and if there's a concrete way you can feel more valued, talk about it. Your partners care for you and want to go through these experiences with you.