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Movelikewater, it's unclear to me whether you're talking about couple privilege in the context of mainstream monogamous society (which is not the main point of Sheff's article), or within poly/open relationships that may include non-primary-style as well as primary-style relationships (which is what Sheff was discussing).
You wrote: "There is a big difference in saying that married couples have Privilege over unmarried couples, and saying that couples have substantive Privilege over single people."
OK, here's the difference, in "mono land" and "poly land" terms:
- Mono-land presumption of couple privilege: Primary-style (or primary-track) relationships are the "gold standard" that everyone "should" want -- and people who aren't partnered in this way (or who don't wish to be) are inherently less valid as adults, less worthy of social recognition and public celebration, and have less/no access to many benefits available or accorded only to primary-style couples (tax benefits, relative ease in getting a mortgage or adopting a child, congratulations on an engagement announcement, Valentine's Day, etc.) Also, there's no gray area on relationships in mono-land -- you are either "coupled" (in a primary-style partnership), "single" (totally unpartnered), or in a relationship that's "not serious" (note the inherent trivialization). There are no significant or "serious" non-primary relationships in mono-land.
- Poly-land presumption of couple privilege: First, people who aren't in primary-style relationships aren't necessarily "single." Also, primary-style relationships may be presumed to be inherently more important and should "always come first" -- to everyone, even to non-primary partners of people who are in primary-style relationships. The preferences, needs, goals, feelings, lives, and emotional or logistical investments of non-primary partners always trump those of non-primary partners. Non-primary relationships have less/no access to building "sweat equity" (as noted in another comment in this thread) in their own relationships -- or to having that equity recognized and honored by partners and metamours. Thus, non-primary partners are expected by default to shoulder the vast majority of the risk in their relationships with people who also are in a primary-style relationship.
Does that clarify the difference?
Also HUGE CAVEAT: Not all primary partners are like that! Many people in primary-style poly/open relationships (couples triads, etc.) do NOT exercise couple privilege in ways that disadvantage their nonprimary partners. Many of these people are conscious that couple privilege exists (because they can't help that), and they make conscious, concerted efforts not to disadvantage others because of it. Similarly, many poly/open primary partners DO choose to enshrine couple privilege in how they do relationships, but they communicate very clearly about this up front and don't presume that their non-primary partners will simply "know their place" by default.
What are they and how do they stay together without recognizable commitment?
Flexible relationships provide support for adults and children.
Five ways to distinguish these similar-sounding relationship types
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