This article originally appeared on Polysingleish, June 28th, 2015. It has been edited and updated from it’s original version.


I have a confession: it took me a while to wrap my head around what ‘couple’s privilege’ was all about. Through my personal experiences developing polyamorous relationships with folks who were married, alongside my training in counselling for intimacy and relationships, I began to dig deeper into an understanding of what it is, and how it affects people’s relationships. My thoughts have changed somewhat over the years, and they may well change again.

Much has been said and written about Couple Privilege, and about relationship Hierarchy. The two are commonly perceived to be a package deal, and certainly the way many people talk about them, that’s understandable. However, as a relationship coach I am passionate about digging into the nuances of our human experiences, and I have come to see them as different, but related, phenomenon.

What Couple Privilege Is:

The culturally entrenched priority and measure of value given to couples by society, both in the public perception of them, and their legal status.

hisnherstowelsCouple Privilege doesn’t just refer to the legal rights of married or common law partnerships. It goes beyond the right to visit your partner in the hospital, or be legally included in their inheritance even if they didn’t leave a will. It’s more than the financial benefits of being able to file your taxes together. It’s something that is also entrenched in the way that we are taught to see couples. Successful coupling is seen as a milestone in the process of being “a successful grown up”. It shows up in the way that people may find themselves being automatically included in the invitations sent to their partners, or in the assumptions of others that you might know where your partner is and what all their likes and dislikes are. It can also be at play when you experience being seen in a positive light because of something your partner has achieved, even though you had no direct role in that accomplishment.

What Couple Privilege Is Not:

Couple Privilege is not something that couples can opt in or out of. Just as you cannot lose male privilege if you are a cis man, or lose white privilege when you get a summer tan, you cannot select out of couple privilege if you are coupled.

Couple Privilege is not the same as hierarchy, even though the two are often conflated. They are two separate, often co-existing, phenomenon.

What Hierarchy is:

The prioritising of one relationship over another.

If you have a child you are responsible for, they usually become the primary focus in your life. If you have a spouse or partner you share a car loan with they might be more of priority than a partner who you don’t cohabitate, co-parent, or share finances with. Hierarchy becomes implicit when you move in with someone, marry someone, or have a child with them.

A hierarchy can be prescriptive— in that it is assumed because of the given label, title, or the nature of a relationship (such as when you marry someone). This kind of hierarchy tends to be more static, and a perceived shift away from the assumed hierarchy is often seen as an indicator something is lacking in the relationship. Very often this hierarchy holds significance for the people within it, and sometimes a prescriptive hierarchy is created by mutual conscious choice.

But hierarchy can also be descriptive— not assumed as a default, but describing the organic dynamic that emerges over time. This kind of hierarchy can be more fluid, mutable, and may be more noticeable to those outside the relationship than those in it. Indeed, the people in the relationship may or may not place significance on being in a hierarchy, but still maintain an openness to their relational priorities shifting and changing over time, without it being a commentary on the health of the relationship.

What Hierarchy Is Not:

Though often considered to go hand in hand, Hierarchy does not mean Veto Power.

Veto Power is a something that many therapists have recommended to couples opening up their relationship. It is an agreed upon relationship rule wherein your partner can decide you cannot have a relationship with someone else— regardless the feelings and desires you or your other romantic interest have— because they have said so. Veto Power is one approach to maintaining boundaries, preserving the primary relationship, and sustaining a sense of somatic safety for the partner using it— and in some situations and circumstances it might make sense. However, it’s not the only strategy for preserving the integrity of an existing relationship, and there are many ways to create relationship agreements and sculpt boundaries that are consensual and offer more equity for everyone involved, including the ‘secondary’, non-coupling partners.

Veto power can be part of a prescriptive hierarchy. But not all hierarchical relationships have veto agreements. And there are many relationships that don’t have veto agreements but have developed other ways (both healthy and unhealthy) of preserving both hierarchy and couple privilege.

Wait- Is There Such A Thing As Solo Privilege?

solodateIn the past decade, there’s been a surge in the popularity of individualism and celebration of the Solo individual. Celebrities like Emma Watson have embraced being ‘self-partnered‘, and researchers like Dr Bella DePaolo have helped to dispel the myths of ‘lonely single people’, and within the polyamorous community there are now thousands of individuals who practice Solo Polyamory: non-monogamy without the relationship escalator, without relationship enmeshment.

With this, there’s been some romanticism about the freedom of the Solo Person, and an argument made that being solo gives one privileges which couples do not enjoy. In the polyamorous world, for example, a solo person can “pass” or even be out publicly with more ease than someone who is coupled.

Arguably, this is actually because of Couple Privilege: we value the unit of the couple so much— and anything that challenges that would threaten the ‘fabric of society— and it be harder for people perceived as couples to come out about their other relationships. On the flip side of this, a person who is solo can be seen as “not coupled yet”, and so their non-monogamous relationships might be more readily dismissed as “Oh they just haven’t found the one yet!”

Single and non-coupled people can experience a struggle to be recognised as successful and competent adults by their families, friends, and work peers. They can also have a more challenging time financially, supporting a home on a single income and receiving none of the tax benefits that couples do.

How Couple Privilege and Hierarchy Are Different:

1. You don’t have to be coupled to have Hierarchy. For many solo people there is a personal hierarchy of putting one’s self-relationship first. People may also form non-prescriptive hierarchies that can change over time: someone may need to prioritise their studies, their career, their parent’s health, or others relationships in their life at different points.

2. Couple Privilege is something awarded you and your coupling partner by Society. You have no choice about this. The moment you display signs of being a couple, you have attained a new level of privilege. What you do have free choice over, is how to react and relate to your own privilege.

Hierarchy is something you have some choice about, and it can influence the decision making processes in relationships. Hierarchy can be implicit, or covert. If you aren’t attached to the rules of monogamy, relational hierarchy can be complex. For example, someone might have four different relationships that take priority in different ways: a long-term partner, a partner they live with, a partner they set aside time to travel and visit, and a partner they are forming a new relationship with.


Okay, So Now What?

What can you do, if you are part of a Couple, and you want to use your privilege wisely and avoid treating your non-coupled partners in ways that might leave them feeling ‘less than’?

A first step would be to talk about your couple privilege with your partners. With your coupled-up partner, you might start an ongoing conversation about the legal benefits and social advantages you experience, and ask your non-coupled partners if they ever experience these things with you. Get talking about where you benefit from being coupled, in a way that your solo friends don’t. We can’t take action until we have built awareness, so bringing the assumed privileges of coupling to light means we get to have a better sense of how we feel about them, before making any choices about how we might challenge or utilise those privileges.

Like with Couple Privilege, if you are in a relationship that has some prescriptive Hierarchy (such as living in the same town, versus living long distance) there might be ways to mitigate the aspects of Hierarchy you find you are uncomfortable with. Create spaces where everyone you share relationships with can talk openly about what they need, what they desire— and what their capacity is. Sometimes there’s benefit in re-examining the parameters of our existing relationships to be able to create more equity with new relationships. Some couples decided to ‘consciously uncouple’ in order to reduce the negative impacts of hierarchy to their other partners.

Even if you’re a non-coupled person, it’s important to be aware of how you might be feeding into the scripts around couple privilege. When meeting two people who appear to be a couple, do you ever make assumptions about them, and their relationship style? Learn to ask probing questions and challenge your assumptions about other people’s relationships!


The late 2010s saw the emergency of a third wave of consensual non-monogamy thought and practice. Drawing from the principles of Relationship Anarchy (‘RA’) of love, trust, and customizing your commitments, and with a focus on healthy self-relationships, couples are emerging who have firmly eschewed as much of their Couple Privilege as they can whilst still remaining coupled, and Solos are discovering ways of having aspects of coupled relationships, and enjoying some of the socially endowed privileges whilst abstaining from the legal trappings associated with it. With less focus on trying to ‘balance the scales’ of Privilege and Hierarchy, the RA-inclined non monogamists and polyamorists tend to not fight the aspects of each construct, and rather, they embrace them. Intimate networks, that can include couples, singles, triads, friendships, and long term relationships unbound by fixed rules, and instead guided by mutual agreements that are not set in stone, have become the new frontier in radical relating.

We are in exciting new territory of discovering what long term non-monogamy, completely outside of the monogamy paradigm, might look like. And I find that quite exciting.

About Mel

Relationship Coach and Facilitator, Queer, Kink, and Polyamory Friendly

I just wanted you to know that our call helped me strengthen my relationships by thinking about and communicating my boundaries. So now I’m relieved AND more in alignment with my authentic self.
Nanaimo, Canada
Our session three weeks ago was absolutely amazing. You had so many helpful insights and really saw and understood what I am going through. It helped me so much!!
New York, USA
Our session was a game changer. It was like I found a rope in the dark to hold onto and slowly I will climb out of the deep well I've been in.
Pennsylvania, USA
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you SO MUCH for the absolutely illuminating, grounding and mind blowing session last night. I can't wait to integrate the awareness that emerged yesterday.
Your work is profound! Thank you so much! 
Vancouver, Canada
I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated our session - it was deeply helpful, validating and liberating!!! 
Costa Rica
"This was one of the best workshops I have taken regarding polyamory and trauma informed agreements in twenty-five plus years of seeking to develop skills within myself and relationships."
Anon Workshop Participant
Seattle, Washington
Thank you for the space in which you held during the workshop, the skills that were taught, the emotions opened and above all the clarity it allowed in how I present myself to the world and areas in which I was holding back. Thank you! So much thank you and gratitude for this. This workshop was the beginning of a month of so much opening and healing and realizing potential, I am beyond grateful.
Victoria, Canada
Thank you so much for yesterday's session. I think it was probably pretty obvious that it was a powerful and meaningful session for both of us. We feel very lucky to have found you, and we're very grateful for your support, acknowledgement and care of us.
California, USA

"You’re a gem of a coach... There are so few as well-researched, as curious, as principled, and as grounded as you. Your resources are pure gold."

Nanaimo, BC

The Monogamy Detox course has been such a landmark in my life. You rock!
I've been able to articulate and communicate much better within my relationships and to create safe spaces.
Course Participant

"I felt completely isolated and confused when it came to relationships when I first found Mel for coaching. After only one session, I knew she was a relationship mentor I could trust and wanted to learn more from."

Atlanta, Georgia

Mel is an incredible listener and her attention to detail was crucial. I walked away with much more than I had anticipated: I came away with a lot of tools to work with, and also a comfortable understanding of who I am and how I present myself to others. Mel is nothing short of awesome at what she does, and I will continue to use her as a resource and recommend her.

Thank you so much Mel, you rock!!!
Colorado, USA
"Thank you so much for a wonderful workshop! Thank you for the space you held and your guidance. So enriching to spend time with good people on a path of evolution."
Victoria, BC, Canada
"My session with Mel went beyond value for money. She created an immediate sense of being seen and heard in non-judgmental space. Mel reflected accurate insights to me, and held space for me to explore things that were beneath the surface. I was moved by the integrity she worked from in our sharing. I felt great compassion and wisdom with her, and my thoughts and emotions  shifted to we worked. Mel is sharing a gift with her energy. "
Edmonton, AB, Canada

Thank you Mel for such an enlightening and helpful workshop! I thoroughly enjoyed all of it and look forward to continued learning from you. So grateful for all these extra resources. 
The work you are doing is changing the world in such positive ways, and helping people change their own worlds, both inner and outer. 

Anon Workshop Participant
BC, Canada

"It was so good for me to open up and a relief to see that things don't have to be so black and white but within this there is still the possibility of clarity and a more personal, creative and radical approach to relationships... Love what you are offering Mel. You are awesome at what you are doing! It was great for me to be out of my comfort zone and to hear from folks who appeared to be very much in theirs. Thank you!"

Anon Course Student
"Mel has been an incredibly valuable asset to me in helping to evolve my relationship skills and helping me to empathize with my partners. Her workshops and her coaching have drastically improved the communication level and quality of my relationships."
BC, Canada
"This was my first polyam-related workshop, and I really loved it. Mel was an excellent facilitator: welcoming, knowledgeable, professional, well defined boundaries at beginning, knew when to stay on a subject and when to move on, etc. I was incredibly impressed and would love to attend more!"
Non Monogamy 101 Workshop Participant

"I first took the class in spring 2020. The experience was like a seed planted in the garden that sprouted and continues to sink deeper roots and grow taller, reaching for the sun and remaining an important part of my relationship garden"

~ Paul, Monogamy Detox Course Student

"I desperately knew in my bones there was another script out there for me but when I struggled to find a healthy version of one, I haphazardly began writing it myself. And now?! To come into an entire community of people actively peeling back the veil to reveal their own trauma and vulnerability?? I am over the moon and feel so enthusiastic all the time. It's the first time in the last several years where I have had such sustained joy and direction."

~ Anon Course Student

"I receive so much incredible value from your work — I LOVE how you organize your rich information. You also have a knack for setting up a really safe, thoughtful, reflective container for learning. I really appreciate and admire your brain! Hoorah! In addition, your teaching brings together an amazing community of courageous humans that gather to learn and practice trauma-informed relating with ourselves and others!

Sunday's class was a deeply nourishing in ways I didn't know I missed / needed. THANK YOU!
I look forward to your next session!"
Joan Trinh Pham
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Mel is an exceptional communicator and listener. Having known her personally and attended several of her workshops I can attest that she has the rare combination of perspective and presentation that many more experienced facilitators lack. I highly recommend her offerings.
BC, Canada
Mel has been a tremendous source of inspiration for my relationships and my community at large. She presents with a combination of professionalism, knowledge and open-minded curiosity that makes her safe and approachable. My profound journey through love and relationships has definitely been helped through the time I have spent with Mel.
Rotterdam, Netherlands

"Your work has reminded me that perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with me at all. I am amazed at the deep levels of shame we carry as human beings because we don’t fit into the construct that is given to us as a model for our life. It feels exciting because I can now explore what I want for my life rather than be gifted something that just doesn’t feel right for me." 

Craig P

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for your coaching yesterday. It really helped me to focus in on what mattered and what I want and to know where I stand in my relationship and with these shiny new polyboots!
The conversation with my partner went amazingly well. Like really really well. We found much common ground and even discovered our common kinks. I am feeling so loved and supported and ready for this next adventure. Thank you for being a part of that!
Vancouver, Canada
Mel maintains a calm demeanor with low pressure conversation. She's approachable and accessible. She cares. It shows. Her passion for intimacy and relationship actualization shines through. Sex positive, poly aware, and kink aware, Mel is a very versatile specialist and adviser - the perfect counselling choice no matter how simple or complicated your concern or situation is.
BC, Canada
"You've already made a VERY positive impact on me. It feels so much better to feel you in my corner. Thank you again and again and again..."
Alberta, Canada
Mel's skill and comfort with questioning and reformulating beliefs regarding relationships is contagious. If you want to open up to new possibilities, she can be a resource for you.
BC, Canada
"Thank you for your kind help and wisdom at such a fragile time - I appreciate it so much and it helped a lot."
"Your workshop was SO helpful and amazing. THANK YOU! Magnificent and earth-moving! Like moving things that have felt stuuuuuck!"
Anon Workshop Participant
Portland, Oregon
Just wanted to send my deep gratitude and appreciation for your workshop. I let go of some self-indictments around believing something "different" about love, and was able to move towards being more in integrity with myself (and those with whom I relate). I was also able to become really clear about my core "essentials" in relationships (whether monogamous or non-monogamous; romantic/sexual, emotional, social/community or other), and am certain these breakthroughs will only serve my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those I have relationships with now and in the future more than I can even comprehend.
Victoria, BC, Canada
I’m so very appreciative for you, your humanness and your work.
Massachusetts, USA

"After the workshop I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like my version of non-monogamy wasn't "wrong" and, even more helpful, my former partners wasn't either. I connected with people thinking of the same things as I was, struggling with the same things, and asking questions like me. I cried. I breathed. And for the first time in my life I didn't feel like a love alien dropped onto this planet."

~ Anon,
BC Canada