This isn’t a new concept, by any means—people in poly and non-monogamous relationships have been talking about it online for years. But the term might be a helpful framework for those interested in exploring having multiple partners who have never done so before. Here’s what you need to know.
What is an anchor partner?
As it turns out, an “anchor partner” is what you might guess: a central partner to lean on, but not necessarily the only partner you have. “Usually, this looks similar to what people think of a partnership in a monogamous relationship—just not monogamous,” says Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, a relationship therapist in a polyamorous relationship.
Anchor partners aren’t one-size-fits-all. To start, anchor partners can exist in hierarchical polyamorous relationships (where one relationship is more important to a person than their others) and non-hierarchical ones (where all partnerships are equally important), Wright shares. “In both cases, it’s a partner who is an ‘anchor’ in one’s life—the main character aside from self, one could say,” she says. “In hierarchical non-monogamy, this is almost synonymous with the term ‘primary partner.’ In non-hierarchical non-monogamy, this is used as the equivalent of a primary partner.”
While someone can be married to their anchor partner, marriage isn’t a requirement per se. Neither is living together. “The anchor partner can be the ‘nesting partner,’ or a roommate or a spouse, but does not necessarily have to be,” says Tammy Nelson, PhD, a sex and relationships therapist and author who’s studied polyamory.
You can also have more than one anchor partner, if you want. Roy Graff, a relationship and life coach, has two. “Being with two partners for the past four years is something that just happened; I did not plan for it, but I knew that I don’t believe in a formal hierarchy that prioritizes one partner over others.”
How to know if having an anchor partner is right for you
If you’re new to this term or haven’t had this kind of relationship before, you may wonder if it’s something you’d like—maybe even more than the relationship structure you’re in now.
Wright believes it all comes down to preference and how you’re wired. “Some folks feel more secure by having an anchor partner, someone they share life with,” she says, “while some prefer solo non-monogamy/polyamory where the anchor partner is themselves.”
It’s also a good idea to consider the big picture of what you want your life to look like. “Not everyone has a primary relationship or needs or wants a central person, and may prefer a non-hierarchical structure to their non-monogamy,” Dr. Nelson says. “Yet, they may also want to have someone involved in their daily life, with whom they have a strong emotional bond and a potential future.”
Amy Norton, a polyamorous woman in her 30s, has an anchor partner, and here’s why: “I’ve always valued long-term, committed relationships and knew I wanted someone who would be ‘my person’ through thick and thin,” she says. “We live together and are building a life together—sharing finances, making big decisions together, co-parenting our pets, all those normal day-to-day things.”
Graff says your attachment style may also play a role in whether or not you’d want an anchor partner. For example, polyamorous people who have an insecure attachment style (meaning that they’re often codependent and fear abandonment) may prefer having an anchor partner. You may want a sense of emotional safety from a partner, or you may prefer it or be okay with it coming from another person. “An anchor does not have to be a romantic and/or sexual partner; they can also be a friend or family member,” Graff adds.
Rae Michaelson, a mental health and mindset coach, finds comfort in the emotional intimacy and safety her anchor brings. “For us, the anchor is our safe person, the one who is always there no matter what,” she says. “We are together more often than not, and we share love with each other, and we make sure that the extra partners are treating the other person with the respect and love they deserve.”
Your experience will also look different from someone else’s depending on your current and past relationship statuses. “If you’re most used to monogamous relationships, it’s going to feel a lot more familiar to have an anchor partner and have the two of you go off and explore from that home base,” Wright says. “If you’re in an existing monogamous relationship and want to ‘open it’ to non-monogamy, you inherently have an anchor partner. And if you’re starting from a place of being single, you get to decide if you want to look for someone to be your anchor partner or try out solo non-monogamy/polyamory.”
While understanding what having an anchor partner entails can be a great starting point, try to not let yourself be confined by definitions, labels, and boxes. Ultimately, the point is to have a relationship that’s meaningful and positive for you and your partner(s)—and what that looks like may change over time.
“We each create our own types of monogamy, open to everything or traditional and closed, depending on what works for us, at different times in our lives,” Dr. Nelson says. “It’s never helpful to compare ourselves or to try and fit into pre-defined containers. What matters is that you find what works for you.”
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