One of the most common polyam relationship structures is a V. That describes one person (the center point of the V) with two partners (each end point of the V). Those two partners may have other relationships, or they may not. But for our purposes, we’re just considering the V shape. In particular, I want to talk about the person at the center of the V, also known as the hinge.
The hinge role comes with particular challenges. It requires a very sophisticated ability to consider and balance the needs and desires of two different individuals, who may or may not know each other, and may or mat not like each other, while still maintaining one’s sense of self. It is very easy for hinges with weak emotional boundaries to end up in a situation in which they’re just running back and forth, trying to please everyone and meet everyone’s needs. In addition to completely exhausting themselves, this strategy tends to create a sense of instability and insecurity in both of their partners. The saying “you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is very relevant here. This is a situation that can really benefit from strength and leadership.
Rather than trying fruitlessly to please everyone, hinges will need to proceed with the expectation that at times they will have to disappoint one or both of their partners. They will need to be able to get clear about what they believe, separate from their partner’s expectations for them, and take responsibility for their own preferences and choices rather than pass the buck. Think of the uncomfortable tension between partners that can arise from a statement like this: “Susie needs me to be home this Friday, so I have to cancel our date.” Compare that to this: “Susie and I had a good talk the other night, and I realized I have not been present enough in that relationship lately. I decided I want to spend Friday with her this week. I’ll miss you, but I think this is the right thing to do.” This is a challenging balancing act, and it requires tons of differentiation of self.
If you are working with a hinge, assess the aspects of differentiation of self. Identify which skills they are struggling with, and help them grow in those areas. Signs of insufficient differentiation in hinges include:
- People-pleasing behavior or avoiding the hard conversation
- Deception or lies of omission
- A “my way or the highway” stance
- Excessive anxiety about situations in which partners’ interests conflict
- Lack of willingness to recognize personal choice, and take responsibility for decisions
If you are working with a hinge who is struggling, you have an opportunity to make a big difference in the relationship system. Depending on how the hinge handles things, they can bring a lot of stability to the system, or they can end up sowing tons of chaos. Provide your clients with psychoeducation about why differentiation is essential to successful polyamory. For more on building differentiation of self, check out these past posts: