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If your first foray into non-monogamy is cheating — but it’s not sexual — are you doomed?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Discussion Topic –  If you had a memoir, what would the title of it be?

Episode 25 – First Time Jitters

If your first foray into non-monogamy is cheating – but it’s not sexual – are you doomed?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – If you had a memoir, what would the title of it be?

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My wife cheated on me a few months ago. It was an emotional friendship which she mistaked one night that it could be something more. She immediately ended all ties with the friend. We worked through the issue,  and our relationship grew stronger.

In order to prevent this from happening again I have now given her permission to sleep with other people,  as long as it’s purely physical and I am aware of the situation. She has agreed, only to be physical experiences and always to be honest.

We try to plan these experiences together and I get the WORST anxiety.  I know this is probably normal with most people.  Should I push through the anxiety? Do I owe it to her to at least try this to see how I will feel after? I really want to be able to give this to her. She’s given me every inclination that this will only be physical experiences,  so why am I so worried?

Any help would be appreciated!

Response:

So um, this is like the biggest thing that I think a lot of people do when they go to open their relationship. I don’t think that cheating is necessarily the best start to an open relationship. It is like a way that a lot of people end up in open relationships. So… and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of all, you know, a kind of negative aspect of it. But I do you think that when cheating happens, the person who cheated really needs to really understand why it is they did what they did, and be willing to rebuild that trust. Like that needs to be kind of a big thing.

Because essentially, what’s happened is that all of the trust that you’ve built in your relationship, and I don’t know how long you’ve been with your wife, but all the trust that you’ve built has now kind of been broken, and you can’t really build a house on a broken foundation. And opening your relationship is an extreme stressor into the relationship just like having a child is, just like moving to a new country is. It is a big change and if you try to make that change on top of a foundation that is cracked, it’s going to be very, very difficult.

So I think that the primary thing, which is probably causing you anxiety isn’t just opening your relationship. But it’s also that your wife has cheated. And it doesn’t… It doesn’t sound like she’s unapologetic about it. You said you work through the issue and your relationship is growing stronger. But you also need to remember that even as your relationship is growing stronger, it’s going to take a while for you to have the same level of trust again, and so it is okay for you to be anxious, and I think you would be anxious, even if you hadn’t opened up your relationship.

The second thing that really worries me here is that you’re opening a relationship to prevent her from cheating on you again. People can still cheat in open or polyamorous or non monogamous relationships. It depends how you define cheating. Like I accept the fact that people define cheating in their own way. And I encourage people to figure out what is cheating to them as early as they can in a relationship because I do sometimes think that when people have different definitions of what cheating is, they end up in situations where one person has cheated according to the other person, but the other person doesn’t think they’ve cheated.

In my definition of cheating, cheating is when a partner has hidden or lied to me about something. And that can be intentional lying or lying through omission. So it doesn’t even have to be sex. And it sounds like in this situation, you said it was an emotional friendship. It can be something like that. It’s just anything that a partner is lying to me about and hiding from me is cheating to me. You can’t prevent that from happening necessarily by opening the relationship completely.  And I think that suckering yourself into that false sense of security is a really dangerous thing, especially because what some people end up doing when they first open their relationships is that they’re so not used to this being a thing that sometimes they accidentally cheat on their partner.

So they’ll open the relationship. They’ll go out and they know they have permission, but they are afraid almost have a discussion with a partner after they’ve been out with somebody else. And so it’s easier sometimes for them to hide it and not talk about it, even though that is technically cheating. So that can still happen, she can be still worried. Even if you know you’ve made this arrangement, she can still be worried and not tell you something. I think there needs to be some understanding of that. But yeah, you shouldn’t assume that you can’t be cheated on. And that’s not to make you even more scared or to increase your anxiety, but it’s just to be realistic about the situation.

The second thing, or I guess, well, the third thing is that this rule— and a lot of people do this. They make these rules where, “Okay, it’s just going to be physical. We’re not going to fall in love with somebody else”. I think that there are very, very few people in this planet— on this planet, even who are self aware enough to be able to say “I won’t fall in love with somebody”. And even then I think it’s not that they can control who they fall in love with. I think it’s that they know themselves well enough, that when they start having those kind of feelings, they’re able to pull back.

Most people I don’t think are really that capable of that. And it’s not to say anything bad about your wife or anything bad about anybody else. But you really can’t control who you start to develop romantic feelings for. Most of us can’t. If you could control that, I probably wouldn’t get so many letters. You just can’t control that. So creating this rule where you won’t have feelings isn’t really a good rule. And it also is there to try and prevent something from happening that you can’t prevent from happening. What you need to think about is you know, especially since when, you know if she had cheated because she was sexually curious and had a one night stand with somebody, then maybe it would be different but she actually cheated by having this emotional friendship and this connection with somebody.

So it’s it’s unrealistic for you or for her to really expect that she won’t have that connection again with somebody. It’s unrealistic for anyone who’s monogamous to expect that somebody you know that their partner won’t— you know, can’t fall in love with somebody else. You can. It’s not about preventing those feelings. It’s about figuring out what you’re going to do when those feelings occur. And you and her both would need to have a look at what polyamory is, and what you really want out of this situation because it makes me wonder if, when she cheated on you, she had this emotional friendship and it doesn’t seem like that was just about having different sexual experiences.

It seemed like that was about a relationship. Does she actually want other relationships or is she just sort of agreeing to this kind of thing where she can have sex with other people because that’s what you’re giving her. But you know, she can’t control if she has emotional you know, emotions towards somebody else. And do you really want to be in a situation where she does have emotions for somebody else? Is that really a threat to you? Are you interested in her actually dating other people? What does that look like for your relationship?

So it’s normal that you’re having a lot of anxiety. But I do think that you haven’t really spelled out what this means you’re kind of allowing, you know, giving her permission to sleep with other people. But you haven’t really figured out if this is what she wants fully, or if this is what she’s missing. And that’s naturally, you know, you’re having anxiety for, you know, because of that, because you haven’t really established anything. You don’t really know how this is going to change your relationship. I don’t know— it doesn’t seem like in this letter that you’ve really sat down and thought, okay, if she is sleeping with other people, is there like a designated date night where she can go out with people? How will this affect the plans that you might have for each other in the future?

I think that you can— you could proceed because I do think that this anxiety you feel is totally totally normal. Like, I think people don’t talk about it enough. Like the first night when you have like a live in partner or somebody that you’ve been with for a while, the first night, when they go out with somebody else sucks. It really sucks. It just feels terrible. I… it took me a long time to actually be able to sleep through the night. And that wasn’t even my partner like going out and staying the night at other people’s houses. That was just my partner going out to a party that would last all night.

It’s just hard because, you know, your brain goes on a sort of Magical Mystery Tour of the terriblest things that could happen, or at least my brain does. So that’s quite normal, and it does get better. But the thing of it is, is that, you know, I can say to you, yeah, it’s gonna get better. Keep going with it. You’re gonna have to go through anxiety sometimes live through it, come out the other end and see that  you’re fine and your partner still there, and it does get better over a period of time.

But given what you’ve told me about the way that she cheated first off, it makes me wonder if this is actually what she wants, you know, because maybe she just wants sexual experiences, but she is going to end up having emotional friendships and emotional connections with the people that she sleeps with. And you haven’t really— you’ve only made a rule that it shouldn’t happen. But you haven’t really talked about what’s going to happen if it does happen. I mean, what is going to happen? At what point you know— it’s very hard to say when you’ve fallen in love with somebody. It’s very hard to say when you have feelings for somebody, sometimes that’s very nebulous. And so at what point is she supposed to come to you and say, “I think I’m falling for this person”.

You could go the extra mile like some people do, and put extra extra rules on it and say, you can only sleep with one person three times. I don’t think that’s really, really helpful because you just can’t prevent somebody from having feelings for somebody else. You just can’t prevent that. And it’s unrealistic to make a rule that they can’t do that because they can’t help it. So what you need to think about is what’s going to happen if that happens. Does she actually want other relationships with other people? And if she does, you know, I don’t think that necessarily means that your relationship has to end.

I think that you just need to think about, if there’s something in it for you. Is— you know, what does polyamory offer you? Don’t just do something because your partner’s doing it and you want to make sure that they are happy. You need to also think about your happiness. So, you know, you might get something out of polyamory and even if you’re not necessarily interested in being polyamorous yourself maybe you like to have your alone time. Maybe there are hobbies you want to take up that will take up time and there’s all kinds of reasons why a person who might be more monogamously inclined would be okay with their partner not only sleeping with other people but also having relationships with other people.

And it’s just about thinking about how that will impact your life in a physical way. Because I think, you know, love is infinite and yada yada yada, but time is not. But— and I think that people need to think about how their time will be impacted. And regardless of you know, the amount of love your partner has for you, when you agree to a situation that is non-monogamous or polyamorous or open, you are basically agreeing to your partner spending less time with you than they would otherwise. And I think it— I don’t think that’s exclusive to non monogamy.

I think that if you are dating someone who is you know in some type of military service or you’re dating someone who is a doctor or dating someone who’s a lawyer, someone who has an intense career which pulls them away for long periods of time, or they have to be at their job for 18 hours— that you’re also when you’re dating them or marrying them or in a long term relationship with them, you are agreeing to a relationship where that person does not have the same amount of time for you as somebody who would otherwise be in a different position. So you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily a terrible thing.

In my personal experience, like even if I don’t have other partners, I enjoy being alone. I enjoy having that time to myself. I enjoy going out with my friends. I enjoy doing things that aren’t necessarily dating other people. So there’s lots of reasons why it would be appealing to you. But you need to think about that. And I think right now you’re just trying to solve the cheating by opening the relationship and allowing her to sleep with other people. And as I said, if she had cheated in a way that was kind of like being interested in a sexual experience and going after it, then maybe I would, you know, see that this might be a solution to that. But the fact that it was kind of more of an emotional connection, I just think that, you know, this rule that you have, where it’s only going to be physical is just doomed to failure.  And maybe there’s a part of your subconscious that knows that. And that’s a big reason why you’re freaking out.

To summarize, first things first, I think that if cheating happens, and you want to open a relationship, the person definitely needs to be kind of— give you a little bit of patience with the amount of anxiety that you’re going to have because that trust has to be rebuilt. And sometimes the trust has to be rebuilt and an actual active scenario because it’s easy just to sit down and talk about this stuff. It’s easy just to sit down say, “Oh yes, I know you’ll never leave me”. But until it’s actually put into the test, you’re going to feel anxious. And then sometimes it takes it being put to the test. And then you coming out the other side and seeing that she hasn’t left for you to actually calm down a bit. So the— you know, theory is different than application basically.

Second thing is that this rule that you have where it’s only physical is a bit doomed to failure. It’s not really going to work. Because you can’t prevent— you can’t— someone can’t prevent their emotions to this extent. So you need to rethink that rule and rethink the reasons why you’re opening the relationship and also you know, what you plan to do, if feelings happen and how that might change your relationship. You and your partner need to really think about, you know, what it is that she wants out of a relationship. Does she want multiple relationships? Is it really just sexual experiences she wants? And just be really candidly honest with each other.

And then last but not least, this anxiety— if you get all that worked out. Like if you have a good talk about it and she figures out that she is kind of being not honest with herself and just kind of going with what you’re offering. But maybe she actually does want relationships and maybe you figure out you’re okay with that. Whatever ends up happening, if you do decide to try this, this anxiety that you have is totally totally, totally normal. It’s just totally normal. It’s okay to be terrified the first night or even the second night or even the fifth night that your partner is spending it with someone else and just to be fraught with anxiety.

I have been fraught with anxiety before. I’m much better now I can sleep through

the night now, which is good. And I am way way less anxious about it. I’m so much more chill than I was before. So just in my personal experience, this complete and utter anxiety is totally normal. And unfortunately, you do kind of just have to go through it and see that your partner hasn’t left you. That’s just sometimes the way anxiety is. The more you try to avoid it by making rules or by trying to– And I tried to distract myself. Like that’s the kind of advice everyone gives you like, “Oh, spend time with a friend, you know. Take a bath”. Yeah, I did, but I still felt shit.

Like, it’s sometimes unavoidable. So you know, it’s okay that you feel that. (So sorry about the siren noise). It’s okay that you feel that. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way. Because you can’t really cope with your anxiety if you’re too busy beating yourself up for having it and just kind of accept that it’s going to be shit. And don’t let that control your partner or prevent your partner from from not doing things. Like I said, the more you put off going through that anxiety, it doesn’t change the amount. Like I— in my personal experience. If I give anxiety and it takes a mile. If I allow my anxiety to start to control my behaviors, I’ll think “Oh no,  I’ll just avoid this for now”. And then it adds another thing that I have to avoid and another thing to avoid and then another and then another and it just builds until I’m just sitting in a corner crying and everything is going to attack me.  So you just can’t— Just don’t let it get to a point of controlling you. You just gotta go through it, unfortunately.

So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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