Cheating and polyamory

I am at my wit’s end. I was engaged to be married this summer; in the fall (we postponed for COVID), my fiancé confessed he had cheated on me extensively over years. I already had a bunch of concerns about his behavior in our relationship that I sort of stuffed and I tried many times over the years to talk about what he needed or how we could be monogamish and have me still feel safe, which he did not engage in. I would try to talk and it would go nowhere; I would send an email afterwards and get no reply. So that he was hiding these things all along is galling.

And I don’t trust him to put my needs first, to have boundaries, to prioritize the relationship or make me safe. And I worry I would spend our lives together miserable if I keep having to deal with this fallout when he’s attracted to and flirting with people. Do couples ever switch over and have it work? I’m so aggravated and he won’t even tell me what vision he has or what his needs are—and even by opening the conversation I feel like he is slapping me in the face after all the lying and refusal to be open before.

People do switch over and have it work — but it has to begin from trust.

If your partner is cheating extensively on top of outright refusing to respond to your attempts for communication, that doesn’t really sound good at all. Even if he is turning over a new leaf by telling you, if he won’t tell you what his needs are and refuses to have a conversation with you about it then…. it just doesn’t bode well. And it will continue not to bode well for you.

Ask yourself why you are stuffing down all of the concerns you’ve had over the years and why you have stayed despite the fact that he has repeatedly shown you that he refuses to communicate, that he doesn’t have the drive or the ability to have these important conversations with you? Even if he didn’t want to have a primary style relationship with you, he still needs to be able to communicate that and if he out and out refuses to do that, there is not much you can do.

I might be tempted to ask how he told you or why he told you and if he made an earnest commitment to changing his behaviour and even seeing a relationship therapist who is familiar with polyamory but… this feels like you are going to entering what seems like a relationship style that doesn’t appeal to you to appease someone who is not meeting your basic communication needs.

Are you getting what you need out of this relationship? Are there areas where he is sacrificing for your benefit? Or are you just continuously pouring into something that is draining you? There’s a lot here you’re not saying so perhaps there is a good amount of sacrifice on his part and he is promising to turn over a new leaf in a way that feels different and earnest and, if so, you could considering some couples counselling to help you with some of the feelings of betrayal from the cheating.

But really consider whether or not his behaviour will change. I wish I had better things to say, but I don’t hold out much hope for this. I hope it helps still, and good luck.

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Addressing sexual incompatibility

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

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Slutshaming and polyamory

I identify as non monogamous, all my partners know that about me, and I feel very sure about this lifestyle for me.

I’m currently closely dating a man who also claims that he is non monogamous, the last month we have been living with each other and I haven’t actively been pursuing other partners or dates out of my own volition. But in a few weeks im going to Europe with one of my best friends, she and I are bother hyper sexual and can sometimes encourage each other to get rowdy sexually (with other people, not each other) so in preparation for this trip I wanted to check in with my partner and re talk about boundaries and clarity.

It turned into a disaster, he got very insecure and started questioning why I have the desire to sleep with randos, why I’m even non monogamous, and giving me shit about past experiences of random frivolous sex I’ve had…( I consensually had sex with an Uber driver, and in confidence I told my partner, who later threw it back at me with such lines as “I don’t get why you wanna just fuck every taxi driver you see…”) I don’t know if that’s necessary information, it just got elevated and unnecessary.

Anyhow, I feel confused by this, he also has had other partners and I support him in that, though currently none of them are pursuing him because I’m in the picture, not my choice , theirs. And he knew that random hookups were of interest to me before we started dating.

I feel like his aggressive behavior is unnecessary, and it’s putting a strain on our relationship. This is where I stand, I do not want monogamy, I want autonomy to participate in safe random hook ups if I so desire, and I don’t know how to explain to him why that is a desire of mine.

How do I add clarity for him? How do I Help him with his insecurities so I can keep on as a non monogamous autonomous person? And am I valid in being upset that he’s upset?

The bigger issue underlying all of this is that you have a partner who has absolutely no problem with shaming and guilting you for your choices. The intent of this is to make you feel ashamed and it is, fundamentally, emotional abuse.

We all have different ways of expressing our sexuality. I’m not the type of person who does random hookups, generally speaking. That in and of itself isn’t a judgement towards anyone who does. It’s just not something I’m interested in. When I had a nesting partner who did do random hookups, it was a difficult thing for me to work out and I can’t say I had the best reaction to it.

This wasn’t because I felt like they were being irresponsible or because I had any feelings about it but more because sex represented something different to me, it was hard for me to put myself in the mindset of someone who wanted to do hookups. I still don’t know if I can put myself into that mindset. And sometimes I still get scared I’m not “enough” when new hookups happen. But I cope with these feelings by talking it out with my partner and, even though I have said things that have made them feel judged about their choices, I have apologised for that and have never meant to make them feel like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to have hookups.

And I’ve certainly not taken one hookup and threw back at my partner not only that they hookup with *everyone*, but also encouraged further shame. I’ve never questioned why they are non-monogamous to begin with either. I have definitely expressed genuine confusion by their choice and it did take me awhile to understand that I didn’t *need* to understand this for us to work things out, but to go as far as what your partner has done throws up some serious red flags.

He’s allowed to feel insecure and scared, but he’s not allowed to encourage you to feel shameful for your own choices in the way you describe, especially aggressively. You’re never going to make him understand your want for random hookups if he doesn’t get it but he also doesn’t have to inherently understand it to be respectful of you. I don’t know why my partner likes pineapple on pizza but I certainly don’t go on about how disgusting it is in a way that’s supposed to stop them from doing it or make them feel bad about it.

Personally, I would find it hard to stay in a relationship with someone who did this kind of gaslighting (extrapolating that because you had sex with ne Uber driver that you have sex with every single one) and emotionally abusive behaviour towards me. Still, I can empathise with the fact that it’s possible he’s lashing out because he’s insecure and doesn’t know how to handle it. We’re all capable of acting in an abusive way when under duress, especially if we have experienced that from caregivers.

But, if this is going to work, then some things need to happen. First, he needs to acknowledge these instances where he has encouraged you to feel shame, apologise for them and commit to stopping that. Second, he needs to commit to, if it’s accessible, seeing a therapist to work out how to better regulate his emotions so that he doesn’t lash out at people when he is feeling insecure. Third, you need to explain, unequivocally that, regardless of the current state of partners, your relationship is and always has been non-monogamous and you can and will be having random hookups if you want. If he does not like that or does not want that to happen, he needs to break up with you instead of trying to shame you out of having them.

And last, while I am more than willing to understand that people say things they don’t mean in times of stress and trauma, you need to exercise your ability to walk away or immediately stop any conversation with him that leads back to these ways of basically abusing you over things you have done in the past. Do not entertain that type of discussion ever again. He’s absolutely allowed to be scared and insecure — that’s pretty much a given. But he needs to be able to discuss it without shaming you about your choices.

Finally, you’re valid in what you’re feeling. You like random hookups and that’s legit. Even if someone else doesn’t understand it, there is no good reason why, so long as you are doing it for fun and not as a form of self-harm, anyone needs to question your reasoning for doing it. Your partner could have valid concerns about why you’re interested in random hookups and maybe there is or could be some larger issue (or not) — but that’s for you to handle and explore on your own and it’s certainly not going to be solved through shame and abuse.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 46: STI Risk

How worried should you be about STI risk if you are immunocompromised?

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

Discussion Topic: Why do you think your parents are the way they are? What were the pressures and difficulties they were under?

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

Episode 45 – Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker? 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 – What do you blame your parents for?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

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 partner and I have been together and have been mostly monogamous  for over a year – and fluid bonded for the majority of that.  Our deal is that we give a heads up before sleeping with someone else and that we use condoms.  After my partner had a slip up, I realized that despite talking about safer sex practices in the beginning of our relationship… he didn’t really retain much of that information, and we definitely needed to have a deeper conversation about STI risks, safe sex practices, condoms for toys/oral, etc.  I’m also immunocompromised so it’s a little bit of a bigger deal to me than it may be to others.

After bringing up some of my concerns, he told me that he doesn’t think he can do condoms for oral, but he can definitely ask about recent STI panels and condoms on toys. Welll… glad he’s being honest about it.  But… if he has partners who frequently have “oopsie, got drunk and had sex without a condom!” experiences, an STI panel from 3 months ago doesn’t really provide me with a whole lot of reassurance.

So… I feel like my options here are to go back to condoms all the time until he comes back with a clean(sic) STI test (and doesn’t have any other partners at the time) and not do oral… and I guess no kissing either?!?  Orrrr, just deal with the risk and if I end up with something because of his less-than-safe practices, hope that it is something that a quick course of antibiotics will take care of.

Both of us were already seeing other people when we first got together, but we became the only person the other was seeing within a couple of months.  There have only been two occasions when he has hooked up with someone else – the first time was a one-time thing, but this last one (where I didn’t get a heads up and he didn’t use a condom… but he did tell me about it the morning after) he plans to continue to keep seeing. So… that’s another issue I have.

I’m super hurt because I basically feel cheated on.  Our whole agreement was totally “forgotten” in the heat of the moment and now I have to figure out how to deal with him continuing to see a person that, from my emotional perspective, he cheated with.

I don’t feel like I have the right to tell him he can’t continue to see her.  It’s his choice.  I’ve told him how I feel about it.  He doesn’t see things the same way I do.  He just sees it as “got drunk, didn’t plan on having sex, so didn’t give heads up.  Whoops. As long as I give heads up in the future it’s all good.”

I’m really trying not to be too emotional and I’m trying to apply logic and rationality to the whole situation.  What’s your take?

Response:

So I can totally relate to your situation in so many ways. First of all, I’m more or less immunocompromised. I’m not really sure how immunocompromised I am, but I need to be careful about getting sick, and sometimes when I’m sick I can be sick for weeks on end for things that it would take normal people— or people who are not immunocompromised rather. Shouldn’t say “normal”. It takes them less time to get over some things. So I have always always always been very very paranoid about STIs.

And part of that comes from stigma, and I think that that’s something that you kind of have to realise. We are— unless you grew up in a different culture and apologies if you did— but I know that the culture I grew up in has basically terrified me with the idea that STIs are these horrible cursed things. And they do terrible things and they can cause— you know we’re very hyped on all of the horrible things that can happen if we get STIs.

And yes, there are permanent STIs like HPV and like HSV that can be permanent. But even those— and HIV as well— But even those are… First of all it’s different now than it was 20 to 30 years ago, when it comes to HIV, and even in the case of those like such in the case of herpes like a lot of people have it and most people will agree like yes there are drawbacks to it but much of the problem is stigma. So, what helped me kind of cope with this because I also had a partner that was very casual, and we tried to be fluid bonded and we tried to come up with agreements that made me feel better.

I still felt incredibly terrified every time they had a new partner because I was just afraid there was going to be some STI risk, but when you actually learn about— more about STIs and also about the different risks of different acts, and also that there’s some STIs that you won’t know if you have it unless you have a physical visible symptom. Like HPV, for example, a lot of— it’s very very common, but you can have it and it won’t show up on an STI panel unless you have a physical symptom like a wart or you, or HPV, you have a pap smear and it comes back with HPV on it like an abnormal pap, you could otherwise have it.

And it’s really hard not to learn about that kind of stuff and it not freak you out, because I have lifelong disabilities. I am really scared of having another condition to manage. It is a thought, which really stresses me the hell out. I mean even just today. I haven’t had my medication filled that I need to take. I put in my prescription order to the pharmacy 10 days ago. My GP still hasn’t approved it and I’m playing medium between, even in a country where I get free health care, I’m having to call my GP, “Why haven’t you sent me a prescription?”. It’s stressful the life admin of having chronic conditions is exhausting.

If you’re immunocompromised because you have a chronic condition, it’s okay to be like I just don’t want another thing that I have to manage. That is stressful and I get that, but all sex comes with risk. And the thing of it is, even with the rules that you have in place where he always use condoms even for oral. If he’s using condoms and having penis in vagina sex, then you’re still at risk for herpes. You’re still at risk for HPV. You’re still at risk for things that have a skin to skin contact, and sometimes dormant periods, like you say three months but actually some things can be dormant for six months.

Everything just comes with a risk and the thing of it is is, we’d like to think that it’s simple math that the more people you have sex with the higher risk that you have, and even the example that you give of him getting involved with someone who kind of gets drunk and have sex without a condom. The thing is, is— you could have tons of one night stands with someone and never get something you could also have sex for the first time, with someone else, and get something. It just isn’t that simple. STIs don’t care if you’ve had an STI panel or not.

They don’t care if someone’s drunk or not. And some STI that are transferred to skin to skin contact don’t care if you’re using a condom or not. I get that you want to have these barriers to protect yourself. But in my situation, being fluid bonded and having all this like we— We tried to come up with some rules about asking people if they had recent STI test, getting an idea of whether or not they were responsible about their own sexual health, but I still had to come to the conclusion— because originally, what I wanted to do is for my partner, not to sleep with someone the first time they met them or not to have casual sex. I only wanted them to have sex with people that they had known for a few months.

And my partner brought up the the sort of very valid point that whether they’ve known someone or not for a month doesn’t change their STI risk level. Knowing someone doesn’t necessarily change the STI risk level and that was really hard for me to contend with. But it’s really kind of the truth. Either someone takes charge of their sexual health and gets STI checks. And even if they do that doesn’t mean they’re never going to get an STI, or they don’t. People can lie about it. There’s nothing you can do about it/ There’s so much stuff you can’t control.

And in the end, like— you know, my partner didn’t necessarily want to have these overdrawn conversations with every single person. Their level of sexual health risk was different than my level of sexual health risk. And what I ended up doing instead, because fluid bonding doesn’t mean anything emotionally to me and I don’t need to be fluid bonded with anyone. That was just kind of a thing that we wanted to try. I decided, “Okay, how about this? Instead of you using super amount of barriers and protection with everyone else, you just use all the barriers, you can with me”.

And even though maybe that’s less fun, it actually makes me feel loads better. I know that I’m still— like even with all the barriers that I use, I know that I’m still not completely eliminating my risk because there’s just no way. You know, if I don’t want to ever ever get an STI than I just shouldn’t ever have sex, and even then there… I’m not going to go into those situations but there are— there’s still a risk. Like I… you know through sexual violence, I was put at risk of STIs before I had sex willingly so there’s just no way for me to, you know— it’s a risk. Especially if I actually want to engage in with in sexual relationships with people, it’s just a risk that I have to accept.

So I do think that what you might want to consider is thinking about the barriers that you can use on your end that make you feel better, because you’re never going to be able to completely control all the circumstances. People can lie about getting an STI panel. If you want to make sure that you’re as protected as you want to be, then have— use those barriers with your partner, and let them decide what their risk is what other people.

The other thing that’s happened here I can also relate to I’ve been in situations where I assumed that our discussion about sexual health was understood and actually this exact— almost this exact kind of thing happened, except the partner that I was with had oral sex with someone without a condom, and I was like “Uh, I said use condoms” and they were like, “Oh, but I thought that was just for penetrative sex”.

So people do— that’s the problem is that “safe sex” is— Well “safe sex”— completely “safe sex” doesn’t exist, and safer sex is you know— what is safer? It really depends on the person, and what they want to risk. So, you know, your partner doesn’t see condomless oral as a huge risk for that they feel is risky for them. And that’s valid and legit, but you kind of have to you know, you said it yourself. There needs to be a deeper discussion about what specific barriers should be used in specific situations.

So, I don’t— I think it’s hard not to feel as though you were— that you were cheated on because you did have these rules when they were broken. But I think that in this situation, you know his reasoning does kind of make sense. Like, he didn’t know he was going to sleep with someone, so he didn’t give you a heads up about it because he didn’t know it was going to happen. He did tell you the next morning, and he misunderstood the safer sex rules. So, as hard as it might be to like not feel betrayed— like you can feel betrayed but his reasoning kind of does check out, and I think that it’s worth…

You know, I think that the the previous suggestion about you know you deciding what barriers you want to use with your husband or, sorry boyfriend, and then you know that helping you address the level of your risk rather than you know kind of trying to control his behaviour as well and then trying to control the behaviour of everyone he sleeps with, which is going to be really really hard for you might actually solve this problem.

Another thing that I want to kind of point out, which isn’t part of your original question, but one of your rules is, is the heads up rule.  And I think that this is a good reason why that doesn’t that rule doesn’t always work out very well and I think what that rule is trying to do and the reason that you’ve put it in place is because what you want to have this discussion maybe about… maybe you want to know that you have more of an STI risk or maybe, I don’t know why is it that you think having a heads up before he sleeps with someone else changes something for you?

Because, I mean, what if it’s like three o’clock in the morning and he wants to sleep with someone  do you want him to text you? Do you want him to call you and wake you up? Like I feel like this heads up thing is… it’s designed to try and help you emotionally deal with a situation. I could be wrong, but when I had a kind of similar rule it was like, “Okay, I have a heads up so I know. So I can like batten down the hatches and prepare”. But actually, I don’t think that that helps always.

I think that, you know— what you want is you want a partner who talks to you about the new situations developing their life, who doesn’t hide things from you. And he didn’t hide things from you. He did tell you the next morning, but the rule is trying to prevent someone from being dishonest to you but a person who is dishonest to you, isn’t going to care about a rule. So I think you should kind of rethink this heads up rule, and think about okay what am I actually trying to prevent?

Because you could have a bad reaction, regardless of whether or not he gives you a heads up, like… And the thing about this is, as well as that the heads up thing kind of. It’s not an overt rule that says, “I have to give you permission to sleep with someone”, but it does kind of imply that. Because, basically, if he calls you and say “Oh I’m going to sleep with someone”, you can only kind of say yes or no to that situation or you can kind of have a reaction, which he would then interpret as a no.

So, in a way, it is kind of you giving him permission. And the thing about permission is that when you’re forced— when you’re in a position to give someone permission or not in a polyamorous type of setup, you’re going to want to say yes, even when you don’t feel that great about it because you don’t want to tell your part— I mean you don’t even feel like you have the right to tell him not to see a person who you don’t feel great about now. So, you’re always going to be— if you’re going to be given permission, you’re always going to feel pressured to say yes.

And then if you say no, it’s like, okay, then maybe he’ll have resentment? Like it just puts you in a weird situation. It puts him in a weird situation. It’s also, if it is an actual permission situation it’s not really fair for that other person as well. So like, yeah, kind of think about this rule, because if you want a partner who communicates to you and keeps you up to date with what’s going on with them and cares about your feelings, that’s legit and I understand that, but this rule in and of itself isn’t going to create that.  And actually what this rule has done is create more problems for you than it’s actually helped.

Because now you’re in a situation where like well he didn’t give me a heads up but for him it’s like well I didn’t plan on having sex with someone. So now is he supposed to like text you in the middle of the night, if he wants to have sex with someone new? Do you really want to be woken up at three o’clock in the morning? I don’t know I’m saying three o’clock, but it could not be three— but you know what I mean like do you want to be woken up? Or maybe you’re having a really terrible night. Like, one time my partner, wanted to tell me about something, but it was just after the Orlando thing had happened.

And I was so upset and I was so not in a good place. And even though we have a rule of not hiding things from one another, my partner waited until, at least a day after that to tell me something, not because they wanted to hide something from me, but because I wasn’t in the right state at the time, and that would have just been more shit on top of the already shit sandwich, and I was already really upset. So stuff like this, like…

He absolutely should tell you about new developments especially where your STI risk is now more, but now that you’ve created this kind of immediate thing of “you have to tell me before”, it does create this kind of problem, and it doesn’t have to be kind of a problem. And because you’ve kind of set this expectation up, it’s now made you feel like shit because that expectation hasn’t been met when you don’t have to do that. One time my partner made a rule about something that I didn’t ask for. It was just like “I’m not going to do this” and then my partner ended up doing it.

And then I was actually upset, even though I didn’t care about it, and didn’t ask for the rule, but because they set that rule up and because they set up this expectation with me when they didn’t meet that expectation it freaked me out and I was like, “Well, if you’re not going to keep a promise that you set, are you’re not going to keep any promise?” Like, it made me freak out a lot so sometimes when you make these kind of really specific things, they can hurt you more than they help.

It’s not really helping the situation, because you know he didn’t hide it from you and that’s kind of what’s the important thing here you don’t want someone who hides things from you. So really kind of look at that. And then the last bit is in terms of this metamour, or person, I think that it’s understandable to have the feelings you have. Like, obviously this person was introduced to you in a not so great situation.

So obviously you’re going to still have some feelings about that and you may need to have a little bit of time and space away from this person for a little bit until you kind of rebuild that bond of trust with your partner and that’s totally legit and that’s fine, but also remember like you don’t necessarily know how much this person knew, and you don’t necessarily know if— I mean, I hope that he at least told this person that he was polyamorous.

But like, unless he specifically said to this new person like, “Hey, my partner says that I can’t use condoms for— or that I’m supposed to use condoms for oral but fuck it,” like… Unless that specifically happened I don’t think that it’s necessarily this other person’s fault and I think you know that, but it is okay for you feel a little bit of a way about it and you probably will until you kind of rebuild that trust with your partner, but, you know, try to remember that she can’t necessarily— she only goes by the information she knows.

Unfortunately, and, you know, she’s not going to know that that was a violation of your boundary. You know, and that’s not really her fault, in a way. I think sometimes when people that we care about and that we love do things that violate our boundaries or hurt us, and that involves another person that’s sometimes easier for our brain to say “okay we don’t want to be mad at the person that we love, so we’re going to redirect all of our anger at this person because it’s easier because we don’t know them”.

So you might want to be aware that like some of your feelings are kind of bleeding out of it, because you feel understandably frustrated, but you’re also kind of sympathetic to what your partner is saying to you and you don’t want to be mad at him but you’re still upset. So it’s a bit of a redirection in this case, but I do think you’ll feel better later on.

And it’s okay to be emotional is last thing that I want to say to you. Emotions are logical. I really hate— I can’t remember… there’s some philosopher, some terrible person who came up with the idea that emotions are one thing and logic is another and that they are two separate oil and water concepts and ne’er the twain shall meet. It’s not true. Emotions can be a very very logical and rational response to a situation. You had an expectation that something would happen. It didn’t happen the way you expected it to happen.

And now you’re feeling confused and upset and that is rational. That is logical. It is logical and rational to feel things. So give yourself a little bit of a break here. Allow yourself to be emotional, maybe see a therapist. If you have access to therapy, you can get all that emotion out in a safer place. And not kind of use your partner to vent the situation. Talk about it with your friends if you have friends you can talk to us about, But don’t stop yourself from feeling emotional. It’s okay to feel emotional, it doesn’t make you a bad person doesn’t make you unable to do polyamory.

It doesn’t make you… you know. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a character flaw. It’s just you being a human being. You have emotions. You’re not a Vulcan. It’s okay. Sorry for the siren in the background. So to sum up, first and foremost, learn a bit more about a STIs because it’s really really really hard to reduce your risk, completely. It just is. Like it’s just a hazard of the trade. There are lots, there’s— if you’re in America, there’s something called. I think it’s. Jesus. No, it’s not Jesus.

It’s San Francisco Sex Information. That’s what it is. And there’s a lot of information there. There’s Planned Parenthood. There’s a website for teenagers which is called Scarleteen, but it’s still quite good. And they’ll actually tell you kind of like what risks of what STIs you have with different sexual acts depending on what the genitalia configuration is. So you can learn more about like which acts are inherently more risky for which STIs, and there’s skin to skin contact sex with you, even with a condom doing penetrative sex, you’re still somewhat at risk for.

So understanding that might help you— I mean— it’s gonna freak you out. And it freaked me out, but it will help you realise just like that it’s just part of the risk. It’s just part of it. But we have overhype STI so just kind of remember that you’re working in an environment where you were likely terrified about this kind of stuff.  And that doesn’t really help you especially when you’re immunocompromised.

Also, maybe work on itself trying to control everything that your partner does with other people, control what you do with your partner in terms of boundaries. Maybe don’t be fluid bonded. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Like, I think actually being fluid bonded stressed me out more because I put too much emphasis on it. It had this meaning and then once the meaning was removed it honestly felt made me feel so much better.

So like use barriers with your partners. Have oral sex with condoms with your partners. You can have like penis in vagina sex, you can have through like boxer shorts, to lower your risk of skin to skin contact, like there’s other stuff. You can use, you know condoms with toys. Use as much barriers as possible with your partner. And then they can— he can do kind of whatever he wants to, assume his own risk with other people. And that way, you’re protected a little bit more than you know and he’s a little bit more freer to do what he wants in those situations and then you don’t have to worry as much. I think that— that’s honestly helped me loads and I’m in your position, and I feel so much better now.

Now that I— instead of trying to control what my partner does, I control what my risk with my partner is, and that is, it’s so much better, at least from my experience. Another thing to think about is this inform informing rule, and whether or not this actually suiting you or it’s creating more problems in your relationship than it needs to be. If your partner didn’t hide anything from you. And you know his explanation checks out, then maybe you need to think about changing that role up, because it seems like he’s willing to have conversations with you about stuff. It seems like he’s willing to keep you involved. It seems like he’s willing to— he’s not hiding anything from you.

So, just think about whether or not that rules, actually helping you and and what it actually means is a text at 3am “Hey, I’m going to shag this person”… A phone call at 2am, like… is that something you really want to want to do? Is that really going to help you? I think having a better understanding of, yes, you need to disclose find a good time to disclose this to me, you know, and especially like now that I have that rule in terms of, you know, I decide what protection I use with my partner and then that they don’t have to worry so much about what they do with other people, they can assume their own risk.

Now I’m not that worried about disclosure because it used to be that our rule was that if my STI risk changes because you slept with someone new, then you need to tell me right away. But now that we’re using like a lot of barriers between us I’m like okay, it’d be nice to know if there’s a change in STI risk in general but I’m good. I’m as protected as I can be and I still want them to get regular STI checkups and they do anyway.

But if they were the kind of person that didn’t care about their sexual health, me forcing them to do it isn’t going to change anything so like if your partner didn’t care about talking to you about stuff, then this rule isn’t gonna force them to. So, yeah, think about that rule. And then last but not least thing, again, like, oh yeah, there was two things. One thing. It’s not the metamour’s fault that that she didn’t know that that was your barrier and you’re kind of misdirecting the anger. It’s okay to be uncomfortable for a while.

Give yourself permission to be a little bit uncomfortable with her but again kind of realise that maybe you’re misdirecting some of that anger. And then last but not least allow yourself to be emotional. It’s not bad to be emotional, just know… try to understand how your emotions affect your actions, and sometimes when you feel really really anxious and really really scared, just like you know I’ve had obsessive compulsive disorder in the past. When I felt anxious I felt the desire to compiles, a desire to control the anxiety by acting in some way that I think will control it, but actually just feeds into the anxiety.

And I think a lot of times when people are in these kind of relationships, they get a compulsion when they feel all this anxiety to do something, to create a rule, create a boundary, to change things, to close things up or do whatever in order to try and stop all that emotion because they don’t give themselves permission to feel it. They blame themselves where they think that they’re bad or they’re irrational or controlling… Let yourself feel things just realise when you’re when your motivations for something or to stop those feelings or to get rid of them because that’s not helpful and find a healthier way to express your emotions.

Like don’t make your partner your therapist. Find a therapist, if it’s affordable to you. And, yeah allow yourself to have it  because you’re not going to be able to get rid of anxiety. The biggest obstacle in my personal experience with anxiety was punishing myself for having it. And so the thing that I try hard in my relationships to do is to just give myself permission to have the feelings. Don’t beat myself up for it, and experience it. Because sometimes you just have to go through it, come out the other end and “Okay, that was bad, but here I am, I survived 100% of my worst days, and I’m okay”.

Sometimes you just have to go through that, unfortunately. It sucks but it’s kind of a thing that sometimes has to happen. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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Consent and cuckolding

I am a widower of 2 years, I was married for 31 years and the last 10 years I was a cuckold to my wife. In the last two years I have been listening to podcasts and reading blogs on the subject of cuckolding (sometime called “Hotwifing”) and one question I always ask when given the opportunity is, “If your partner asked, would you quit?”. Keeping in mind these are not swingers and these are “one sided” relationships where the wife is playing and the husband is not.

The question is posed to both husband and wife. In every case (20 or 30 I have asked) the husband always says yes. In many cases the wife says no. I have had wives interviewed in separate venues and they sometimes gave contradictory answers. The most recent being a wife who on “Keys and Anklets” said she would honor her husbands wish to quit if he asked then on another blog (I think it was called Cuckold Consultant) said that if she didn’t have her husband’s consent she would cheat.

My question to you is, if consent is not needed can this be called in any way, shape or form “ethical non-monogamy”? If consent is not needed is this just a form of psychological abuse akin to the old tradition of men “sleeping around” on their wives where the wife knows, but due to family and financial considerations is forced to tolerate it?

Are some men trapped in a bind where considerations of financial well being, staying in their homes, having access to their children or even having any form of companionship outweigh the involuntary tolerance of their wife’s sexual activities and as a result they put on a brave face and “play the game”?

Consent is always needed. For everything.

There are always nuances to 24/7 style relationships. People who expand concepts of domination and submission outside of the bedroom may want someone who will basically be able to tell them what to do or “force” them to do some things. I have heard of 24/7 relationships where a Dom/me/x has control over the life of a submissive to the point of being able to encourage them to take care of themselves better.

And, not gonna lie, I’ve seen the appeal in having an authority figure who you have to be accountable to. Some people even incorporate aspects of punishment into this where punishment isn’t something that the person wants. So you can, in effect, have someone punishing you without you wanting that to happen at all.

However, I still believe there is a basic level of consent here that still applies. No one actually owns anyone and any Dom/me/x who believes they do and any relationship where a submissive (or a cuckold in this case) cannot say “Nope. I’m done with this. This ends now.” does not have a relationship. It’s effectively abuse.

And this applies for any kind of relationship which doesn’t include kink elements. Obviously, breaking up with a partner is never an easy thing for anyone to do and it is easier said than done in many, many types of relationships. But if you truly, truly do not have a choice or feel like you could not leave without being physically or psychologically attacked — that is a problem.

In my opinion, there is nothing ethical about cheating. It’s not for me to tell someone in a cuckold relationship whether or not they should continue to stay with someone who has effectively admitted they would cheat on you. I know I wouldn’t. But I feel quite confident in saying that consent is always needed.

And anyone, regardless of the type of relationship they’re in, who cheats or who does something against the consent of their partner — that is cheating. I don’t know if I would stretch so far to call every incident of cheating “psychological abuse”. People who may be psychologically abusive may also cheat, but they aren’t necessarily one in the same.

Additionally, I would say that one does not necessarily have to be a cuckold to feel like you must tolerate behaviour from your partner that you object to because you either do not have the financial means to go out on your own or you worry about the effect a split might have on children and whether or not you’d be able to see them as well as a fear of losing a companionship. That’s a very common concern for a lot of people.

And in all cases, kink based or not, I would always advise any adults to not put their eggs in one basket so to speak, to always have some level of their own independence or a way out and to not tolerate someone’s behaviour, if they find it truly objectionable or against their consent, merely because a current relationship is more comfortable or at times preferable to being alone.

Lastly, I’d like to address the fact that I feel like there’s a comparison here that, on a macro-level social scale, doesn’t really match up. Historically, women have been overwhelmingly subject to not only being sold as property to men, but also being treated like property. In the US, marital rape wasn’t even considered a crime until 1987. There is a very, very long history of women being forced to marry men (outside of considerations of married love) and not because they actively chose to enter into that kind of a relationship.

They had no agency. They had no options other than being cast out of their communities or potentially killed. The history of the way women have been used as essentially breeding stock and the way women are still used that way today is extensive. And I feel like it’s not really adequate to make that comparison because in the situations you have proposed, these men have willingly and with the full rights and privileges as men, agreed to be in cuckold relationships from the start whereas many, many women throughout history did not have the same privileges.

But, to summarise, cheating is not ethical. Consent is needed in all relationships. You can only willingly give your power to someone if you have it in the first place.

And, on a personal level, I think any individual who is interested in a relationship where they do not have to care about the consent, wishes and needs of their partner is an asshole and not worth anyone’s time.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Polyamory as a last chance

My marriage of 13 years is about to end due to my wife’s infidelity. She cheated in 2010 and this past summer in the wake of my brother’s suicide she dove into an emotional affair with a long-time friend of both of us. This experience has fractured numerous friendships and relationships. It was almost like she detonated a well-placed bomb right in the middle of everything in my life that I cared about.

Now I am watching every relationship shift. From my relationship with my 3 children, to the security in my marriage, to family and friends. My wife’s first affair was with a person who lives a life of polyamory. She has definitely been interested in this sort of thing and it is something that I have known about. I have not had any interest in this sort of thing.

My parents have been together forever and that is the history that has generated my perspective of these sorts of things.

Her parents went through a 7-year divorce when she was young. She watched her dad have multiple affairs and experienced things like receiving gifts that were given by her father’s affair partners. This has constructed her perspective on some of these things.

My question is this, is opening up my marriage going to be a good thing regarding some of our deep-rooted differences. My biggest problem right now is her blatant betrayal and inability to give me the respect that a partner deserves. After reading your article I certainly have my doubts.

We got married very young and have been together since we were 15. I definitely love her and I believe that she loves me. My biggest concerns about opening our marriage are:

A) I am not sure how I will react to it. Having been betrayed by her multiple times (and honestly, there are probably things I don’t even know about), I don’t know how I will be able to do something that I am not strictly comfortable with while at the same time dealing with some of the emotions such as jealousy when it comes to an open marriage.

B) Her history of betrayal. It concerns me that I would be doing this in order to let her really express herself in the hope that she could really be honest with me about herself. I want the intimacy that I signed up for and just have not been able to achieve with her.

A big part of me wants to just end the marriage but at the same time, why wouldn’t I try this as a last ditch effort at finally achieving the level of intimacy that I have always wanted. Ending the marriage would be life-changing in a lot of really big ways for everyone. I just want to know if exhausting this option is even worth the time and emotional effort that I would have to put forth given her track record of being unable to treat me with open honesty and respect.

Sometimes when infidelity happens, people can try polyamory or non-monogamy as a last ditch effort because they want to save their relationship — and sometimes that can work. Even if one of the people doesn’t have any interest in dating or sleeping with anyone else. But I think that, regardless of interests or the history involved, the biggest key to success in this working is that there has to be some interest or some benefit you get — other than keeping someone in your life — from non-monogamy or polyamory.

Fundamentally, agreeing to a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship at it’s core means that your partner will not be spending the vast majority of their available time solely with you. As I’ve said in other columns, this can also be true for monogamous relationships where you marry someone who has a time intensive career, hobby or is someone who needs a lot of alone time. It’s not unique to non-monogamy.

That has to be something you’re fundamentally okay with and for a lot of people, that’s not something they want. They want to have a sole partner who they spend most of their time with and it doesn’t have to be that they feel jealous of any other partners, just that they want more time with their partner.

Secondly, you have to see some type of benefit in non-monogamy for yourself. This could be getting to date others, getting to sleep with others or just getting more time for yourself. Even people who are monogamous to partners who are polyamorous see some type of benefit out of it. I think for a lot of people they assume the benefit is keeping their partner around — and this may be a good benefit — but if the first issue means that your partner isn’t *actually* around in the amount you want, you may find that this isn’t actually a benefit you get. If you become non-monogamous, your relationship will fundamentally differ from the way it is currently set up. So you can’t go into a non-monogamous agreement based on the benefit to you that your partner will stay with you if that hope is based on the idea your relationship will somehow remain the same — it just won’t.

Thirdly, contrary to what you might have read about polyamory, people do have reactions to their partner sleeping with other people regardless of how seasoned they are. A lot of the literature around polyamory makes it seem like the ideal is to have a positive emotional reaction to your partner sleeping with someone else — and some people do experience it. But some people can and do have negative reactions every single time or only have negative reactions to start out when they are rebuilding trust with their partner or starting a new relationship and find these negative reactions cool as time goes on and trust gets built up. But then, something really bad could happen in your life that makes it harder to cope with this.

It’s during times like this that I recommend people go back to the benefit they get out of polyamory as a sort of anchor that reminds them of why it is they’re coping with temporary negative feelings. Similar to having children — it’s not always a joy all of the time but the benefits for some can outweigh some of the negatives. And this is where, if your only benefit is just keeping this relationship, is going to fall through.

Because the relationship you want to keep and the structure you held onto is fundamentally different. I would be worried less about whether or not you will experience negative feelings because it’s incredibly likely that you will, especially given the betrayal you’ve been through, and more worried about if you have the anchor you need to get you through the negative feelings that will inevitably come.

Lastly, as I’ve said in my other columns, non-monogamy can and sometimes often does come through infidelity and betrayal. It’s very possible your wife is naturally non-monogamous but never knew these were options. What makes the difference in survival of the relationship after has a lot to do with the core reason why the person cheated and their behaviour afterwards. Is your wife apologetic about the infidelities she’s committed? Has she committed them because they were “forbidden” and that was the draw for her? Or is it because she feels like she wants more experiences in her life? Does she actually want polyamory or has her experiences growing up made her feel fearful you will eventually cheat on her so she is feeling driven to do it before it happens to her?

It’s hard for me to answer these questions for you because these are things she needs to explore and talk to you about these reasons and fundamentally you need to come to an understanding together of what it is you both want, how far you’re both willing to compromise on this, and what solutions are available to you both before she either cheats again or you decide to call it quits.

In summary

Fundamentally in this instance, there’s a lot for you both to explore. For you, you need to really think about your wants and that might be hard for you if you’ve only ever been in this relationship and don’t have any other relationships to compare this to. But try and dig deep and ask yourself if you have any curiosities about pursuing relationships or sex with others or if you like to have more alone time and can find another reason, other than trying to save this ship, for having an interest in non-monogamy that can ground you.

For her, she needs to explore more of why she’s cheated. If she’s only done it because it’s a thrill because it’s a secret, even non-monogamy isn’t going to help out in that instance. Can she figure out what kind of relationships she wants? Does she want multiple romantic relationships or is she looking for just other sexual experiences. Once she has a better idea of her motivations and why she’s done things, you’ll know exactly what kind of non-monogamy you’re looking at, how that might differ from the current life you have together and whether or not you want to make that compromise.

I don’t think you should immediately call it quits but there’s a lot to work out here before you really know if it’s worth it to try non-monogamy. Equally, don’t be sucked into a sunk cost fallacy. Just because you’ve spent a long time together doesn’t mean you should always be together. But it’s hard for me to tell you whether or not it’s going to be worth it if you haven’t worked through some of these core issues together. I’d definitely suggest seeking the help of a non-monogamy friendly relationship therapist who would be able to help you both explore these issues and work out whether there is an inherent incompatibility or if there are compromises you both can make that will help.

Lastly, I’d definitely suggest checking out the index of my articles as I’ve got a whole section on infidelity and you might find some other scenarios which are more similar to yours, some options such as sex work and swinging that could address sexual incompatibility that don’t go as a far as polyamory, and some other ways to address this.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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How to define cheating

Here is my situation. I’ve been with my partner for four months, we started our relationship as another one of mine was ending. I definitely jumped in full force to the relationship, partly because of my heartbreak over the previous one. It turned out to work out really well, however, as I feel so cared for and valued by my partner. At the time we started dating, they were casually dating a couple of people, and I was still dating a person casually (outside of my more serious relationship that was ending).

My partner and I discussed what would be cheating in our relationship: breaking agreements, lying, not updating relationship statuses with someone. Not long after this discussion, my partner broke an agreement by sleeping with a mutual friend while intoxicated. We had previously spoken (as in very very recently) about not having anything happen with that person more then a fun drunken party make out, as that would be really messy within the friend group and too much to navigate.

My partner assured me that they do not have romantic feelings towards this person, but that they are just friends, however I know the person has feelings for my partner. Before the hookup, I had an understanding that they were just friends but now I find myself not fully trusting that that’s been always the case (on my partners side). My partner is adamant that that is their feeling towards that person despite the person being attractive.

Anyway, my question is: how do you rebuild trust when an agreement has been broken? If there was never an agreement I still would have been uncomfortable as this is a mutual friend in our circle, however I don’t think I would have felt betrayed. Since the cheating my partner has done mostly a good job of taking ownership, setting boundaries with the person, and explaining to me what happened (which I accept and have understanding for). All this aside, how do I work through my feelings of betrayal? Are their tools for people for when cheating happens and you’re not monogamous?

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if the rules we’ve put in place really serve us. ‘Cheating’ can be defined in all sorts of different ways. It’s not up to me to tell you how to define ‘cheating’ for you, but I can say that for me, the biggest part — and really the only part — of what makes something cheating is deception and lying or aiding someone else in their deception and lying knowingly.

You’ve chosen to define cheating among each other as ‘breaking agreements’, not just lying, as well as ‘not updating relationship statuses with someone’ (which also seems like lying to me). My problem with this is that one can break an agreement in a variety of circumstances without necessarily participating in an willing deception and this is such a case. No doubt, an agreement you made was broken, but it doesn’t seem like your partner did it with their full sober mind nor did they hide it or lie to you about it once it happened.

That’s not to say you don’t have the right to feel upset, but ask yourself if putting the label of ‘cheating’ on this is further inflaming those feelings by making you feel like there is more of a betrayal than there actually was. Is this more of a mistake, especially if your partner is taking ownership, settling the boundaries and didn’t at all hide it from you? Why is it that you are defining ‘breaking agreements’ specifically as cheating and is that really going to help you out in the long run? In this case, I think slapping the label of ‘cheating’ onto this situation is reinforcing what you’ve probably learned and understood about cheating through the monogamous lens that society has given you.

As someone who has a lot of strong feelings about cheating, I can understand this. Some people don’t consider cheating a big deal and have no problems participating in it, even if they don’t try to do it. I consider cheating, and by that I mean lying and deceiving a partner about anything (doesn’t have to be sex) to be one of the worst things someone can do and helping someone do that is equally as bad. But then there are some people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ and I don’t.

It’s not as if those people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ are wrong in their feeling of betrayal if that happens, but what I would encourage them to do is think about the assumptions they are making in this situation (e.g. being sexually attracted to someone other than your partner is something one can completely prevent in all situations and watching porn means that you’re less attracted to your partner or it affects the integrity of the attraction to your partner) and hope that through breaking that down, they can come to understand the source of the betrayal. Because often when we expand the net of ‘cheating’ to encompass more and more things, it can say a lot about our assumptions.

Likewise, in this situation, I think you need to take a good hard look at this rule and understand why you’ve put it there. What are you assuming when it comes to breaking agreements? Maybe you have a relationship with cheating in the past that you haven’t mentioned. Maybe this is part of your inherent fear that non-monogamy is unsustainable and your brain is creating rules to try and prevent something from happening. Accidents can and do happen and they don’t have to be devastating and destructive if we take people off of their pedestals, understand that we’re all humans and make mistakes, and figure out how what we’ve learned about certain concepts influences our behaviours.

But in non-monogamy we may be less inclined to see a simple accident as just that if we have such a small cultural script to pull from to define what commitment to each other means if we’re not using sexual exclusivity. If you’re not defining what makes a non-monogamous special by sexual exclusivity you may be searching for another place to put the meaning society has told you is important in and you may be doing that with the idea that breaking an agreement is tantamount to ‘cheating’.

It’s natural, whether you define a breaking of an agreement as cheating or not, for you to feel nervous and untrusting after that violation. It’s also natural for the fact that, regardless of how your partner feels, you know that this person is interested in your partner for that to kick up a lot of anxiety for you. But at some point, you also need to realise that there is only so much that you can control. The fact that your partner is taking ownership of this will help you rebuild that trust over time but it can also be helpful for you to realise that trust is really all you’ve ever had to begin with.

Even before this breach happened, none of us can prevent our partners from falling in love with someone else. Even if this person your partner slept with moved away and you never saw them again, another equally challenging or ‘messy’ person could come along in two months time. You can only prevent so much from happening. And rules certainly can’t prevent mistakes from happening.

Allow yourself to feel anxious and scared, but come back to the truth that, what little can be controlled is being controlled. Your partner is taking ownership and setting boundaries. Don’t prevent or berate yourself for having feelings. It’s very understandable. But also think about the way you’re classifying this situation and its impact on your relationship and whether or not your current definitions are really serving you.

People can break agreements in relationships unintentionally and without hiding that from a partner. Rethinking the labelling you’re adding to this will also help ground you a bit in understanding that while you may very well and validly feel betrayed because an agreement has been broken, you also need to zoom out and see the bigger picture of everything else that is going on around you to help you not get trapped in the undertow anxiety will try to pull you into.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Polyamory to save a marriage

This content is 12 months old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My husband and I married July 2018 and had twin boys September 2018. Before that we were dating for 3 years. I recently learned that he has cheated on me while we dated and also behaved in ways that were not appropriate for a boyfriend.

I also learned that he cheated on me recently with a different woman and has done so on 3 separate occasions. All of which he never admitted it to me but I learned from his close friend. After confronting him about these incidents he confirmed that it was true. He proceeded to then say that he has reflected on his personality and feels that he would rather have an open relationship or we would have to go our separate ways.

I felt like I could try being monogamish (to save our marriage) we even talked about rules and he said that this is just sexual and non-emotional. However, I feel so betrayed by the lies and lack of respect for our relationship. How can I move forward? Should I give this a try?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? Sometimes cheating can be a precursory to polyamory. We don’t live in a society that encourages people who feel more naturally non-monogamous to ask for this so some people do end up cheating for that reason.

However, the thing that concerns me about this is that he never admitted to cheating on you — you had to find that out yourself. If he had come clean with you and been honest about it, I would try to give it a chance. The fact that he’s now basically forcing you to have an open marriage doesn’t bode well.

Having a polyamorous or even an open relationship isn’t just about people being able to have sex with whomever they want without consequence. It isn’t the same as a monogamous relationship except cheating is allowed. It’s a different type of commitment which requires a lot of honest communication. I would argue that monogamy should equally include a lot of honest communication as well, but I think cultural scripts discourage people from communicating honestly in monogamy. It also requires a lot of care and consideration, especially since within non-monogamy you are going against the script society has given you and that does tend to cause more anxiety.

This is someone who cheats on you while you’re pregnant with his children and is now placing his need to have sex with whomever he wants over not only his partner but his children. That is incredibly selfish. I’m not saying he should force himself into a marriage that he’s unhappy with, but I feel like if the stake of children, who have no control over what either of you do, doesn’t convince him to at least be honest with you… I’m really not sure what else would.

It doesn’t matter if he claims to only want to have sexual relationships with other people — his betrayal to you was emotional and he knew that. That’s why he didn’t tell you about it. Because he knew he violated your trust and hurt you in a very serious way. And now he’s basically demanding you give him permission to cheat.

Don’t. Find someone who is willing to respect you and your partnership. Giving him permission to cheat is not going to change or heal the emotional impact of what he has done to you. And the fact that he doesn’t seem to care about that isn’t a good sign. I wish I had better news and advice to give to you but unfortunately, I think that putting up with any further behaviour from him now will only end up meaning more pain for you.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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How many chances should you give?

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I don’t even know where to begin so I suppose I will start with this. Last week my husbands co-workers husband sent me a video of what was pretty incriminating evidence of them cheating on me and him. Since then the four of us have been talking and working things out and figuring out what to do about all of this. Polyamory came up. I have a very steadfast view on monogamy, I don’t know why it’s a hardwired into me the way it is but it is.

So anyways the woman he cheated on me with and her husband this is her first affair. While with my husband and I this isn’t the first, it’s the first time in quite a while though….well unless you count sexting which I had pretty much come to terms with. I have so many fears and reservations that I have voiced with my husband and the other couple. But I’m so tired of the same song and dance too that it seems almost unfair to not try.

But I’m such a guarded person I don’t know that I can bring down those walls like I have for my husband I don’t know I can be unselfish for my husband, I don’t knowing I have enough love to give, and I don’t know that it’s fair to me to not try to repair our core relationship first before diving into a polyamorous relationship and let alone with the woman he cheated on me with even if I like her husband and her on a tentative level.

I’m just beside myself….I wanna please my husband but my heart….and brain don’t want the same things? Maybe they do I don’t know anymore…..

The most honest and straightforward advice I can give you is that you need to stop worrying so much about pleasing your husband and start worrying about pleasing yourself.

Without beating around the bush, your husband is a complete and total jerk and the people he wants you to go into a relationship with are not looking too great either. This isn’t at all about polyamory or a problem with your boundaries. Whether or not polyamory is for you and even if you had no issues with polyamory and were actually enthusiastic about trying it — I would still say your husband is absolutely a jerk and you fundamentally deserve better.

Let’s review the treatment your husband has toward you before we delve into what are supposed to be your metamours. You clearly have a problem with your husband sexting other people and he doesn’t care at all. This is cheating to you and it’s not okay — which is 100% fair. Sometimes people have boundaries of what encompasses “cheating” that I think can be a bit unrealistic such as considering it an insult if a partner looks at someone else or finds someone else attractive. But it is completely understandable to consider your husband sexting others as cheating and it’s not acceptable for him to completely disregard it.

You said this was not the first affair he has had, which further indicates that he doesn’t have any respect for you or your boundaries but — for some reason you think it’s unfair to *not* try polyamory when clearly your husband doesn’t give a toss about trying to respect your boundaries? This is absolutely unacceptable. You’re so worried about being unselfish for your husband that you don’t realise that he has been nothing but selfish.

And let’s get to the people involved with. I’m unsure of the specifics of the logistics of what was involved — whether your husband just cheating on the woman in this couple or whether your husband cheated with the couple together. I’m unsure of whether it was the woman or just your husband’s co-workers who showed you the video but none of these scenarios bode well.

It’s one thing for your husband to approach you after having a long term monogamous relationship wherein he respected your boundaries and didn’t have an affair on you, confess his attraction to someone else, and then request polyamory but it’s quite another — and your husband wins an award for the absolute audacity of it all — to cheat, be caught (not confess), and then expect your partner to basically go along with it and potentially be involved in some type of love triangle as well. I’m quite frankly astounded by your husband and this woman’s gross entitlement and sheer fucking gall. And apologies for the cursing but this is absolutely unbelievable.

Not to mention, I always point out on the column that you have to sit back and think of the overall ethics of a person who willingly participates in cheating. She is already demonstrating a fundamental lack of respect for your boundaries. Why on earth would things change in the future? You’re just going to have two partners who don’t respect you.

The answer is no. A million times no. And not just because you’re clearly monogamous but because this man has done nothing but run roughshod over every boundary you have. Your monogamous relationship is already a disaster and a polyamorous relationship is doubly so. The last thing you want to do is get yourself involved with two people who clearly don’t have your best interests at heart. Say no to polyamory AND to monogamy in this case.

Leave this man and never look back. You deserve so much better than this. With all due respect, your husband is an absolute dumpster fire of a person. If you want to help something grow, buy a potted plant. Focus on you. Please yourself. Reconnect with yourself. Treat yourself. Listen to ‘Soulmate’ by Lizzo on repeat. If therapy is an option for you, please go for it to improve yourself, not for the sake of this man.

Repeat this mantra until you no longer stay in relationships with people who cheat on you:

I. Deserve. Better.

And you do deserve better. I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Episode 29: Preventing Cheating

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

Can opening up your relationship prevent your partner from cheating?

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

Discussion Topic: What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

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

Episode 29 – Preventing Cheating

Can opening a relationship prevent cheating from ever happening?   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 – What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

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:

I have been with my girlfriend for 8.5 years. Last October, I proposed and we’re scheduled to marry each other in April of 2020. Of course it is normal to have second thoughts but she’s having second thoughts due to both my parents and her parents having affairs during their marriage so she wants an open relationship in order to prevent that from happening in the future with us. Reluctantly, I agreed. Now I found out that she has had sex with a co-worker and I’m having a very hard time getting over it. I love her with all of my heart and breaking up is not an option. Any advice on how to get over this?

Response:

So, there are a couple of couple of things.

First and foremost, while I totally understand her anxieties, ultimately opening your relationship to solve or prevent cheating isn’t really going to work. It really depends on why it is that people are cheating. Sometimes people cheat because they are kind of naturally non-monogamous or want to be non monogamous and don’t know it’s an option so just kind of end up falling into monogamy and then end up cheating because they get tempted in one way or another.

And sometimes people cheat because they like the fact that it is something they shouldn’t do. They enjoy the fact that it’s secret. That it’s bad. And you can still cheat in an open relationship. Like, cheating to me at least— And I think I’m open to the fact that people have different definitions of cheating. But cheating to me is when I have a partner who hides something from me or lies to me or does— lying by omission. Basically, if they’re hiding something for me, that’s cheating, and they don’t even have to have sex with somebody else. If they are hiding something from me, then that is cheating to me.

So.. that can still happen in an open relationship. So if you’re partner had hid the fact that she had sex with this co worker from you, even if she technically had your permission, that would still be cheating. So the idea that opening the relationship will prevent cheating from happening isn’t really true. You can still cheat in an open relationship. I think that she needs to think about better reasons. And you need to think about better reasons for being interested in open relationships. And that’s the thing that kind of concerns me here.

Now, some people can open their relationships, and it’s something their partner wants to do. They’re very reluctant about it, and then later on, it really works for them. So the fact that you’re reluctant to do it doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s a bad choice. But I don’t think that you have very good reasons right now to motivate you to tackle this because the thing is, is that… open relationships are somewhat known within our culture, but they’re not necessarily very well known.

And when they tend to be known, people tend to say that they never work, and it can be quite difficult to navigate the waters of being in a relationship structure that you don’t have a lot of role models for, that you don’t have a lot of cultural support for. It can be a very difficult decision to make. And I think for a lot of people, what motivates them to stay with that is the fact that either A. They feel it something that is inherent about them, or, for example, I mean— those are the only reasons but the two reasons I can think of is that reason. And also for me as an example, I don’t necessarily think I’m inherently non-monogamous, but I chose this because for me, it’s a decision that I feel gives me the most freedom and that’s what’s important to me.

So that motivates me even through some of the crappier times and you will have crappy times because you have crappy times in monogamy. You have crappy times regardless of what kind of relationship structure you choose. But all that added stuff on top of it that can be quite difficult to navigate, such as dealing with the emotions and feelings of your partner being with someone else and you being raised in a society that tells you that’s a bad thing. And all of a sudden you have all these feelings— that can be the anchor that you can cling to when you’re dealing with all this stuff.

So if you don’t have that anchor, that’s kind of a problem, and it will also be a problem too, because this idea that, you know, you’re doing this to prevent cheating isn’t really an anchor. That’s not really— it’s sort of like giving up almost. Because even if your parents both have had affairs, there are plenty of monogamous people who remain monogamous for their entire lives. And it’s a legit thing. So there are people who cheat. There are people who don’t cheat. So that’s not really a good solution. That’s like only ever deciding to order take away because you might burn something sort of but… it’s not necessarily really a good motivation for what you’re doing.

And I think that you both really need to sit down and think about— is this what you really want? What is your ideal life look like? How do you foresee an open relationship playing out? Like normally when people say “open relationship”, what they mean is that— there are two people usually in a marriage and they are committed to one another in a, not just an emotional sense, but in a financial sense in everything else but they’re allowed to have sexual relationships with other people, but not necessarily deep, romantic relationships with other people.

That’s generally what is referred to as an “open relationship”. That may or may not be what it is that you’ve negotiated. You don’t really know. Like— opening up your relationship to prevent cheating doesn’t really define what it is that your relationship is supposed to look like. Because, I mean, you could say, “All right, well, we’re going to have a relationship where, if something happens, or if I get the chance, I might sleep with someone else, but I’m not going to pursue it”, which is different. So you haven’t really talked about that kind of stuff. So, I mean, it doesn’t say that you have.

And so you have all these feelings now that she’s had sex with a co-worker, because you know, you’re very unanchored in what all of this is supposed to mean. And because you’ve done it just to prevent cheating, that’s not really an anchor to anything. So what does your relationship look like? Do you really want an open relationship? Do you see a benefit out of it? Are you interested in any part of it? Also I’m not going to assume too much about your girlfriend. But I wonder how soon after agreeing or come— or having this kind of reaction did she sleep with that new person?

Because I do think sometimes people— especially if they’re getting married— You know, getting married does effectively mean, if you mean the marriage that this is the last person you’re ever going to sleep with for the rest of your life until you die. And I think sometimes people don’t really think about that until it gets closer and closer to that date. And then they kind of freak out. And then they decide to have one last hurrah. So I’m wondering, you know, if it’s a co worker, and it’s someone that she’s known for a long time already… was this kind of her having a bit of a panic and getting married and going, “Oh, no, we should open our relationship” and sleeping with this new person as kind of way to work out the anxiety, because that is possible.

I’m not sure but I find it a little bit… You know, I’m interested to know what the timing is. I’m not saying that she only opened your relationship so that she could have sex with this co-worker. That does happen though. Quite a lot of times, sometimes people are only motivated to ask for open relationship, when there is a clear specific advantage in front of their face. It’s not to say that she or anyone else didn’t necessarily feel motivated to be in an open relationship before, because quite a lot of people might think about it and think about it and think maybe maybe, and then when they have someone who they actually want to date in front of them, then they’re like, Oh, yeah, definitely.

So it’s not to say that she’s necessarily intentionally being dishonest, but, you know… you need to unpack it. That just saying, “Oh, I want to open the relationship because I’m afraid that we might cheat on each other,” just isn’t— like I’ve been saying it isn’t enough. I think another thing that I really, really want to add is that, if you love someone with all of your heart— especially if you love someone with all of your heart, breaking up should be an option.

People tend to understandably think that breaking up is always a horrible choice. And sometimes breaking up is actually the least painful and the best choice in some situations, especially where people are inherently incompatible. And staying with someone who you’re inherently incompatible with, can sometimes only lead to you eventually, clashing, clashing, clashing so much to the point that you become angry and resentful toward one another, and then your breakup— rather than being sort of a mutual acknowledgement as adults that you know, we do love and care for one another, but we just aren’t going to work. You know, that separate— it’s not a fun separation, but that separation is much more easier to digest and actually less painful than staying with each other out of habit or because of a lost— I think it’s called a lost cause fallacy. It’s sort of like where you— or a sunken cost fallacy. It’s where you basically think, “Well, I’ve put so much into this, I have to keep going, and I have to keep going”. But actually, it’s just convincing you not to give up when you should it and then you just keep sinking and sinking and sinking.

You know, that isn’t actually good. That’s sometimes worse. So you really need to rethink— I’m not saying that you should break up. But I think that you really need to rethink the idea of “Oh, I love her with all my heart and breaking up is not an option”. If you love her with all your heart, it should definitely be an option because if you love her with all your heart, then you should love her enough to feel like if this is a choice she wants to make with her life, and it’s not a choice that you want to go on, you need to make a better decision to end the relationship— as hard as that is and it’s like easier said than done— to end the relationship and go your separate ways before you eventually drive each other crazy— I’m sorry, I should say that— eventually until you, you know, hurt one another because you’re going to be butting heads.

If you are so incompatible, that you’re going in different directions, it’s much, much better to break up before you start to tear each other apart. So I think you really need to think about that. I don’t necessarily think you need to break up. “Getting over” the fact that she slept with another person is really, really complicated, because the thing that I would advise you use to deal with all of these emotions is the original agreement you had and why you made it, but you haven’t really made an official agreement, as far as I can see.

You just sort of tangentially kind of said, “We’ll open this relationship so we don’t cheat on each other”. But you haven’t really talked about what your relationship is supposed to look like, how other people play into that, what your ideals are. You haven’t really chosen a non-monogamous situation. It’s been thrust upon you. So it’s hard for me to advise you on how to get over that when I don’t know if you should get over that.

I think what you need to do is pause your marriage and find a polyamory friendly counsellor who can kind of sit you both down and go through— I think she especially needs to work on her fear around cheating, because that— at the end of the day, your kind of contract is a bit null and void. Because if your entire contract is “We’re opening our relationship to prevent cheating” — that isn’t what opening your relationship will do. It’s not going to prevent cheating. You can still be dishonest and cheat in an open relationship.

So you have to kind of renegotiate your contract and you have to kind of come up with reasons why an open relationship is something that you both want to pursue, why you want to pursue it and if the way you want to pursue an open relationship works for the both of you. Because there’s tons of different ways to do an open relationship. You might actually find that maybe what you want is more of a polyamory setup where you want to have romantic relationships with other people and not just sex.

And if she wants no romantic relationships with other people, you both could want an open relationship, but want fundamentally different things and still be incompatible. So you really need to sit down and have a good discussion about this, and a thorough discussion about this to figure out what it is that you both actually want. So yeah, I think that basically, to sum up kind of what I’ve said, you know, an opening in a relationship isn’t going to prevent cheating.

You need to figure out if an open relationship is something that you actually want. You need to figure out what your agreement is with each other. And I think it might also be worth exploring her fear of cheating because I do think that—  let’s say you both end up wanting an open relationship. You both make agreements about it. If she’s very, very terrified of cheating happening, I think she’s going to experience a heck of a lot of anxiety when you date someone. You know, that’s going to be a big issue for her because she clearly has a lot of fears around that.

And she still could be afraid or experience a lot of anxiety in open relationships. Opening a relationship doesn’t solve all that magically. You

also I think, should pause the marriage and think about seeing a polyamory friendly counsellor that can help you with this. And last but not least, breaking up is definitely always an option. And is definitely always an option if you really love someone because sometimes that is the that is the best thing that you can do for someone that you love.

I think another thing that I would add— last thing I would add is that you may find in talking all this out with a polyamory friendly therapist, who’s kind of open to keeping all of your options open, is that maybe having an open relationship isn’t necessarily what she wants. It’s just that she has all of these fears around cheating for some reason, or like I said, maybe it was the anxiety of, “Okay, I’m committing to this person. I can’t sleep with anyone else. Again, this is getting real. I need to go out and have a last hurrah” or something like that. You have to kind of address those things. You have to address those fears and talk them out.

And maybe in talking them out with a therapist, she will then go “Okay, maybe I don’t actually really want an open relationship. I just needed to express these things in some way. And now that I have, I’ve changed my mind”. Who knows? It’s it’s… I can’t really predict that. But I think that you do need to be able to talk about this and you should do it if therapy is an option available to you.

Because I think someone who is polyamory friendly, is not going to immediately dismiss an open relationship as an option and will actually be able to work on your communication. Because I think if you’ve been together for eight and a half years and you’re getting married, I’m not saying you should never be afraid that your partner will cheat on you. But it does hint at something that’s lacking in your foundation together.

You know, it is a lack of trust in you. And she needs to kind of be able to address that. Because if there is that kind of crack in your foundation, where —for whatever reason that maybe you can or can’t control, she doesn’t trust you— that is going to manifest in other situations down the line. And you shouldn’t be building something together on a foundation that’s shaky because that’ll only continue to give both of you anxiety. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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