One of the most common myths about polyamory that I’ve come across is the idea that having any kind of open relationship completely negates the issue of cheating or infidelity. On the flip side of this, others also believe that polyamory is merely legitimised cheating.
Both of these are equally untrue, in my opinion.
Cheating, by the very definition of the word, is an act of deception. It’s lying. It’s hiding what you’re doing. It’s breaking the agreements and boundaries set down by you and your partner. But the point of this post is not to argue all the (frankly obvious) ways in which polyamory and cheating are not the same thing. I am here to discuss my belief that you absolutely CAN ‘cheat’ in a polyamorous relationship.
The traditional definition of the word ‘cheating’ in a relationship context seems to be ‘having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with somebody else while already in a relationship.’ Now, if your relationship is monogamous, then absolutely this, in and of itself, constitutes cheating. In a poly relationship, having romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person is pretty much to be expected. Cheating can take many different forms.
Say A and B have an agreement that they must absolutely always practice safe sex with other lovers. Then A learns that B has been having unprotected sex for months.
Or X, Y and Z have agreed not to add any new partners for a while, needing to concentrate on each other or some issues they’re having. But X goes out one night, meets someone and sleeps with them.
Both of these, in my book, amount to cheating. They are not, by any means, the only situations to which I’d apply that label. Just a couple of examples to illustrate my point.
Personal confession time: I’ve been cheated on in a polyamorous relationship. What does it feel like? I can honestly say it still ranks as one of the most painful experiences of my life. The feelings of betrayal, the feelings that your partner didn’t love or respect you enough to stick to your agreements, the loss of trust and sometimes – as was the end result in my case – even the loss of the relationship. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, been cheated on in a monogamous relationship, but I’d imagine the feelings involved are very similar.
Can you ever get past it? Perhaps. Theoretically, yes of course. Plenty of people get past cheating in relationships, whatever their relationship style. But it requires huge, huge amounts of communication, rebuilding of trust and probably quite a lot of time. There are no quick fixes.
Actually, there is one. Just don’t do it. Respect your partners, and stick to any agreements you make together.
What do you all think, lovely readers? In your opinion, is cheating still a potential issue in polyamorous contexts? Can it be recovered from, or does it always spell the end of a relationship?