Cheating (Yes, Polys Can Do It Too!)

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.

Example A:

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.

Example B:

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.

It hurts.

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?

7 thoughts on “Cheating (Yes, Polys Can Do It Too!)

  1. DK Leather says:

    Dear gods yes. We, as a poly family (triad core, married/handfasted) of over a dozen years, have always had room for other lovers in an open and honest context.

    However one among us has recently just been found out as having had an affair for 18 months. Why? We’re still working on that. Time, healing, betrayal, hurt.. it’s all just as painful, agony, upset as for any other relationship.

    Good post, thank You for posting it.

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you, I’m glad you liked the post! And thank you for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear what your family’s going through at the moment – that must be really tough. Lots and lots of good thoughts to you all. It’s a really painful thing to have to deal with.

  2. Anskar Argoni says:

    Yes, cheating is definitely possible. My wife slept with a guy after we discussed it and I said I didn’t feel comfortable with it – him specifically, he just gives me the creeps for some undefined reason.

    After her coming home with him proudly covered in bite marks, there was much yelling, then heated discussion, then acceptance, then group sex with the guy. Might as well make the most of the situation – and it may have been a not-so-subtle reinforcement and advertisement of my position in the relationship…

    Still, it shook my trust, to this day. So things weren’t the same afterward, but they weren’t completely ruined by any means.

    • missamaranth says:

      Hi there, thanks for reading and commenting – and thank you for sharing your story. Sorry to hear about what happened to you, that must have been really difficult. I’m glad to hear it didn’t spell the end of the relationship and that you managed to work through it though.

      I completely know what you mean about it shaking trust, sometimes irreparably. One of the things which ended the relationship in my case was just knowing that if we were to continue, I’d never trust them again. It is quite heartening to read stories where it doesn’t absolutely mean the end, even if it absolutely sucks.

  3. Jessica says:

    It’s happened to me in a poly relationship. The first time they were upfront about it, apologized, said it was a ‘heat of the moment thing.’ I accepted the apology, as did the other person in the relationship and we tried to put it behind us. It happened again some months later, and repeat, except that they didn’t come talk with me about it afterwards, they hid it until someone else I was in a relationship with that knew about forced them to tell me. In hindsight, the ‘forgive and forget’ routine was a mistake.Rather than try to talk about what caused it and how to deal with it we just . . . let it go. Which meant underlying problems in the relationship were ignored, and kept growing. Until the relationship slowly fell apart.

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, and sorry to hear it happened to you too. I agree that often forgetting about something isn’t a good move – while ‘forgive, forget and move on’ might seem like the best way forward (and maybe sometimes is,) it doesn’t tend to deal with the underlying issues which are probably still bubbling under the surface somewhere. It is always really sad and really difficult when relationships fall apart – I’ve had it happen too through ignoring or burying issues for too long until they got too big to deal with. So sorry to hear you went through this.

  4. SilverBirch says:

    To me, the first of your examples is by far the worst. People aren’t perfect and they make mistakes. Even pretty huge ones, like going with the flow from flirting to f***ing when they should stop and negotiate.

    If someone comes to me the next morning and tells me they really screwed up (all puns intended!), there’s still some trust there to work with. They’re being honest and taking the medicine.

    Worse is having a fling and then keeping quiet about it. I know there’s a natural urge to avoid the consequences and deny things. But it makes it hard to believe a partner ever again. It puts a wedge in the relationship that can’t be removed, only absorbed by the body very slowly.

    Having an ongoing relationship and hiding it… that’s a huge step up again. There’s been plenty of time to reflect on it. Plenty of time to change your mind. This isn’t a mistake; this is part of your character. In that time, there was probably some direct lying at some point. Trust is almost entirely severed.

    That’s when I really feel betrayed. A brief mistake is a lot better than an ongoing one. If you can’t find a way to talk about it ever, we have intractable communication problems.

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