It all comes down to the rules…
In a polyamorous relationship, the word ‘cheating’ isn’t as straightforward as it is for the rest of the world.
It wasn’t too many decades ago that a married guy spending too much time with another woman would draw a lot of suspicious whispers. Even now we battle messages telling us jealousy and relationships should go hand in hand, further complicating the concept of cheating. There aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules about relationships and cheating anymore except for the bare bones basics: you’re supposed to be loyal to your partner.
As someone who has been in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships on a variety of occasions the most common questions seem to focus on the idea of cheating. So we know two things. The first is that a polyamorous relationship means that one person is dating more than one other person. We also know that cheating means being faithful to your partner. Doesn’t that mean that every polyamorous person is cheating? What’s the point of a relationship with no boundaries?
The assumption that polyamorous relationships lack boundaries is both super common and super wrong. All of my polyamorous relationships have had more rules, more boundaries and more requisite communication than any of my monogamous ones.
Think about every relationship you’ve ever had. Odds are good they’ve all required a fair bit of negotiating. You know not to make mushrooms when one friend is over. When your vegan friend is over you skip the pork broth. Your girlfriend can’t stand zombie movies so you can’t watch The Walking Dead until she’s out for the day. And you learn more personal things, too. You learn childhood trauma means your best friend can’t watch movies about abusive mothers. If you found out that your partner is deeply upset when you use a certain word, you stop using it. You learn all of these things and they weave themselves into the fabric of your relationship with them.
Now imagine having to weave those threads together for two people. In the same relationship. At the same time. If your head’s starting to hurt, you’re getting the right idea.
It’s hard. It’s so, so hard. You have to balance your time and emotional energy between more than one person, be mindful of more than one person’s needs and feelings and balance it all against your own emotional well being. I have tremendous amounts of respect for people who manage these relationships long term. These relationships are usually successful because they communicate and set up rules in advance. Some folks I know in polyamorous relationships have agreed not to see anyone else outside of their core three. One has a rule where they only date someone else after discussing it with the group. Some don’t care who the others date, so long as all of the relationships are kept separate.
These relationships all have one thing in common: they all have really clear rules. Breaking these rules is cheating.
If you’re monogamous and dating someone, it means you’ve agreed not to see anyone else. If you’re polyamorous and the three of you are dating each other and have agreed not to see anyone else, the same rules apply. In both of these scenarios sleeping with or dating someone else makes you a cheater. You’ve broken the rules of your relationship and violated the trust of those involved. If cheating means breaking your loyalty to your partner, even though the way we see relationships has evolved we can easily see how the definition of cheating has remained exactly the same. It’s important to remember communication is absolutely essential no matter what kind of dating scenario you find yourself in, and polyamorous dating is subject to the same pitfalls when communication crumbles.
Cheating isn’t about not texting other girls or any of those other jealousy-ridden sitcom moments. Cheating is about breaking the rules of your relationship, and polyamorous people can absolutely do this. Crummy people exist in every type of relationship you can imagine. But being polyamorous in and of itself doesn’t make you a cheater. Whether you’re in a relationship with one person or an unlimited number of people, you absolutely can be a cheater. Don’t be that person. Communicate with your partner, follow the rules, or have the decency to peace out before the rest of you moves on.
Images via marriage-equality.blogspot.com.au and tumblr.com.
Comment: What’s your stance on Polyamorous relationships?