Polyamory vs Cheating

Today’s blog is inspired by a certain situation I encounter fairly frequently (nearly every single day). I noticed myself giving the same advice over and over, so I decided to write down my consistent advice on this particular situation. It starts with something like this:

“My [husband/wife/partner] came out to me as poly, and told me he’s been seeing someone for a year now. I love him very much and can’t imagine my life without him, but I’m finding it really hard to trust him.”

People who have been polyamorous for years or decades usually respond with something really short:

  • “That’s not polyamory, that’s cheating. Dump [him/her/them].”
  • “End it, it’s not worth it.”
  • “He’s being dishonest. Just leave.”

It may come across as dismissive, but believe me, this kind of situation pops up so much in the polyamorous community that they’re tired of rehashing the same old advice year after year. Let me go into further detail.

Myth: There’s no such thing as cheating in polyamory.
Let me be clear about this: there definitely is cheating in polyamory.

Integrity is incredibly important in polyamory. By integrity, I mean the ability to keep your agreements. Cheating is when those agreements are broken. In monogamy, typically many of these agreements are understood and don’t need to be stated. I say “typically” because there are different types of monogamy, and various agreements that can be made.

  • Don’t go on romantic dates with anyone else.
  • Don’t kiss anyone else.
  • Don’t have sex with anyone else.

Tip: Even if polyamory isn’t for you, it may be worthwhile to bring up and discuss all of the “implied” agreements included in the bundle labelled “monogamy.” For example, I know monogamous couples who allow flirting. It’s also worthwhile to go over definitions, like what do you consider a “date”? … a “kiss”? … “sex”? It’s variations in these definitions that lead to huge upsets in relationships, both polyamorous and monogamous. The answers may surprise you, and will help you have a common understanding of what the agreements actually are.

Keeping your agreements helps to build trust. Polyamory without trust doesn’t work, just like all other relationship styles. If you cannot trust your partner to do and not do what they say, there’s no foundation to build anything on, not even monogamy. This is why people’s advice to the above situation tends to be so short.

The person who cheated doesn’t have or isn’t using the skills required to create trust, which is fundamental to all relationships.

Stating that they’re polyamorous after having dated another person concurrently, outside of the agreements of a monogamous relationship, is a breach of trust. It’s entirely valid that they have discovered that they are polyamorous, but the next step is for them to be responsible for the harm they’ve done. This brings us to the next section.

What to do:

If you want to continue the relationship and explore polyamory with them, the first step is to rebuild trust. One way to do this is:

  • They take responsibility for their actions, acknowledge the impact that it had on them and you, and recommit to the relationship.

Example of what being responsible sounds like:
“I’m sorry for cheating on you. We agreed to be monogamous and I broke that agreement. What I did was a breach of trust, and now our relationship doesn’t have that foundation. Without trust, our relationship just won’t work, whether it’s polyamorous or monogamous. I’m committed to rebuilding that trust with you, so that our relationship works.”

Example of what being responsible does NOT sound like:
“I’m sorry for cheating on you, but I’m polyamorous and that’s just who I am. If you can’t just let me be me, then I’ve just got to be free.”

It’s perfectly ok for them to choose not to be with you. And if they’re not willing to be responsible, it’s ok for you to hold that boundary and not continue.

  • Create new agreements since the previous ones were broken. This can look however you want. Ask for what you need in order to build trust again. It’s their turn to come towards you.

What to watch out for:

  • Trying to manipulate or guilt trip you with pleas of “you’re suppressing me.” You’re not suppressing them. They are not under your control, and they never were. If they choose to stay with you, that is their choice. If they don’t like your rules, they have the choice to leave. Let’s be clear about this: if they choose to stay and then try to manipulate you with the idea that you’re suppressing them, they are not emotionally mature enough to build any kind of trust with you.
  • Or pleas of “this is just who I am.” Yes, this statement may be true and valid, but again, if they are not willing to make compromises/concessions, they do not have the skills to build any kind of trust with you.


  • Using polyamory to improve your relationship. This is as bad of an idea as having a baby to stabilize an already rocky marriage. Adding another relationship into an unstable dynamic is the absolute worst thing you can do. The best way to proceed is to first build trust and solidify the foundation of the existing relationship. Once that is rock solid, then you can move forward. Not only is this healthy for the two of you, but it’ll also be healthy for the third person that joins you.
  • This is why there is so much backlash in the polyamorous community against “couples seeking a third” or “unicorn hunters.” Many times these people are unprepared for the ways in which polyamory confronts their ideas of self-worth, and the foundations of their identities. They tend to take it out, both consciously and subconsciously, on the new “third.” They are treated as second-class relationships, with the existing couple always pulling the trump card of “our relationship with each other comes first before yours.” If you’re not willing to examine yourself, and have the concept of your identity challenged to its very core, you will have a hard time with polyamory.

There will be lots and lots of emotional turbulence in the first few years of exploring polyamory. It will test your self-awareness, emotional maturity, ability to communicate, and so much more. The path of exploring polyamory is definitely not an easy one, but it’s also rich with life lessons, and learning about yourself and your partner(s).

What I want to leave you with is this:
If you choose to explore polyamory, you will learn what it takes to make relationships in general work. It’s like getting these life lessons fired at you through a fire hose: it comes at you fast and furious. If you explore and then choose not to continue, please take these lessons back with you. They will help you with family, friends, co-workers & bosses, your kids, and yes even your monogamous partner, if that’s what you choose.

In the end, there’s no right or wrong way to live your life, and your life doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You get to choose your own path. Either way, make sure the people who are walking the path with you are people you can trust.

Have you encountered this situation in your life? Or has a friend encountered this situation?
What did this blog open up for you?

Please tell me, I’d love to know!
You can email me: Steve@CoachSteveYang.com

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