I’ve been getting several letters that looks like this lately:
Dear Polyamorous Misanthrope,
My husband has had an affair and now wants to have a polyamorous relationship. She is pregnant, and wants him to live with her. How do I get over my jealousy and stop being so inadequate as a wife?
Any poly person who says that being angry at being mistreated is a symptom of inadequacy or that being jealous is somehow a personal failing isn’t someone you need to listen to at all.
Cheating and Polyamory
I’ve got some advice for both sides of the coin here. Maybe you’ve cheated on your partner and want to be openly poly. Maybe you’ve had a partner cheat on you and then decide poly is the thing to do. In both cases, I’ve got some less than pleasant things to say.
If You are the Cheater
To repeat to the people who have cheated and think polyamory is going to be their Get out of Jail Free card, please understand that polyamory does not work if you are:
- Lying to your partner.
- Insensitive to your partner’s needs and desires.
- Breaking agreements.
- Expecting your partner to be convenient.
If you have cheated and want to save your marriage, you are going to need to earn back your spouse’s trust. That is almost certainly not possible while still being involved with the person you’re cheating with. It may not be possible at all.
If You are Being Cheated On
If have been cheated on and are being told that you’re to blame because of your “insecurities…”
You are being gaslighted.
Everyone’s behavior is always their very own fault. If you slap your partner for cheating on you, you’re being abusive. Your partner didn’t make you do it. If your partner says you were too stifling and that’s why the cheating happened, the partner is still lying and breaking agreements. You didn’t make them do it.
Maybe you are insecure and need to work on that. Fair enough. Still not an excuse for breaking agreements. The only ethical options available are re-negotiating the agreements or breaking the relationship off.
What Good Relationships Look Like
I’m not trying to paint relationships as throw-away things, by the way. My shortest current relationship is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this summer. The relationships I have survive happily because of three things that are really important:
- We genuinely care about each other’s feelings.
I had a Bad Thing happen to me recently and the pain of it will hit me at odd moments. The last time FWB visited, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling all that sexy. He understood that and was fine with cuddling. Do I realize and like… care about the fact that he might have felt disappointed? Yep. Very much so. The point is that in good partnerships, there is mutual compassion.
I cannot overstate the fact that in a good relationship, the mutuality of care is crucial. You cannot abnegate yourself to earn the cookies of being cared about, though. If it’s not mutual, if it’s a one-way street, you are genuinely better off without that relationship. Love, deep down, is really what it’s all about. I say it over and over and over again. Without love, forget it.
- We are honest with each other.
This has to be the most important part of the whole thing. My husband and I really did nearly divorce because of a lack of honesty in communication. We learned to be honest about what we wanted to do or not, and never to agree to something we didn’t want. We found that where we disagreed, because we knew there were no hidden agendas, workarounds could easily be found that everyone could deal with happily. (Were that not so, we would have parted).
- We recognize duty exists in relationships
Duty is not a popular word and I have been in relationships that eyeroll duty. Never, ever again. It is my duty to be honest about what I think and feel as well as volunteer my emotional state. It is my duty to do what I say I am going to do. It is my duty to tell my partner if my feelings have changed and I want something else.
I do not consent to relationships in which people do not feel the same way about the paragraph above.
This makes it sound all harsh and cold and no fun, which is, I am sure, why the word has fallen out of popularity. But that’s not what my life looks like. It feels secure and comfortable. I know my partners will not grudgingly stay with me if they are unhappy. I know they’re in my life because they want to be.
I recommend a few articles, though, if you are dealing with a partner who has cheated on you, and you’re trying to decide what to do in the face of it. Yes, this is stuff I’ve written, but I think it’s important.
- How to Rebuild Trust
- Vetos (Hint: Hate ‘em and think they’re crap for learning appropriate boundaries)
- The Emotional Bank Account