Episode 101: Reconciliation or Retribution

Your partner comes home from a date and needs reassurance, but you can’t give it in that moment. Is this something to overcome?

Your new non-monogamous relationship has begun from cheating — and your partner wants to keep dating the person they cheated with. How do you rebuild trust from that?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

Can you tell when you have feelings for someone?

Listen here on or on Anchor. Visit the Anchor website to find where else the podcast is distributed or use this handy RSS link.


This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use my affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

My partner  and I have lived together for 2 years and just moved into a new home. We have been together almost four years and he just cheated on me while we were doing a month and a half of long distance (for work) and now he has gone back and forth about what he wants. He’s started an emotional relationship with this other person and they’ve made out. He’s told me he really wants to have sex with her and that he’s not sure what he wants overall.

He’s coming home in a little over 3 weeks. He says he misses me but also wants a break to do what he wants. He says he thinks he might be poly[amourous]. He keeps going back and forth about what he wants. (Ie one day saying I miss you, the other saying I want this person so bad and I won’t stop seeing her). We’ve talked in the past about his sexuality and his identity and I’ve been supportive and encouraging through those conversations but he’s never come to me and said I’d like to talk about non-monogomy with you or expressed any intentions of being non-monagomous together.

He’s never been in a polyamorous relationship before either. I want to respect his needs and his identity but based on the articles and research I’ve read, I understand that polyamor[ous] relationships take a lot of trust and honest communication. I’ve told him it makes me uncomfortable with him being with this person alone since he broke the trust of our monogamous relationship and already took action without any sort of discussion.

I told him I’m open to discussing changing the dynamics of our relationship but I feel that we need to rebuild our trust, seek a counselor who specializes in non-monogamous relationships and start to develop what our terms would be before we enter into a new relationship dynamic and before either of us take action, or continue with someone else. He says he cannot stop seeing this person.

I just don’t understand how we can enter into a new relationship dynamic from a place of deceit and lack of communication. I don’t feel it’s fair to start being-non monogamous with this person because that relationship started from deceit and betrayal of the agreement we entered in to.

I feel more hurt by the lying and the betrayal of our monogamous relationship than the possibility of developing a non monogamous relationship. I feel like I was left out of the conversation and not given time or space to express what might also work for me, he just went ahead and opened our relationship without any conversation and I feel like my feelings were not considered or taken into account at all.


First thing that I want to say is that the idea that he misses you and wants to be with someone else isn't necessarily a mutually exclusive idea or a sign of going back and forth. And that all relationships take trust and communication, not just polyamorous ones. I do understand where you're coming from in feeling really confused. He probably also feels really confused and is unsure about what he wants to do.

You know, not everyone is introduced to non-monogamy in the same way that some people are introduced now more so than ever to, you know, being bisexual, to being a gay or lesbian. You know, we are introduced to that, usually not in the happiest of terms, but we're introduced to the idea. Most people aren't introduced to the idea that non-monogamy is a thing except maybe through some mentions of polygamy or things like that, Most people don't know that non-monogamy is a thing.

So it's not really realistic to expect people to come to you from the start of your relationship and say “I want non-monogamy”. It might be — and quite a lot of times — it is cases where people discover that they might be interested in non monogamy through situations like this. It's obviously not ideal. And I absolutely do understand why you feel betrayed and unhappy about this. Like I'm not trying to make light of the situation. He did break your agreement. He did cheat on you.

But understand also that at this point, saying “Well, you should have brought this up earlier” or “you've never brought this up” as if because he's never brought this up his interest in it now is not genuine, is not really fair. You're setting the blame of him breaking your trust onto this person, as if getting rid of this person is going to make you forget about the fact that he broke your trust or that it's somehow a retribution. Getting rid of this person is a bandaid on the wound.

It may make you not think of the fact that he broke your trust and it may kind of solve something within you emotionally. But it's kind of not really solving the problem. Like you're addressing the symptom and not the disease. The cat is already out of the bag. You know, I understand why he doesn't want to break up with this person and you can't undo what's been done. Him breaking up with this person now is not going to undo what's already been done. And part of you understandably — very understandably — wants to go back into the position you were in before when he didn't break your trust.

And you really can't and breaking up with this person is not going to put you back into that situation. And it's very understandable that you want this but actually forcing him to break up with someone else is not likely going to get you both on a better path to trust. Because that's what's happened here. Trust has been broken. And you know that the person responsible for that trust being broken is your partner, not the person that he cheated on you with.

And from your perspective, it's really important that you also recognise that the person that he cheated with is a person and from your perspective their relationship is something of deceit. But that's not necessarily the perspective of this person. So why should they pay for that? It's not really their fault either. Understandably, you could go into like, did they know that your partner was with somebody else?

They could have helped them— you know, but the issue isn't actually this person. The issue is that you feel hurt and that needs to be addressed and forcing him to get rid of this person as payment for your hurt is not really fair and it's not actually going to fix the problem. It's just retribution. It's not a sign of trust. You may feel emotionally like it would be a sign — like a sacrifice, a sacrifice made to you in order to resolve the situation.

But actually, it's not necessarily a sign that he's going to apologise for what he's done, that he's going to make an effort to get your trust back. It may feel like that is a way that he can do that. But it's not actually a tangible thing. Like it doesn't fix what's going on in between you. It doesn't address the reasons why he might have gone ahead with making out with this person without talking to you first.

I agree that you should probably seek a counsellor. I think you might struggle to find one who specifically specialises in non-monogamy.

And I don't always think that you have to have a therapist who is well versed in non-monogamy because some of the basic issues here that need addressing are things that I think most therapists should be able to address without knowing about non-monogamy. You just don't want a therapist who's going to basically be like, “Well, your problem is that you're trying to be non monogamous. So you should stop that”.

You obviously want to find one that's aware but don't necessarily limit yourself by only finding someone who specialises in it. And I think that with the counsellor you can discuss with each other how he can address your feelings, validate your feelings, because at the base of this issue is that you don't feel seen, and that's kind of why you want him to dump this other person because dumping this other person feels to you like you're being seen, like your feelings are being recognised.

I do feel like there are probably ways that he can address the hurt he's caused you and that he can recognise your feelings and that you can build trust without him dumping this person. And my concern is that if he dumps this person, what's actually going to happen is that you have a couple things going on probably within you right now. First, obviously is the emotional reaction from being hurt, the lack of trust, the bond that you've had, the agreement you've had that's been broken, but also there is all of this emotion that you will naturally feel.

Even if he came to you and did all the things right you would probably still feel like crap. You would probably still be afraid. A good deal of people are afraid when they start in non-monogamy because they've grown up in a society which has told them their entire lives, that monogamy is the way to go. So you're naturally going to be afraid and a lot of people — quite a lot of people if you go back and listen to some of the podcasts or even consume any polyamory associated media, and I'm sure you have since you already mentioned it.

A good deal of people start off, both of them, you know, not cheating or anything like that. They both agreed to non-monogamy. They open their relationship. They expect to feel wonderful, they feel like crap, they get freaked out and they close it. And that's [a] very common path. So not only are you dealing with the feelings of betrayal, but you're also really scared and a lot of people who do open their relationships and their partner is sort of trapped in NRE with this other person, is interested in this other person and that scares the shit out of them want their partner to dump that other person so that they feel safe again.

And they do sometimes feel safe. Their partner dumps that other person. The threat is neutralised and then they feel like they can be safe again. So there is probably also part of you wanting him to get rid of this other person not only because they remind you of the trust and the bond that's been broken, but also because it will feel a little bit safer. It'll be easier for you to deal with some of these feelings if you don't have to deal with the immediate threat. And the thing of it is is that that threat is going to happen regardless.

If you want to open your relationship, if you can find an anchor for yourself — and if you're unsure of what that concept is, on my website, there's a one on one and 102 article which you might want to review. There's also my book The Anxious Person's Guide to Non-monogamy which will go more into depth about what an anchor is, but you will naturally feel a sort of feeling of threat because of the non— you know, the monogamous society that you've grown up in. So getting rid of this threat isn't going to fix that and actually, it might be better for you and for your relationship, if you're able— It's a lot to deal with at once, which is why I definitely agree that you should seek a counsellor or therapist to help you work through that.

But getting rid of this threat isn't going to actually fix the problem. It's just going to temporarily neutralise the situation. So— and also I think you should probably try to expand your perception of the situation a little bit. It's not as simple as opening the relationship from a good position and then you're kind of solid and everything's fine. You're trying to create stability out of this to make up for the lack of stability you feel now, but it's just not that simple.

And try to listen to the story that you're telling yourself about what happened. It's not as simple as him just deciding to cheat on you. It's not as simple as him just not caring about your feelings. You're telling this story to yourself — that he just didn't give a shit about your feelings. And understandably, that's how you feel. And I'm not saying that your feelings are wrong, but they aren't the sole perspective of the situation. And from his perspective, it's probably not that simple.

It probably wasn't as simple as “I’m going to destroy my connection with my partner that I care about in order to snog this other person” like it's just not that simple. So trying to understand that you have this very understandable reaction and valid perspective, but it's a little bit more complicated for your partner. It's also complicated for the person that he decided to cheat with. And understanding that complexity will also maybe help you not make the situation so black and white, and therefore it might help in some of the feelings of betrayal that you feel.

Because when you understand that it isn't just as complicated— you know, it isn't just as simple rather as stabbing you in the back, then maybe you won't feel quite so betrayed. And then I think also once you get with a counsellor that can help you work through these feelings, some of the things like the anchor that I mentioned, but also the practicalities of what this means, like you know, how will your relationship change? Do you actually want to be non-monogamous? Are there benefits to you being non-monogamous that you can see for yourself?

And that will help you think about okay, “How do I separate me feeling betrayed and all of this stuff from what I actually want out of life? Whether or not I want non monogamy? Whether or not I want this to continue?” And also keep in mind that sometimes violations of our trust, sometimes violations of our boundaries are things that we can't forgive someone else for. And that doesn't necessarily make you a bad person. It may be that not only— you know, you could be interested in non-monogamy but still not want to be with him. Because unfortunately, the trust can't be rebuilt.

So there's lots of different options for what might happen. But I think that demanding retribution by way of him breaking up with this other person— you may not see it as demanding retribution, but actually that is kind of what it is. You want him to prove his trust to you and his commitment to your relationship by sacrificing another relationship. And there isn't really a way to do that without him feeling resentful towards you, understandably resentful towards you.

And that's not a good— It's ironic that you feel like beginning a non-monogamous relationship from a place of of betrayal is not a good way to begin it but it's better to begin it from a place of him resenting you and you forcing him to get rid of somebody and you build— that's also not a good way to begin a non-monogamous relationship in terms of one partner forcing the other to do something they don't want to do. That's not also not a good place to begin any relationship from. I understand completely why you feel that way.

I'm not saying that it's a bad way to feel. There's no shame here. I understand all of the feelings that you have here. But it's just about — okay, there are a couple things you need to figure out here. You need to figure out one are you in a place where you are able and want to forgive this betrayal and violation of your agreement? Can you understand why it happened? Are you interested in non-monogamy yourself? Without it being your as I said, like if you go through and read my 101 on 102 articles, your anchor shouldn't be about saving your monogamous relationship because if you are going to proceed into a non-monogamous relationship fundamentally your relationship will change.

In the same exact way that if you decided to be you know— when you decided to be long distance if you expected your relationship to be the exact same as it was when you were in person together, that would have been unrealistic. So there are a couple of things that you need to work out. Understand that you're dealing with emotions that —not only are you dealing with the emotions from this violation of your agreement, but you're also dealing with very understandable anxieties about opening your relationship. So there's a lot to break down there.

I definitely think you should see and find a counsellor and there are a couple of questions there that are kind of up to you as an individual to figure out with your own personal values and what you want out of life. And I think that once you have a sit down and think about that, it is possible that you guys could proceed from that, Please understand that lots of people begin their journey to non-monogamy because they've never been exposed to this before.

Many people do begin non-monogamy from a place of cheating. And there are ways to deal with that. There are ways to cope with that. There are ways to heal from that. But it just comes down to a lot of different factors and a polyamory friendly therapist could help you work through those so I hope that helps and good luck.

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