Can opening up your relationship prevent your partner from cheating?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I have been with my girlfriend for 8.5 years. Last October, I proposed and we're scheduled to marry each other in April of 2020. Of course it is normal to have second thoughts but she's having second thoughts due to both my parents and her parents having affairs during their marriage so she wants an open relationship in order to prevent that from happening in the future with us. Reluctantly, I agreed. Now I found out that she has had sex with a co-worker and I'm having a very hard time getting over it. I love her with all of my heart and breaking up is not an option. Any advice on how to get over this?
So, there are a couple of couple of things.
First and foremost, while I totally understand her anxieties, ultimately opening your relationship to solve or prevent cheating isn't really going to work. It really depends on why it is that people are cheating. Sometimes people cheat because they are kind of naturally non-monogamous or want to be non monogamous and don't know it’s an option so just kind of end up falling into monogamy and then end up cheating because they get tempted in one way or another.
And sometimes people cheat because they like the fact that it is something they shouldn't do. They enjoy the fact that it's secret. That it's bad. And you can still cheat in an open relationship. Like, cheating to me at least— And I think I'm open to the fact that people have different definitions of cheating. But cheating to me is when I have a partner who hides something from me or lies to me or does— lying by omission. Basically, if they're hiding something for me, that's cheating, and they don't even have to have sex with somebody else. If they are hiding something from me, then that is cheating to me.
So.. that can still happen in an open relationship. So if you’re partner had hid the fact that she had sex with this co worker from you, even if she technically had your permission, that would still be cheating. So the idea that opening the relationship will prevent cheating from happening isn't really true. You can still cheat in an open relationship. I think that she needs to think about better reasons. And you need to think about better reasons for being interested in open relationships. And that's the thing that kind of concerns me here.
Now, some people can open their relationships, and it's something their partner wants to do. They're very reluctant about it, and then later on, it really works for them. So the fact that you're reluctant to do it doesn't necessarily indicate that it's a bad choice. But I don't think that you have very good reasons right now to motivate you to tackle this because the thing is, is that… open relationships are somewhat known within our culture, but they're not necessarily very well known.
And when they tend to be known, people tend to say that they never work, and it can be quite difficult to navigate the waters of being in a relationship structure that you don't have a lot of role models for, that you don't have a lot of cultural support for. It can be a very difficult decision to make. And I think for a lot of people, what motivates them to stay with that is the fact that either A. They feel it something that is inherent about them, or, for example, I mean— those are the only reasons but the two reasons I can think of is that reason. And also for me as an example, I don't necessarily think I'm inherently non-monogamous, but I chose this because for me, it's a decision that I feel gives me the most freedom and that's what's important to me.
So that motivates me even through some of the crappier times and you will have crappy times because you have crappy times in monogamy. You have crappy times regardless of what kind of relationship structure you choose. But all that added stuff on top of it that can be quite difficult to navigate, such as dealing with the emotions and feelings of your partner being with someone else and you being raised in a society that tells you that's a bad thing. And all of a sudden you have all these feelings— that can be the anchor that you can cling to when you're dealing with all this stuff.
So if you don't have that anchor, that's kind of a problem, and it will also be a problem too, because this idea that, you know, you're doing this to prevent cheating isn't really an anchor. That's not really— it's sort of like giving up almost. Because even if your parents both have had affairs, there are plenty of monogamous people who remain monogamous for their entire lives. And it's a legit thing. So there are people who cheat. There are people who don't cheat. So that's not really a good solution. That's like only ever deciding to order take away because you might burn something sort of but… it's not necessarily really a good motivation for what you're doing.
And I think that you both really need to sit down and think about— is this what you really want? What is your ideal life look like? How do you foresee an open relationship playing out? Like normally when people say “open relationship”, what they mean is that— there are two people usually in a marriage and they are committed to one another in a, not just an emotional sense, but in a financial sense in everything else but they're allowed to have sexual relationships with other people, but not necessarily deep, romantic relationships with other people.
That's generally what is referred to as an “open relationship”. That may or may not be what it is that you've negotiated. You don't really know. Like— opening up your relationship to prevent cheating doesn't really define what it is that your relationship is supposed to look like. Because, I mean, you could say, “All right, well, we're going to have a relationship where, if something happens, or if I get the chance, I might sleep with someone else, but I'm not going to pursue it”, which is different. So you haven't really talked about that kind of stuff. So, I mean, it doesn't say that you have.
And so you have all these feelings now that she's had sex with a co-worker, because you know, you're very unanchored in what all of this is supposed to mean. And because you've done it just to prevent cheating, that's not really an anchor to anything. So what does your relationship look like? Do you really want an open relationship? Do you see a benefit out of it? Are you interested in any part of it? Also I’m not going to assume too much about your girlfriend. But I wonder how soon after agreeing or come— or having this kind of reaction did she sleep with that new person?
Because I do think sometimes people— especially if they're getting married— You know, getting married does effectively mean, if you mean the marriage that this is the last person you're ever going to sleep with for the rest of your life until you die. And I think sometimes people don't really think about that until it gets closer and closer to that date. And then they kind of freak out. And then they decide to have one last hurrah. So I'm wondering, you know, if it's a co worker, and it’s someone that she's known for a long time already… was this kind of her having a bit of a panic and getting married and going, “Oh, no, we should open our relationship” and sleeping with this new person as kind of way to work out the anxiety, because that is possible.
I'm not sure but I find it a little bit… You know, I'm interested to know what the timing is. I'm not saying that she only opened your relationship so that she could have sex with this co-worker. That does happen though. Quite a lot of times, sometimes people are only motivated to ask for open relationship, when there is a clear specific advantage in front of their face. It's not to say that she or anyone else didn't necessarily feel motivated to be in an open relationship before, because quite a lot of people might think about it and think about it and think maybe maybe, and then when they have someone who they actually want to date in front of them, then they're like, Oh, yeah, definitely.
So it's not to say that she's necessarily intentionally being dishonest, but, you know… you need to unpack it. That just saying, “Oh, I want to open the relationship because I'm afraid that we might cheat on each other,” just isn’t— like I've been saying it isn't enough. I think another thing that I really, really want to add is that, if you love someone with all of your heart— especially if you love someone with all of your heart, breaking up should be an option.
People tend to understandably think that breaking up is always a horrible choice. And sometimes breaking up is actually the least painful and the best choice in some situations, especially where people are inherently incompatible. And staying with someone who you're inherently incompatible with, can sometimes only lead to you eventually, clashing, clashing, clashing so much to the point that you become angry and resentful toward one another, and then your breakup— rather than being sort of a mutual acknowledgement as adults that you know, we do love and care for one another, but we just aren't going to work. You know, that separate— it's not a fun separation, but that separation is much more easier to digest and actually less painful than staying with each other out of habit or because of a lost— I think it's called a lost cause fallacy. It's sort of like where you— or a sunken cost fallacy. It’s where you basically think, “Well, I've put so much into this, I have to keep going, and I have to keep going”. But actually, it's just convincing you not to give up when you should it and then you just keep sinking and sinking and sinking.
You know, that isn't actually good. That's sometimes worse. So you really need to rethink— I'm not saying that you should break up. But I think that you really need to rethink the idea of “Oh, I love her with all my heart and breaking up is not an option”. If you love her with all your heart, it should definitely be an option because if you love her with all your heart, then you should love her enough to feel like if this is a choice she wants to make with her life, and it's not a choice that you want to go on, you need to make a better decision to end the relationship— as hard as that is and it's like easier said than done— to end the relationship and go your separate ways before you eventually drive each other crazy— I'm sorry, I should say that— eventually until you, you know, hurt one another because you're going to be butting heads.
If you are so incompatible, that you're going in different directions, it's much, much better to break up before you start to tear each other apart. So I think you really need to think about that. I don't necessarily think you need to break up. “Getting over” the fact that she slept with another person is really, really complicated, because the thing that I would advise you use to deal with all of these emotions is the original agreement you had and why you made it, but you haven't really made an official agreement, as far as I can see.
You just sort of tangentially kind of said, “We’ll open this relationship so we don't cheat on each other”. But you haven't really talked about what your relationship is supposed to look like, how other people play into that, what your ideals are. You haven't really chosen a non-monogamous situation. It's been thrust upon you. So it's hard for me to advise you on how to get over that when I don't know if you should get over that.
I think what you need to do is pause your marriage and find a polyamory friendly counsellor who can kind of sit you both down and go through— I think she especially needs to work on her fear around cheating, because that— at the end of the day, your kind of contract is a bit null and void. Because if your entire contract is “We're opening our relationship to prevent cheating” — that isn't what opening your relationship will do. It's not going to prevent cheating. You can still be dishonest and cheat in an open relationship.
So you have to kind of renegotiate your contract and you have to kind of come up with reasons why an open relationship is something that you both want to pursue, why you want to pursue it and if the way you want to pursue an open relationship works for the both of you. Because there's tons of different ways to do an open relationship. You might actually find that maybe what you want is more of a polyamory setup where you want to have romantic relationships with other people and not just sex.
And if she wants no romantic relationships with other people, you both could want an open relationship, but want fundamentally different things and still be incompatible. So you really need to sit down and have a good discussion about this, and a thorough discussion about this to figure out what it is that you both actually want. So yeah, I think that basically, to sum up kind of what I've said, you know, an opening in a relationship isn't going to prevent cheating.
You need to figure out if an open relationship is something that you actually want. You need to figure out what your agreement is with each other. And I think it might also be worth exploring her fear of cheating because I do think that— let's say you both end up wanting an open relationship. You both make agreements about it. If she's very, very terrified of cheating happening, I think she's going to experience a heck of a lot of anxiety when you date someone. You know, that's going to be a big issue for her because she clearly has a lot of fears around that.
And she still could be afraid or experience a lot of anxiety in open relationships. Opening a relationship doesn't solve all that magically. You
also I think, should pause the marriage and think about seeing a polyamory friendly counsellor that can help you with this. And last but not least, breaking up is definitely always an option. And is definitely always an option if you really love someone because sometimes that is the that is the best thing that you can do for someone that you love.
I think another thing that I would add— last thing I would add is that you may find in talking all this out with a polyamory friendly therapist, who's kind of open to keeping all of your options open, is that maybe having an open relationship isn't necessarily what she wants. It's just that she has all of these fears around cheating for some reason, or like I said, maybe it was the anxiety of, “Okay, I'm committing to this person. I can't sleep with anyone else. Again, this is getting real. I need to go out and have a last hurrah” or something like that. You have to kind of address those things. You have to address those fears and talk them out.
And maybe in talking them out with a therapist, she will then go “Okay, maybe I don't actually really want an open relationship. I just needed to express these things in some way. And now that I have, I've changed my mind”. Who knows? It's it’s… I can't really predict that. But I think that you do need to be able to talk about this and you should do it if therapy is an option available to you.
Because I think someone who is polyamory friendly, is not going to immediately dismiss an open relationship as an option and will actually be able to work on your communication. Because I think if you've been together for eight and a half years and you're getting married, I'm not saying you should never be afraid that your partner will cheat on you. But it does hint at something that's lacking in your foundation together.
You know, it is a lack of trust in you. And she needs to kind of be able to address that. Because if there is that kind of crack in your foundation, where —for whatever reason that maybe you can or can't control, she doesn't trust you— that is going to manifest in other situations down the line. And you shouldn't be building something together on a foundation that's shaky because that'll only continue to give both of you anxiety. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.