I need some serious help with my relationship as my partner has cheated on me twice. We are both women, we met when we were 17 and we’ve been dating for two years now.
Both of us agreed from the start to be polyamorous, with the boundary that we would always tell each other before we hooked up with someone, or even tell each other when we found someone attractive. This detail is very important.
About a year ago my partner drunkenly made out with her best friend, which she admitted was cheating. It was really hard for me to get over that, because we used to have a lot of issues with fighting and yelling, but we had been doing so much better in our relationship before the cheating happened. It broke me because I thought we had finally started doing better. We made our boundaries around polyamory more clear at that time, but we would go back and forth. Often times my partner was extremely adamant about wanting to be monogamous. And back then I usually just said okay because I didn't want to hurt them. But I still had desires of the freedom polyamory offered. I never brought it up.
Eventually we agreed to be poly, but we HAD to tell each other if we were planning to sleep with anyone or go on a date.
Flash forward to now. About two weeks ago she met this guy, lets call him James, at her job. They hit it off talking about climate change and social justice and other things we are both interested in. They exchanged numbers and continued to talk on the phone and over texts.
Because of my trust issues causes by her past actions, I had a bad feeling about this from the second she told me she made a new friend in him. I asked her for DAYS, “Do you find this person attractive? Are you planning on hooking up with them?” and, “If you do want to hook up with him just let me know and I will be okay with it.” To these questions she responded no, no, and no. She said , “Obviously I would let you know that I find him attractive before I hook up with him, but at the moment I’m not interested in him in that way.” She told me to get off her back and that I was prying too much. So I let it go, thinking I must be overreacting. For some context, my partner has never expressed genuine interest in pursuing a sexual relationship with anyone besides me, even though we are poly.
Another important thing, her brother passed away about a month ago. He was only 22 and it was all very sudden and untimely. Since then she has started to act like a different person. She sometimes has reminded me of who she was back when we used to argue a lot.
So, yesterday morning she said she wanted to take me on a date. I said yes and I was excited. Later that day she told me she was actually going to go hangout with James and just grab a bite to eat. He is significantly older than her and we agreed that they were just going to get food and then she would come home. She agreed to turn on her location so I knew where she was, and that she would tell me where they were going. We always set these boundaries to ensure one another are safe.
First red flag, she didn’t turn on her location. She never texted me about where she was going, and when I called her to check in she told me to stop calling her. We got into an argument over text because I felt disrespected and nervous that she wasn’t going with what we agreed to.
Later on after some badgering I find out she is at his house. That is the ONE thing she promised me she wouldn’t do. It isn't safe for her to go to a man’s house that she has only met once in person who is also 13 years older than her. I don’t care if he’s a nice guy or what, I didn’t know him and my partner promised not to cross that boundary. She finally did send me her location though, and it was really close by maybe a 5 minute drive.
When she told me she was at his house I got pissed. I pettily said “Just sleep there to be honest because that is the ONE thing I told you I wasn’t okay with.” After that she just said, “I’m not sleeping here. I’ll see you when I get home.” Which I ignored. About 30 minutes later she texted me saying that she was upset with me for how I behaved, and that she decided to sleep over there after all.
I called her and started begging her to not sleep at a random older guy’s house that she just met. And I was already so betrayed by her lying to me about where she was, but I still wanted her to come home. I told her, “I will pick you up right now just please come home. We don’t have to talk I will sleep on the couch but please come home.”
She told me she didn’t want to see me and to leave her alone. So my crazy ass got in the car and drove to the apartment and I asked her to come outside just so we could talk. She refused and told me again she didn’t want to see me. She said, “Either go home or stay in the car all night. I don’t care.” And she hung up. When I tell you she has NEVER been this cold to me I mean it. It’s like she’s a completely different person who I don’t recognize.
After that I went home and I called her other brother, who we are both really close to. We’ve actually been planning to move out of our current state to go and live with him soon. I explained the situation and he couldn’t believe how she was treating me. He was mad too and he called her and told her to stop acting this way.
I talked to him a bit throughout the night because I was so lonely and broken. My partner told him when he called her that she would come home in the morning and talk to me. She didn’t come home until like 1pm. She instantly told me “We did have sex and whatever.” Boom. Heart. Fucking. Broken. I KNEW this was going to happen, I just KNEW it. And that’s why I was freaking out about them hanging out in the first place. She did EXACTLY what I was worried she’d do and what she promised she wouldn’t do.
But guess what? She said its not cheating because we are polyamorous, and that we never had a boundary of telling each other first. I don’t know if she’s saying that so she doesn’t have to confront what she did, or if she somehow just forgot that boundary. When I said “You cheated on me again?” she kept responding with, “It’s cheating TO YOU, but not to me.”
And she still doesn’t see it as cheating and I can’t get her to understand my perspective because she somehow thought we didn’t need to let each other know before we hooked up with people.
Earlier today I told her that I think we can work through this on a few conditions:
1. We have to agree that from now on we just have an open relationship with no strings attached. (Clearly she can’t help but go behind my back so I think the boundary we set before of telling each other isn’t even useful anymore.)
2. I don’t want her to hangout with James again. I’m okay with her hooking up with people in the future and she doesn’t have to tell me, but because she did this while we had our boundary in place, this is cheating and I’m not comfortable with them being friends. And if she can’t respect that I think we need to break up.
She agreed to the first condition, but the second one she didn’t. She said “Okay, I guess we should break up then.” She expressed that she felt by not seeing him anymore she was sacrificing her freedom. I told her it felt like she was picking some random dude she just met over me.
I have considered her perspective, and I really want to believe that she didn’t think she was cheating, but after all the times we talked about our boundaries around polyamory and she promised she wasn’t going to hook up with him, how can she not understand that this is cheating? I feel really gaslit.
We did have a heart to heart where she said sorry for hurting me and we hugged, but it really bothers me that she can’t see how this is cheating. She said she takes accountability for not explaining her perspective on what our polyamorous boundaries were. I just don’t understand how she didn’t realize we had that boundary when we have talked about it since the second we got together.
Anyways, we still keep going back and forth and she doesn’t want me to tell our friends about what she did because she’s worried they’ll think she’s a bad person. But she said she isn’t ashamed about what she did, so why are you afraid to tell people? It’s just the truth. I think she does feel guilty deep down and knows what she did. She hasn’t been acting normal since she told me and I don’t think she’s thinking rationally.
She also said that after her brother dying she feels crazy and out of control. She said she just wants to stop holding herself back and be free, and she had been feeling trapped in our relationship. I understand that and I understand my part in that but she also should’ve just told me she wanted to have an open relationship before having sex with someone else instead of waiting till after.
I don't know how to forgive her but I don’t want to leave her and leave the entire future we’ve been preparing for behind. I knew her brother that passed and I was close with him too. I’ve been there for her and her family through the entire grieving process. Her and I have gone through so much and always came out fine. I understand polyamory and that love is freedom, I am polyamorous whether I’m with her or not. But it just hurts that she didn’t talk to me when I would’ve been fine with it. She’s never lied to me like this before.
Part of me wants to explore with other people too, but now I don’t know if I genuinely want that or if I just want to do something with someone else so I feel like we’re even. She’s all I have and I used to be the only person she was interested in, now she has someone else and I still only have her. I feel like she’s leaving me behind. I know this has been extremely long, but I really really need help.
Should I forgive her and accept that it wasn’t cheating because our boundaries were unclear, or should I choose myself and let her go?
Honestly, I think you should consider leaving her and spending time alone until you feel you can make decisions that are not from a place of fear and until you can swear off not harassing or stalking anyone you date. I would consider seeing a therapist immediately.
Firstly, the rule that was made that you have to tell each other before you sleep with someone or have interest in someone — what is this supposed to accomplish? People often make this rule in order to somehow emotionally inoculate themselves against freaking out when they’re partner is with someone or so they can prepare but… this rule does not work. At all. If you want to know how your relationship will change once your partner has a regular partner, discuss that immediately.
This rule is about emotional avoidance when it comes down to it and the result is that you’re watching your partner like a hawk. You become hyper-vigilant and pick apart every interaction they have in a way that breeds distrust and resentment between the two of you. Instead of just trusting your partner to have conversations when they need to have them, you’re assuming they are going to “cheat” from the outset.
Everything about your interactions are so intense and RIGID. There is no room in your world for any nuance. Yes, she made out with a friend while drunk. A lot of people make mistakes like that, especially when they are young. But this is “Cheating” and because you are giving this so much weight in your mind. There was no process for her to be accountable for what she did and be forgiven. It seems like you both thought you had to be together for some reason and then you begrudgingly make some agreements designed to “prevent” this from happening again instead of… just allowing your partner to be a bit human and make mistakes.
Because you are so rigid, you demand to know whether or not she is interested in someone not because you have any interest in her having freedom or positive experiences, but so you can further observe and monitor her. I’m not surprised she denied it. Because if she would have said yes, then what more questioning would she then be forced to answer from you? And why does she have to answer these questions? Why does she have to let you know before she plans on sleeping with someone? What does that serve? If you don’t trust her, why are you even with her?
Furthermore, some of your “boundaries” are not boundaries at all. They are demands. Those are not the same thing. You behave in a way that assumes you know better than her about her own safety. You get to decide her levels of safety and you basically stalk her (and consider it a red flag when her location is not accessible to you at all times - that’s not a red flag! She has a right to privacy! She is not your property!), harassed her constantly, ignoring her blatant requests for you to leave her alone, drove over where she was to demand she come with you and phoned her family when she refused to give in to what you demanded. It’s not your decision what is safe for her. She is a grown adult. And even if she wasn’t this would be an abusive way to treat a child. This behaviour is incredibly frightening.
Sure, maybe in the strictest sense of the rules you placed down and you seemed to want to enforce on her as if she was a child you're mistreating, yes. Because she didn’t tell you explicitly she was going to sleep with that guy, she did “cheat”. But personally if given the option, I would rather date someone who drunkenly makes out with a friend or sleeps with someone without telling me (even though I would not make that a rule) than someone who tracks my location, does not trust me to make my own decisions and refuses to listen when I say “leave me alone” and attempts to recruit my family members when I don’t do what they demand. Cheating is not the worst error one can make in a relationship. And certainly not the only way to betray someone.
You also have an incredible amount of spite for her. Saying “she can’t help but go behind [your back]” and the way you speak about her as if she is a stubborn animal who refuses to listen to you… I don’t know why you’re with her. This isn’t a relationship. This is a war. You’re in a competition with her over who is right and who is wrong. She either sees it your way or she’s gaslighting you. She has somebody and you don’t. It’s a one up game. There is no way to negotiate or compromise with you because it’s your way or the highway. And if she doesn’t agree with you, there must be something wrong with her. If she has something, you have to have it.
And she said she was sorry for hurting you but did you apologise for tracking her and hunting her down? For harassing her? For showing up and ignoring her when she said “Leave me alone”. Leave me alone is another way of saying no. No means no. And you ignored that. In a basic way, you think you know better than her and that is not a healthy way to relate to anybody. You ignored her consent. That is a violating thing to experience and it is a violating thing to do.
I would advise you to let her go and do her thing and you go seek a therapist about your controlling behaviour here. Ask yourself some seriously hard questions about your gendered perceptions. It sounds like you were more of a threat than the random guy she just met. You can still stalk people, be intimidating, and violate consent even as a woman dating a woman. Maybe later on down the line you can think about the rules of “tell me before you sleep with someone” but the smallest problem here is the rule. The actual problem here is not only the complete and utter lack of trust, but the boundaries you absolutely feel entitled to cross when it suits you and the way you’ve treated your partner. That entitlement and ignoring someone when they say "Leave me alone" is something you should worry about more than who cheated on whom.
I honestly hope this helps and good luck.