Updated: Aug 23, 2022
If you practice consensual non-monogamy, can you cheat?
The short answer is, “Yes.”
I practice ethical non-monogamy. My friends who are monogamous often assume this means I can sleep with anyone I want, at any time, and my partners with just accept it. This is far from the case.
Ethical non-monogamy stresses the ETHICAL part. If you just sleep around, that is just non-monogamy. Ethical non-monogamy stresses practicing non-monogamy within boundaries.
Ethical non-monogamy and polyamory (a version of ethical non-monogamy) focus on the relationships you have and making sure people are on board with what is happening. It requires a lot of communication and self exploration to do it mostly right. This is the primary reason many people do not practice a form of non-monogamy. The communication involved is too much and it is based on you being honest and open about your intentions, what you do, and how you feel.
People in ethical non-monogamous relationships and poly relationships come to agreements on what works for them as a couple. There are more iterations of agreements than there are couples because these agreements can change.
The core of these relationships is trust and communication. There is also the basic recognition that one person can not be the “everything” to someone else. My experience tells me that everyone needs more than one person to be emotionally and physically intimate with. Ethical non-monogamy allows me to recognize that and help the person I love find what they need to be happy.
Everyone will have a different version of an open relationship. I am only including relationships where all parties know they are “open.” I have met too many people who say, “I have an open relationship, but my wife doesn’t know about it.” Um… that’s cheating.
People in ethical open relationships negotiate, then renegotiate, what is okay in the boundaries of their specific relationships. Whatever limits and boundaries you agree too within a relationship are up to you and your partner. If you violate those boundaries, you are cheating.
For example, if you and your partner agree that one of you can take another partner only after both partners have met that person, and you hook up with someone before introducing them to your partner, that is cheating. Likewise, if you practice One Penis Poly (OPP) where the woman can take on other female lovers but not other men, and she sleeps with another man, that is cheating.
Having clearly designed boundaries for your relationship will not prevent jealousy. Observing boundaries does not mean there will be no drama or hurt in a relationship. Just as monogamous couples who do not cheat are not assured a smooth ride just because neither party cheats, non-monogamous couples have all sorts of things that will cause issues and hurt. And, like monogamous couples, cheating is a major violation of trust.
Ethical non-monogamy does allow couples to recognize that there will be other emotionally and physically intimate relationships for each partner. The benefit over monogamy is that the couple has spoken about how they want these relationships to play out and what is okay for them.
Becoming involved with a non-monogamous person means that you will have more conversations and communication than you are probably used too. You may be meeting their partner(s) and have friendships or other relationships with your partner’s partner. This can seem weird if you have never done this before. It takes time and learning on everyone’s part.
If you opt to start a relationship with someone who is poly or practices ethical non-monogamy, realize you are about to engage in a major learning process. You will have the weird situation where you are at a party with four other people your partner has slept with, is on good terms with, and you will probably need a flow chart to figure out the relationships.
Communication and honesty is key. It takes time. It takes practice. It can hurt. But for people who choose to live in non-monogamous relationships, there are a lot of reasons and it makes they happy. Be honest about your feelings and desires. If you are not, you may be cheating.