The awkward conversation that might just strengthen your relationship. Here's how to have it.
Monogamy is tough. Whether you believe it’s as natural as the massive mammaries of Pam Anderson, or the air we draw into our bodies to survive, I think we can all agree – a lot of us struggle with it.
Part of what makes this struggle so difficult is our tendency to pretend it’s something that doesn’t need to be discussed. In fact, most couples never actually talk about what their commitment entails when making it. The reasons for this are twofold.
One, monogamy is society’s default relationship setting, which means a lot of us take it for granted, and two, in the beginning of a relationship you’re completely consumed with the butterflies in your stomach, and the way the person mesmerizes you just by their pure existence. Bringing up cheating is the last thing you want to do in that situation.
But by not having the conversation about monogamy you might be setting your relationship up for failure. Let me explain: if you want a monogamous commitment you need to honour its complexity by talking about it, and particularly, what you’re promising to refrain from. None of us are mind-readers (thank god!). Here’s how to do it.
How to discuss it
- Pick a neutral setting
When bringing up the subject of monogamy avoid places like the bedroom, or any other rooms that have a certain ‘charge’. Charged places are often associated with sexy times, and you want to try and keep it that way. Pick a setting that’s more neutral, for some it’s the kitchen, for others it’s a café. If you choose a public place, make sure you’re both comfortable with discussing sensitive subjects with others around. This could otherwise become a stickier situation than necessary.
- Remember you’re a team
Talk about what you’ll be discussing and why you’re bringing it up. Let your partner know that even if the subject is likely to stir up some emotion (especially if you or the other person has been cheated on in the past), it’s important to remember you’re on the same team. Keeping a friendly tone and avoiding judgment when you have different opinions is the key to keeping this feeling between you two.
What you should discuss
- What is cheating to you?
It’s the obvious question we usually forget to ask. Cheating can be so many different things – which is why it’s so important to cover. For some cheating constitutes a special kind of affair of the feelings, for others only a full-blown sexcapade registers as having stepped out on your partner.
Talk about what’s okay and what isn’t, and don’t be afraid if your definitions of cheating differ. The whole point of the conversation is to take note of these differences and then negotiate what you together will define as cheating within your relationship.
If the negotiation isn’t a successful one, this will also give you an idea of how compatible – or incompatible – the two of you are. It will also give you a strong sense of how well you’ll handle difficult subjects and compromise in the future.
- If it happens – would you want to know?
In the (unfortunately not so unlikely) event your partner might do the dirty with someone else – would you want to know? This is a tricky one. Your answer might change depending on the nature of the cheating.
You might want to know about a simple kiss, or you may only want to hear about it if penetration of any orifices has taken place. If you want to be told, make sure to also talk about how you’d want the message to be delivered. Would you prefer it face to face, in a letter, or an e-mail?
You might not reach a conclusion right away, and you may, again, have different opinions. It is however, still a subject worthy of lending some time and thought to. It’s okay if one of you doesn’t want to know, but the other does – as long as you promise to do what the other would like, you’ll be showing them you still respect them (even if the cheating feels like it suggests otherwise).
- Should you be checking for STIs?
An equally controversial and important topic for discussion is STIs (sexually transmitted infections). In the event of your partner having sex with someone else, would you trust them to take the necessary precautions to not put your sexual health in danger? Would you be put at ease to know you’re both getting tested on a regular basis?
Most would say checking for STIs is like giving your partner a free pass, or deciding from the get-go that it won’t work. Others may think this is a realistic approach to an unfortunate possible outcome.
Whatever you decide about check-ups, it will be worth having had the discussion, even if it is an unpleasant one. Putting your sexual health in someone else’s hands (sometimes, quite literally), isn’t something to be done lightly. Possible infertility and dangerous infections or diseases really are worth avoiding if you can, and this topic will help with that.
As your relationship grows and changes, so do you and your partner, which means how you relate to monogamy most likely will change too. Now that you’ve learned the importance of talking about cheating before you say you won’t do it, let this be a subject you return to. By talking about this sore subject you’re giving yourselves the best possible chance of a relationship built on a shared foundation – which in all fairness, usually means a happier one.
Leigh Norén is a sex-positive sexologist and counselor. If you would like to connect with her please click here.