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When Polyamory Leads to Cheating


Even with honesty, are open relationships a good idea or are we just evading serial monogamy?

I am a big proponent of exploring alternative lifestyles within your relationship, if both parties consent to it. However, as of late, I have myself began questioning the whole concept of open relationships.

One of the main concerns I hear over and over when discussing ethical polyamorous relationships (that is loving, intimate relationships with more than one person—based upon the knowledge and consent of everyone involved) particularly with people who are new to the concept or idea, is that there is a lot of fear. Fear, mainly, that they will lose their partner.

I used to be more idealistic I guess. I know, like the back of my hand, all the theories behind ethical slut-hood*, that is, healthy, honest and open relationships. And, for the record I both strongly and intellectually do believe they should work. I also know that they can work. I have seen them work. But I have also been confronted so many times with skepticism from people, who for the record I used to scoff at for being closed minded, while trying to educate them on the validity of the theories as to why they should work. 

In my practice I have come across this issue a number of times, and in my office they often present as failed polyamorous relationships. My conclusion now after years in the field is that polyamorous relationships work, until they don’t work anymore. And, how can they work for the long-term? Particularly in a society that promotes monogamy and labels sexual excessiveness with terms like sex addiction. We are rasied with a hetero-normative monogamous mindset and conditioning, which makes thinking in polyamorous terms sometimes easier said than done. 

It’s kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are we as human beings really monogamous beings or do we cheat and desire others out of a rebellion? Most sexual anthropologists might argue that we are more like serial monogamy-ists, at least that’s what it seems like. Most people do like the idea of monogamy, and like to feel committed and devoted to one person at a time. But these feelings do not necessarily stand the test of time, IE. till death do us part, as we’ve seen with people cheating, people breaking up, divorce, and of course open relationships, which really aren’t a new concept. Of course these, in my opinion can be remedied with a healthy dose of honest, real communication. But, do these occurrences, these dalliances come out of monogamy as a rebellion or do they exist because they mimic our true natural state of being? If we would just accept serial monogamy as part of human nature would this all really matter? Keep Reading...

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One thing I do know, both from personal experience and from my professional experience is that open, non-monogamous, polyamorous, or otherwise, relationships, if they are to be ethical, loving and genuine, take a little concerted work. These types of relationships take a little extra communication, energy and effort to be open, honest, conscious and conscientious all of the time, not just with your partner, but with yourself as well. And this is not always an easy task. And, with all this work at being real, keeping it open, and keeping it honest, sometimes it just becomes to easy to slip. I’ve had clients say to me, “It’s just easier to cheat.” They don’t have to worry about their partner becoming emotional, jealous, insecure, angry, vengeful, all real feelings which may come up and need to be dealt with.

It’s hard writing this article, as the open minded proponent and hard core left wing liberal of my camp, always having acknowledged that these open relationships are ideal, if we can just get over ourselves, our jealousy, our insecurity, and want nothing but the best for our partners, ourselves and our relationship, and start talking to each other, respecting our agreements. But the truth of the matter is, if we are indeed serial monogamists even as opposed to non-monogamists by nature, then as luck would have it, we do run the risk of losing our partner with every dalliance, every wink, every batted eye lash, that is to say if we are always looking for the one, even if there is open communication. Is it safe to say that this lifestyle works best with people who feel they have already found “the one” -a concept prescribed heavily in our culture? If things in the relationship are still hanging in the ambivalence zone, in our world where everyone is looking for a soul mate, a Mr. Right, or their happily ever after, then an open relationship may be hard pressed. Not to mention, I do think that people can use the polyamorous label to perpetuate unhealthy sexual practices, such as acts without implied consent and cheating, under the guise of an open relationship. The good news is, cheating is no longer a death sentence for the relationship, (although maybe sex addiction, the new "cheating" is) and we can overcome breakdowns in relationships with a little effort as well.

So, the bottom line, just like I would like to have an answer to say that the egg or chicken came first, as much as I would like to say that these occurrences happen because they do more organically mimic our natural state of being, but the truth of the matter is I cannot. In the end, what do we really know? One thing I can say, as a practicing sex therapist, and sex educator for the last 5 and ½ years and a healthy sex advocate for past 20 years, I do know that there is no right answer to love and happiness. And, it is just best to do your best and go with your gut as to what is best for you, while still of course, being as open and honest as you possibly can.

*Ethical Slut is a book by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt written in 1997 about healthy open relationships.

Moushumi Ghose is a musician, author and sex therapist

For more help with your sex and relationship concerns please connect with Mou at

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