Love, Sex

7 Ways To Determine If Your Polyamorous Partner Is Cheating

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Poly Love Advice For What Counts As Cheating In A Polyamorous Relationship

One argument against consensual non-monogamous relationships — like swinging, polyamory, and open relationships — is that it's just a way to cheat on your partner. Being in one of these relationships means there's no trust between you and your partner.


The definition of polyamory is "the philosophy or state of being romantically involved with more than one person at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved."

So, it could lead to having sex with people other than your partner, but it is not a way to cheat.

RELATED: Don't Get Into Polyamory Until You've Honestly Answered These 5 Questions

Meanwhile, cheating can be defined as anything you wouldn’t tell your partner — whether it's a text from some cutie you met the day before, lunch with a hot co-worker, flirting with the cute server while you are out for drinks with your friends, or having sex with someone when you didn’t clear with your partner first.

Cheating isn’t about sex. Cheating is about lying and deceiving.

For people in non-monogamous relationships, cheating can be as follows:

  • Not telling your partner(s) that you had a date with someone
  • Not telling your partner(s) of your true location with a date (such as being at a hotel instead of someone’s home)
  • Not using protection with other partners
  • Breaking any "relationship agreements" and then lying about it

Healthy relationships are built on trust and non-monogamous relationships, especially, take a great deal of trust.

If you have multiple partners, how do you define trust in polyamorous relationships? There are many ways, actually.

We must not only trust in our partners, but we also must have trust in our relationships and ourselves. We trust that our partners can and will be honest with us if they want to explore other relationship options.

We trust that our partners will be safe when having sex with other partners. 

We trust that our partners are going to be where they say they are going to be. We trust that our partners will come to us before deciding to change a "relationship agreement".

We trust that our relationship is healthy, strong, and honest enough to handle the stresses that come with non-monogamous relationships. We trust ourselves to work through our own insecurities enough to know the difference between insecurity about ourselves, relationship, or partners and what is not about being insecure.

What happens when that trust is broken?

Is the polyamorous relationship irreparable? Can trust be truly earned back? What happens when our partner cheats?

As with anything relationship-wise, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

There are several schools of thought when it comes to cheating partners. 

Some would say, to get rid of them. Once a cheater, always a cheater! You deserve better than someone who cheats on you, even if it was a one-time mistake.

Meanwhile, others would say that you should stick through it. It doesn’t matter if that person cheats again. Divorce is a sin. 

Again, it depends on the situation and how deep the trust issues go. The answer to "should I stay or should I go?" depends on any number of things. 

Below is a list of 7 questions for you or any of your beloveds should you find yourselves in a situation where cheating may have occured (it's not an exhaustive list but it's a good place to start.)

1. Has this happened before?

Has your partner done anything similar before to you?

If so, what was the extent of the damage caused? What happened? How long ago was it?

2. How serious was the offense?

While honesty and trust are huge in any healthy relationship, there are still levels of severity among cheating offenses.

Was it a kiss? Was it sex? Was it a text? It depends on your and your partner’s expectations within a relationship. For some, a kiss may not be a big deal. For others, multiple conversations with another person are as offensive as having sex with someone else.

Where are those boundaries for your relationship? Are those boundaries the same for you and your partner? Are you on the same page? 

3. Is the offending party remorseful?

When your partner was "caught", were they genuine in their apology? Were they sorry for the deed or for getting busted?

No one likes to get busted. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t authentically apologizing for their actions.

4. Were you gaslighted in any way during the apology?

There are some people who never like to be accountable for their actions. These people will gaslight the hell out of you until you are the one offering up the apology for their actions. This isn’t okay. We all need to be accountable for our actions.

When we hurt our partners and/or are deceitful with them, we alone chose to be deceitful and cause harm. Yes, there are reasons why someone chooses deceit over honesty. However, we are still responsible for the decisions we make.

5. How were you treated by your partner before, during, and after the cheating?

If your partner treated you like garbage and then cheated on you, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship completely.

If your partner was awesome before the deception and then became distant, irritable, or angry after getting busted, then there may be something more going on that you and your partner need to work on. Or maybe it's time to part ways.

Has your partner’s behavior towards you changed at all? Is it acceptable, healthy, or appropriate for you?

6. Is your partner willing to give you space and time to sit in and sort through your emotions?

This is so important. There are a lot of unpleasant emotions and thoughts that come with a betrayal of trust. These emotions can threaten to swallow us whole and leave us spinning in darkness with no indication of the way out.

There is no timeline when it comes to our emotions. You can't tell a grieving person to just get over it. So, you can't tell someone who feels deeply betrayed by a loved one to just get over it. These things can take time and the only one who can tell you it is time to move forward is you

RELATED: 8 Things People Keep Getting Wrong About Polyamory, According To Couples In Polyamorous Relationships

7. Is your partner prepared to work at earning your trust back?

This one can make or break a relationship of any kind. Once trust is given and then broken, especially by a loved one, it can be really hard to earn that trust back; and once trust is re-earned, there is no guarantee that it will be where it once was.

While this may feel incredibly frustrating for the one who has lost trust, it can be a very arduous journey for the one who is trying to trust again. When you've been betrayed by a loved one, you may start questioning past actions. You may start questioning the motives behind future words or actions.

No matter how much you may want to trust that person again, you may have that little gremlin whispering in your ear for a long time. It may take a great deal of work on your part and especially on the part of the offender, to earn that trust back. Your loved one needs to know that and be patient, understanding, and compassionate with you on that journey.

After and in between conversations with your partner; during and after introspection and reflection, I strongly urge you to have a conversation with someone you trust.

This someone could be a friend, family member, spiritual leader, therapist, or coach. This someone should be someone who can sit with you in empathy and leave all judgment at the door.

You don’t need someone telling you what to do or how to feel, what you do need is someone who can maybe help you figure out the answers for your particular situation.

Deceitful actions coming from someone we love, and trust are difficult to work through. What is important is that you do what you need to do to work through it and start healing.

If that means leaving the relationship, then do it. If that means working things through with your partner and staying in the relationship, then do it.

Find the support you need and start doing the work.

Whether staying or going, the healing will take work. The work ain’t pretty; in fact, the work sucks.

You can do it though.

If you are that trusted person to whom your beloved came for support, here are 3 pointers to help them get through this.

1. Listen

As tempting as it may be to jump in with whatever question comes to mind, let your beloved get everything out first.

Don’t start spewing off bad things about your beloved’s partner. Your beloved is likely feeling a great many things and probably some nasty, angry things about their partner.

However, if your beloved wants to work things out with their partner, you insulting that partner isn’t helpful. While I know many of us would gladly get out a shovel and tarp in aid of our beloveds, it isn’t about you or how you feel about your beloved’s partner. If you feel in your soul that your beloved’s partner is bad news, then help them come to that conclusion on their own by asking questions. 

2. Ask them what they need from you

It isn’t about you. At that particular time, your beloved came to you because they need something from you. That something could be a shoulder to cry on; a drinking buddy; someone to hold a punching bag; someone to talk them off the ledge of dangerous behavior; someone to just listen.

Don’t give unsolicited advice. I know this is harder for some than for others. Some of us think we have all the answers for any given situation and think that if everyone would just listen to our advice their lives would be better.

However, in this case, as within most, it is usually best if we hold onto our advice until if/when we are asked for it. Your beloved may be getting all kinds of unsolicited advice and the last thing they need is someone else telling them what to do.

3. Leave your judgment at the door

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of "Well, if this was happening to me I would…" or "I would have seen this coming…" or any other variation of judgment of your beloved and/or their partner. It is so rare these days to find people who we know aren’t going to be judgy towards us.

And the truth is, none of us really know what we would do in any given situation until it happens to us. So, leave that judgy shit at the door.

Remember that your beloved came to you because they love and trust you.

RELATED: 4 Surprising Ways Polyamory Cured My Jealousy Issues

Sara Neal is a Certified Professional Life, Spiritual and Relationship Coach. Whether your journey is about navigating through Your Spirituality, Relationships (monogamous or non-monogamous), Family Relationships (Conventional and Non-conventional), or all-around Personal Growth and Development, she will meet you wherever you need to begin. For more, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.