From Cheating to Polyamory

noelfigart recently asked if anyone on the Polyfamilies list would be willing to try writing an article about moving from cheating to polyamory. I mulled it a bit, and I’ve tried it. I’ll warn you—it’s long. But I’d appreciate feedback.

Please do NOT forward, copy or post this ANYWHERE. It may be submitted to a magazine if it doesn’t suck too badly.

I don’t have a snazzy title yet.

Frequently, newcomers to various groups in the polyamorous community introduce themselves with a tale of married woe. Ah, the poor person has just discovered that he is, in fact, polyamorous, after having entered into a monogamous relationship (usually a marriage). In most cases, the newcomer has already strayed into infidelity, and wishes to have his cake and eat it too, by convincing his wife to accept the relationship with the new lover so that they can all live happily ever after. I’m using the male pronouns for the sake of clarity, but I’ve certainly encountered both men and women in this situation.

The newcomer is usually surprised to find that he is not, in fact, welcomed with open arms. In fact, most of us are very, very hostile to people who cheat on their partners and call it polyamory, because that has absolutely nothing to do with how we are living our lives.

This person is frequently seeking advice on how to introduce the topic of polyamory to his spouse. I figure it’s better to be honest at some point instead of never doing so here is my advice to those in this situation.

I’ll be honest—I have never, not even once, known of anyone who has been able to move from an affair in a monogamous relationship to a healthy polyamorous relationship involving the same people. I’ve known of people who did cheat on their partners in monogamous relationships who later moved on to be polyamorous, but they did not salvage the original monogamous relationship. I’ve known people whose spouses cheated on them in monogamous relationships who ended them, then went on to explore polyamory very happily. That surprises a fair number of those seeking help in this situation. What you have to realize is that the real issue between you and your spouse right now is not polyamory or sex. It is your betrayal of the agreements between the two of you, and your dishonesty. You have broken her trust.

Now that you’re coming clean, you’d better do so completely. I mean 100%, absolutely, no holds barred, no little omissions or “framing” of the facts, truth. We’re talking radical honesty in its truest sense, and if you haven’t yet read Brad Blanton’s book on the subject you should do so immediately. Take it to heart. Do the exercises. Devour it, digest it, and make it a part of you.

Second, accept full culpability. Do not even allow yourself to maybe think just a little bit of this is anyone’s fault but your own. You are an adult. No matter what your emotions are, you are in control of your actions. No matter what the relationship with your wife was like, whether she “just (didn’t) understand (you)” or you aren’t getting as much sex as you’d like, or you just aren’t so attracted to her anymore, or you want to explore things that don’t interest her, this is your fault. It doesn’t matter how much effort your sweetie put into seducing or attracting you—unless you were actually raped, you chose to cheat. It’s All Your Fault. Accept it, know it, proclaim it.

Now—decide what you truly want. Do you want to be with your wife? Do you want to be with your wife only if she agrees to you remaining with your sweetie? Be sure to think about all the ramifications this is going to have—the effects a divorce, a polyamorous relationship, or you breaking up with your sweetie and remaining in a monogamous marriage (truly, without straying again) will have on your children, your extended family, your friends, your career—and you. Are you truly willing to do the very hard work over an extended period of time that it’ll take to just have a good marriage, let alone to have healthy polyamorous relationships?

If you’ve decided that you truly want to stay with your wife and have your sweetie too, and you’re willing to do the work, it’s time to talk to your wife.

Admit all that culpability. Do the full disclosure thing, radical honesty-style. You might, in fact, want to consider doing this with a very good marriage counselor present. I strongly advise it. Ask your wife to let you talk until you’re finish, and tell her everything. When you’re done talking, it’s her turn to talk until she’s finished. Let her say anything she wants to say, ask questions, etc. Answer any questions she has fully and honestly. I’d suggest having some kind of printed materials on hand about polyamory. Ask that she read them and consider the idea. You most certainly cannot present yourself as any kind of authority or as an unbiased source, now can you?

She may want some space at this point, because she’ll need processing time. That’s normal. I’d certainly need it!

Prepare yourself to accept her anger and resentment, and to acknowledge her right to those feelings and support her in expressing them in a healthy way.

Your wife really has several decisions to make now. First—does she trust you at all? Is she able to forgive the harm you’ve done, and is your marriage even worth the work it’s going to take to salvage it? It is highly likely that her friends and family will be telling her to dump you, or at the very least to not even consider opening your relationship in any way. Expect a lot of negativity from them towards you, and accept that you deserve it.

Second—if she trusts you, what does she think of polyamory? She’s likely to have a pretty negative view of it if her first introduction to it is from a philanderer. Many people assume that polyamory is just a way of prettifying swinging or infidelity anyway, which is one reason those of us who are polyamorous get pissed off at philanderers who want to claim that they’re really polyamorous.

Third, if she’s willing to try polyamory—is she willing to try it with you?

Fourth—if she’s willing to try polyamory with you, is she willing to agree to your involvement with your sweetie, who has already shown a total disregard for her relationship with you? Remember, she probably has no prior history or love for your sweetie, so there’s absolutely nothing to ameliorate the stark betrayal she has experienced at the hands of your lover.

You don’t get to unilaterally change the rules of your relationship with your wife. If you decide that you must remain involved with your other lover, and your wife wants a monogamous relationship, then you’re looking at a situation that does not contain any possibility for compromise.

If your wife says that she is willing to stay with you in a monogamous marriage, that’s her choice. It is her right to make that choice without being badgered by you. If you agree to it, do not do so with any kind of ulterior motive or long-term agenda of changing her mind. Break things off with your lover forever. It would be safest to avoid any contact with the lover at all.

If you can’t agree to the monogamous marriage your wife wants, the marriage is over. You should both proceed to working out the most amicable and least damaging way to move forward.

If both of you decide that you want to be together and are willing to try polyamory, then both of you really need to practice radical honesty as you proceed. Investigate the different ways that other people live polyamory. Meet poly people and get to know them—no, I don’t mean look for more lovers. Talk to people who are willing to open up and tell you about how they work out issues like jealousy, resources, child care, safer sex, etc. Meet people face to face, not just online—a net search should find a poly group in your area, or at least in the nearest major metropolitan area. You want to get to know people well enough to truly see how they live, not just the faces they choose to present online.

Be extremely honest with each other about what you do and do not like, and what you want to try. If something doesn’t work for both of you, be willing to give it up and move on to something else. There’s no One True Way to live polyamory other than being honest, open, and loving with all the people with whom you are involved.

Keep trying. Remember that this is a completely new relationship paradigm for both of you, and that you probably haven’t grown up with any role models as to how it “should” be done. That’s actually good, but it can cause you to feel lost in the woods.

Realize that while you are looking at what you want and don’t want in your relationships, you’re likely to find yourself questioning a lot of things you may have taken for granted in your life. Everything from how you will live, to just what sex means to you, to what constitutes a relationship, is up for redefinition now. Some people find that their religious beliefs are not supportive of polyamory, and end up seeking a new spiritual path.

Go very, very slowly. Do not rush. This is worth taking your time to do right. Be patient with yourself, your partner(s), and your relationships.

I’ll repeat that a good marriage counselor can be a godsend in this process. Someone who is accepting and supportive of both polyamory and monogamy is best. It isn’t always easy to find poly-friendly counselors, but I have found that good therapists are often more open to considering polyamory as a workable relationship model than you may think. The Poly-Friendly Professionals site is a good place to start looking.

If you’re introducing the idea of polyamory to a counselor with whom you already have an established relationship, print out copies of What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory and Working With Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting to give to the therapist. If you’re seeking a new therapist, ask them on the phone about their past experiences, if any, with polyamory, and ask that they read those articles before your first appointment if they are willing to work with a polyamorous person or couple in a supportive way.

Good luck!

Current Mood: 😯nervous
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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