Coming Clean: Transitioning From Cheating to a Polyamorous Relationship

Note: This article can be useful for those who are the victims of infidelity, but I wrote another article particularly for them as well.

Frequently, newcomers to various poly groups introduce themselves with a tale of woe. Alas, after entering into a committed monogamous relationship (usually a marriage), the poor person has just discovered that they are, in fact, polyamorous. In most cases, the newcomer has already strayed into infidelity and wishes to have their cake and eat it too now. They ask for advice regarding how they can convince their spouse to accept the relationship with the new lover so that they can all live happily ever after.

The newcomer, who I’ll call Chris, is usually surprised to find that they are not, in fact, welcomed with open arms. Most of us are very hostile to people who cheat on their partners and call it polyamory because that has absolutely nothing to do with actual polyamory.

Chris is frequently seeking advice on how to introduce the topic of polyamory to their spouse. I figure it’s better to be honest at some point instead of never doing so, so here is my advice to Chris.

My Experience

I feel a need to be utterly honest about several things right up front: in over 30 years of being polyamorous and knowing other poly people, I have never, not even once, personally known 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 cheated 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 the monogamous relationship, then went on to explore polyamory very happily themselves. (That fact 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. It is about your dishonesty and dishonorable behavior. You have broken your spouse’s trust.

What to Do Now

Now that you’re coming clean, you’d better do so completely. I mean 100% truth, absolutely, no holds barred, no little omissions, no “spinning” anything. Tell the raw truth about who, where, when, what happened, how long, etc. Don’t even think about leaving out past indiscretions. Don’t fool yourself that they don’t need to know all of that or that you’re “protecting them.” We’re talking about radical honesty in its truest sense. 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 spouse was like, whether they “just (didn’t) understand (you),” you aren’t getting as much sex as you’d like, you just aren’t so attracted to them anymore, or you want to explore things that don’t interest them, the transgression is completely your fault. It doesn’t matter how much effort your sweetie put into seducing or attracting you. You chose to cheat. It’s All Your Fault. Accept it, know it, proclaim it.

Your next step is to decide what you truly want. Do you want to be with your spouse? Do you want to be with your spouse only if they agree to you remaining with your sweetie? Be sure to think about all the ramifications this is going to have. What effects will a divorce, opening your marriage to polyamorous relationships, or you breaking up with your sweetie and remaining in a monogamous marriage (truly, without straying again) have on your children, your extended family, your friends, your career, yourself? Are you honestly 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 spouse and have your sweetie too, and you’re willing to do the work, it’s time to talk to your spouse.

Note: DO NOT confide in anyone other than a professional therapist until after you have come clean to your partner. No matter how tempting it is and how much you want someone else’s advice, having another friend or family member know about your infidelities before they do will be another kind of betrayal. If they hear so much as a whisper about your affairs from anybody but you, they will be humiliated and you will be in even deeper trouble. No, you don’t owe any other lovers a warning that you are coming clean to your spouse.

Admit all that culpability. Engage in full disclosure, 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 spouse to let you talk until you’re finished and tell them everything. When you’re done talking, it’s their turn to talk until they’re finished. Let them say anything they want to say, ask questions, etc. Answer any questions they have fully and honestly. I’d suggest having some kind of printed materials on hand about polyamory. Ask that they read the material and consider the idea. You most certainly cannot present yourself as any kind of authority or as an unbiased source, now can you? You may need to confess in one session, and then talk about polyamory in another.

Be Prepared

They may want some space at this point because they’ll need processing time. That’s normal. In fact, they may not want you in the home you share together. Be ready to stay elsewhere if they don’t want you anywhere near them. If you arrived in one vehicle for a counseling session, consider ahead of time how you will get home or to your alternate destination. If you can have an overnight bag ready without alarming them, do that.

Prepare yourself to accept their anger and resentment, to acknowledge their right to those feelings, and to support them in expressing the feelings in a healthy way. Don’t assume that they’ll forgive you, or that they’ll be willing to do anything to work on salvaging your relationship. They might, in fact, walk out to call a divorce lawyer. They are certainly within their rights to do so.

The Spouse’s Reaction

Your spouse has several decisions to make now. The first is to determine whether or not they can trust you at all now. Are they able to forgive the harm you’ve done, and is your marriage even worth the work it’s going to take to salvage it? If they confide in their friends and family, it is highly likely that those people will be telling your partner 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.

One caution: many people, when faced with the knowledge that their spouse has been unfaithful, will have a “revenge affair” of their own. It’s never healthy, but it is common.

Next, if they have decided that they can trust you or that the trust between you can be rebuilt, what do they think of polyamory? They’re likely to have a pretty negative view of it if their 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 are so offended by cheaters who want to claim that they’re really polyamorous.

If your spouse decides to forgive you, there’s something you need to keep in mind: “forgiveness” does not mean, “I’m forgetting what happened and everything is like it used to be.” Expect periodic recurrences of any initial explosions of anger, shame, grief, and pain.

Is Polyamory Possible?

If they’re willing to try polyamory (or a mono-poly relationship), are they willing to try it with you? Polyamorous relationships require even more trust, respect, work, and healthy communication from those involved in them than monogamous relationships do. Part of that is because they are not our cultural norm, and part of it is because every person added to a relationship or network of relationships increases its complexity and potential for problems. You have already demonstrated a great lack of respect for them, your commitments, and yourself. You have broken the lines of communication between you. You are not looking like a great candidate for healthy polyamory right now.

If you get past those hurdles you have another big one. If they’re willing to try polyamory with you, are they willing to agree to your involvement with your sweetie, who has already shown a total disregard for the spouse’s relationship with you? Remember, your spouse probably has no prior history or love for your sweetie, so there’s absolutely nothing to ameliorate the stark betrayal they have experienced at the hands of your lover. Yes, your lover has betrayed your spouse if they had any idea that you were in a monogamous relationship. Your lover has proven themselves to be a dishonorable person every bit as much as you have.

Return to Monogamy?

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

If your spouse says that they are willing to stay with you in a monogamous marriage if you’re willing to do that, that’s their choice. It is their 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 their mind. Break things off with your lover forever. It is safest to avoid any contact with the lover at all.

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

Giving Polyamory a Chance

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 polyamorous people and get to know them. Don’t even consider looking for more lovers right now. (Polyamorous people have a derisive saying for that, “Relationship broken, add more people.”) 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 thorough search should find a polyamorous networking or support 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 honest with them about your situation.

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 for it. That’s actually good in some ways, 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 and 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. Your relationship is worth the investment of time, care, and energy it will take to heal your relationship with your spouse and explore new options. Be patient with yourself, your partner(s), and your relationships. Go as slow as is comfortable for the most conservative, possibly-reluctant person involved.

Get Help!

Again, 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 Open List 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, point them to What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory (PDF) and Working With Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting. Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has also written a good article, Where Therapists and Counselors Can Learn About Polyamory. If you’re seeking a new therapist, ask them on the phone about their past experiences, if any, with polyamory or ethical non-monogamy. 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. If so, immediately drop off or email the articles to give them time to read and consider the material.

Good luck!

58 thoughts on “Coming Clean: Transitioning From Cheating to a Polyamorous Relationship

  1. This moralism without any sense of pity for human weaknesses breaks my heart in two, really. It seems like the agreement (in this case fidelity) is more important than the person. Yes, some feelings were hurt. But if there is love, if the cheater still loves the cheated and at the same time loves his or her lover why in the world there must such a violent attitude towards him or her? Is polyamory love without limits or not? You dare to call a confused and scared person (the cheater) “dishon­or­able”. Why make this a question of honor? Why condemn people for the sake of an abstract concept? I feel the protestant, violent white american attitude here, but perhaps I’m wrong, and I just came from a stupid Mediterranean culture and don’t understand this

    1. Fidelity as a concept is not more important than people, but when two people agree to a monogamous relationship, fidelity is one of the most important elements of that agreement. Poly love by its nature and definition IS relatively limitless, I think, but when one half of a monogamous couple unilaterally changes the rules of their agreement (particularly without telling the other one involved) it is a violation of a basic tenet of poly life–honesty for ALL concerned. You mention the cheater still loving the cheated–consider instead the cheated’s place in the situation and you may understand the idea of dishonor a little better. It is a violation of an intimate trust that may never be reclaimed.

    2. I agree with your comments, Emanuele. Yes, those of us who cheated did break a trust. But we broke in a similar way that gay people used to marry and have children in order to try to deny they were gay. We did what we thought society thought we should do and many of us resisted the urge to ‘cheat’ and didn’t understand what we really are. Sometimes finding out who you are involves hurting others but not on purpose. The fact is that lovers have no right to expect anything of us other than our love, respect, honesty. Okay, so we broke the honesty part. But, it’s not like we didn’t think we could live as they expected us to live when we made our promises. At times, during our journey, many of us also thought we could stop, that being poly is just a matter of suppressing one’s will-power or not. It doesn’t work that way and it would be nice if the article were a little more forgiving towards people searching to figure out their lives rather than just throwing fuel on the fire of misery.

      1. Yes, lovers have a right to expect honesty, love, and respect. You act in an unloving, disrespectful, and dishonest manner when you cheat. When you cannot keep your commitments, it is up to you to say that, before you break them – you renegotiate.

        This article is specifically about transitioning a particular relationship from cheating to polyamory, and not intended as anything else.

        1. Cyn, I don’t disagree with you. But, people who come to your site who have found themselves cheating may have gone through all sorts of introspection before they got here. Many of us didn’t know what we are. Many of us thought we could stop, we were not hurting anyone, we justified and we avoided dealing with ourselves. So, yes, I agree that cheating is bad and your partner has every right to know what you are and what you plan to do in the relationship. But, it’s also a lot more than you make it out to be and many cheaters are suffering even as they are inflicting their harm on others. I don’t disagree with what you say. I do, however, think what you’re saying is unnecessary and many cheaters have already gone through facing themselves.

          Perhaps your article could be a little more forgiving, or at least understanding, though. It seems to me adequate to say, ‘We don’t condone cheating and cheating is not a polyamory choice. If you’re a cheater and have figured out that you are poly, then great. Don’t cheat anymore. Also don’t expect to be forgiven for your cheating, but I wish you luck in that regard and am sorry you felt you had to turn to cheating in order to gain your own personal fulfillment. So long as you’re adamant that you will not cheat any longer, then follow these steps to (try) to explain to your significant other what poly is, what it entails and what s/he should think about in considering your innate sexual being if you really are poly. But keep in mind that if you’re secretly just wanting to cheat and justify it, none of this will work and you’ll just hurt more people. So think through what you really are before you go talking and don’t cheat ever again.’

          It seems, instead, that the tone in your article is one of condemnation of people who are very likely struggling. People do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons and bashing them here is not going to help them or their partners who are suffering at their hands.

  2. hope you will justify somehow this post, really. I just need to understand, and sorry for the perhaps too passionate comment, it is not meant to be offensive

  3. I don’t know how you get violence from honesty, Emanuele. The fact is that the cheater chose to act in an unloving manner by breaking the trust in his relationship with his monogamous partner. Acts have consequences, and unloving acts frequently have unlovely consequences. Had he chosen to act WITH love and comport himself honestly and honorably, much hurt could have been avoided. There would still be no guarantees, but without broken trust, it would at least be more likely that his monogamous partner would be willing to go forward and try polyamory with him.

  4. After reading more than half of this I’m kind of wondering why a good book on poly refered me here. This is just intended to Piss all over people that had reason to cheat. To make sure no one thinks they are like them. Yet they are no more qualified to say why the person cheated then the person themselves. Talk about a useless read,I’m sure cheaters have no problem finding people to Piss all over them. This is far from helpful. Poly comes in so many shapes and sizes yet there is people wanting to kick people out of their little club where they have nothing to turn to but be called dishonored nothing and don’t exist so thus just a freak. When you have poly as MFM,MTM fmf mff mmmf ffm fffff. Seriously the list goes on and on. Now you have the cheater and his transition is not even a qualifier, gosh. This read is paranoid and self righteous by those not qualified to say anything except to Pisson something they know nothing about. Really advise like “come clean and let the chips fall, your a cheater and deserve to be pissed on so accept what you are,go out and crush your partners hearts because you are a pig anyway” obviously not a quote but a loose translation. That is the cheapest advice and worth less then you paid for it right here

    1. FMF, there is no reason to cheat. Full stop. If you think you’ve found one, go ahead and share it – but I’m reasonably certain that it’s going to be something that I and most others have heard before. If you cannot abide by the commitments you’ve made, the only honorable thing to do is to end your relationship. One person cannot declare a transition to a polyamorous relationship. That’s a unilateral decision, and it takes at least two people to be in relationship.

      My intention in writing this article was not to “piss all over” anyone, but if you feel pissed on, I’m not going to invalidate your feelings.

      1. Cyn, I don’t think anyone can disagree with you regarding reasons to cheat (well, I’m sure a few can, but I don’t). It’s not okay to cheat and cheating is simply another word for lying. You shouldn’t lie. That said, people do for all sorts of reasons and while your article may be defensible, it’s too harsh and critical and fails to recall that people are people. We all fail. Failure should not mean the end of life. In a perfect world, everyone would open up and say what they want and need and there’d be no such thing as cheating. That said, many people find it impossible to broach this subject for a myriad of reasons and wind up cheating. It’s a shame that they do (I did once too but won’t ever again). However, cheaters deserve help as well as the cheated deserve it and your article (IMO) is far from helpful.

        1. I think if one views this article as a way to get back into the “good graces” of the one they cheated on , it is PERFECT! There really is no comfort pill for trying to make ANY relationship work after cheating if the “cheater” can’t do what is necessary to SAVE THE RELATIONSHIP! I think that’s what this is mostly about! Giving a person who has cheated steps on how to make a relationship work after having cheated, while also introducing polyamory to their spouse. I mean, think about it. Does the reason a person cheats really matter to the person who has been cheated on at the end of the day?! I highly doubt it. There unfortunately is no comfort in any steps required to salvage a relationship with a person you cheat on, because YOU are the offender and if you want it to work with the one you’ve cheated on, you have to get beyond, “the reason why you cheated,” even if the reason is that you were still “figuring out who you are.” Why? Because if you have the wherewithal to think in terms of why you cheated, then you have the wherewithal for a little honesty with the person before deciding to cheat. So, yeah…if you really want the person you’ve cheated on back, AND want them to embrace polyamory, then you gottw do the work regardless of the difficulty, and the mean glares and snarky remarks of others.

  5. “I’m not going to invalidate your feelings.” How in the world is ever possible to “invalidate” someone’s feelings?
    By the way, I parsed the post and comments, also mine, and I really have the feeling that I ended up in some sort of scientology people. Hank that goes on saying that “when two people agree to a monogamous relationship, fidelity is one of the most important elements of that agreement”, which begs the question, as well as Cyn, insisting smartly that ” there is no reason to cheat”.
    I was asking to give us, please, reasons, something like arguments, but it seems that just love can be without limits, minds, oh my, they seem surrounded by Donald Trump’s Mexican Wall

  6. As helpful as this article was, anyone know where to find coping info for a mono-man who was cheated on by his poly partner?

    1. Hi there Keith. I don’t immediately know of such an article, but would be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’ve been cheated on in a poly relationship before, and honestly, I think the coping info is going to be the same for anyone dealing with a partner’s infidelity. I’ve got an article in mind, now that I think about it. Give me a day or so, okay? But go ahead and ask any questions you have, please. Feel free to use the Contact form to send them privately if that’s preferable.

  7. Cyn is wrong in many ways. If you really did cheat because you’re poly (and I think for me the distinction came clear when I found that I didn’t just cheat and therefore have some sort of addiction but was also finding myself falling for my lover(s)), you can apologize for not knowing who you were, for not being able to meet the commitments that your partner thought you had with them, for lying and being dishonest. But you have no reason to apologize for being poly and you should be allowed into the club like any other person who finally figures out their sexuality. Cyn, the author, does not hold the keys to the club and the judgmental attitude Cyn displays is anathema to progress at any level. Cyn should re-think this article. Cyn is not judge, jury nor executioner and you should feel free to dismiss the advice of anyone who is so preachy that they think can possibly understand the plight of everyone who is not themselves.

    1. If you discover that you’re poly when you’re in a monogamous relationship, the ethical, honorable thing to do is to let your partner know about this change. THEN you proceed to negotiate any changes in your agreements – you don’t go out screwing around. Don’t try to make excuses about “the commitments that your partner thought you had with them” – if you were in a monogamous relationship, you had a commitment to be exclusive to each other. Deciding that you are poly doesn’t excuse cheating, lying, or dishonesty. One doesn’t simply fall into these things – you make a conscious decision to commit those acts.

      1. Yes. It’s great to live in your perfect world where gay people don’t marry to cover over their homosexuality and poly people don’t marry and try to overcome what is natural to them by trying to comply with society. It’s great the world you live in where everyone is pure and innocent and never does anything wrong and if they do, they should therefore forever wear the badge of dirtbag. No one said that “cheating” excuses any behavior. What I said is that you’re way too judgmental and you should get off your high-horse. People are people and they get to where they get all sorts of ways. For a person who has a liberal mindset, you sure don’t have a very forgiving one. Give people a break. Everyone can’t be so awesome and pristine as you.

        1. Nobody said you had to do that – I said that you have to come clean, expect consequences, and deal with them. Don’t blame your partner for being angry and feeling betrayed. If you value your relationship, that’s what you’ll do.

          Obviously, my world is NOT one where everyone is “pure and innocent and never does anything wrong” or there wouldn’t be a need for this article at all.

  8. There is another point. I do think that being polyamorous means believing that sexual and love-related fidelity are a sort of a mirage. Many arguments given by polyamorists start with statistics: it very very difficult not to end up with some cheating. This means that the promise of being faithful is unrealistic. Is really cheating breaking a promise that almost nobody can hold? Is cheating if I a promise my friend that I will win next presidential elections?

    1. What? No, polyamory is “the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships involving more than two people, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved” – that has nothing to do with believing that sexual and love-related fidelity are “sort of a mirage.” That kind of belief just sets you up for unethical behavior.

  9. I am 40 and wife is 30. However she has fallen in love with a 20 you old who she also clicked with while home visiting her family who says he is also in love with her . We are in process of negotiations as I am more aware of the idea of poly relationship. She is in process of full disclosure.
    As a lot people stated broken trust hurts just as much as physical pain

      1. How soon after initial conception did women start getting morning sickness. The timing is correct for her to have gotten pregnant with his child. Even though she was trying to transition to a poly relationship I think that might turn out to be the deal breaker. As it is her family consider me a son which in their tradition is very significant as most marry into the family but they don’t get let into any family discussions and whatnot

        1. That depends on the woman – I’m really sensitive to hormones, so I started getting sick within a week, which is why I went to the doctor and found out that I was pregnant. That’s pretty unusual, though (surprised my doctor, too).

          If you suspect a pregnancy, ask her if she had unprotected sex with him – that would open up other concerns, as well. If you’ve had sex with her since, you would need to get tested right away for STDs and again in 6 months or so.

  10. My menage broke up after just one year but it was real. It has been forty years but not a day goes by that I do not think of the lady that left. Still with wife of 64 years and still love her dearly.

  11. After years of dealing with other women interfering in my marriage, I found my husband cheating on me with a girl who claims to be a polyamorous pansexual. Fights were had. Things were broken. This girl played the victim even though she knew the truth. Her friends started attacking me online. There were even threats against me. He has embarrassed me to the point of isolation. I don’t go out anymore. People get confused when they see me with him. We recently came to the conclusion that he might be polyamorous. We’re living apart now. He blames everything on me. I want to try to salvage my marriage somehow, but I think it just may be over. His manipulative homewrecking whore was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It may never walk again, and just might be put out of its misery. And it absolutely kills me. I am mentally and physically disabled. He was somebody I could depend on for help. But he’s pushed me away, and devoted himself to other people. And he keeps flip flopping on whether we have a future or not. He knows I have trouble controlling my emotions and reactions, yet he keeps playing these games with me. I just don’t know what to do anymore. He might be poly, he might be a bastard, or he just might be both. If I could work more than five hours a week, I’d already be filling out the divorce papers. I don’t care about the poly part; it’s the lies and games that have me crying myself to sleep in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.

    Sorry about the droning on. This just seemed like a good place, with people who have been through what I’m going through right now.

    1. Jessica, I’m so sorry that you’ve had such a terrible experience. Whatever your husband and this woman had (have?) going on, it isn’t polyamory, which is ethical non-monogamy. Polyamory requires the informed consent of all involved parties.

      I would urge you to remember that no “homewrecking whore” can do a thing without the active participation of a man who is eager to stray. Don’t let your husband get away with blaming his girlfriend for whatever has happened. He’s an adult. He made commitments to you, she did not – and he is responsible for upholding those commitments or being honest about ending the marriage.

      I wish you all the best.

  12. So i am on the other side of this…im the wife who’s been cheated on, weve discussed poly relationships but hadnt ventured into actually doing it…i as the wife, how the hell do i figure out all these emotions…how do i get over the broken trust…

    1. Hello, Monica. I’ll be honest – you might not be able to “get over” the broken trust with this partner. It might be broken irreparably. Your partner has been an irresponsible ass, and it’s understandable that you have a lot of difficult emotions.

      I would strongly advise that you do everything in the world to take care of you right now – seek out a great therapist just for you, lean heavily on your friends and family as a support system, and demand time from him for your healing.

      You don’t have the right to tell your partner they cannot see someone else, but you do have the right to tell they can’t do that and be with you. So you have to decide, now, if what you have with them is worth staying with someone who broke your trust.

      If you do decide to explore polyamory, you should know that it requires trust and open communication. Cheating is absolutely the opposite of that. As someone who is willing to engage in cheating, your current partner is not a good candidate for polyamory.

      I wish you the best of luck in your healing journey.

    1. I could, but the authors of More Than Two already did, so why reinvent the wheel? From their glossary:
      “CHEATING: In a relationship, any activity that violates the rules or agreements of that relationship, whether tacit or explicit.”

  13. so based on the above information, if you have cheated then it is highly unlikely to become polyamorous while keeping the existing relationship intact… so why would one try to convert at all then? you do what you do until caught, go through consequences, build next relationships using these “rules”…

    remember there is another person in this and you certainly not taking into consideration any betrayals from that side as well…

    guy and girl fall in lust, girl intentionally gets pregnant, guy marries to be father and finds out later it was planned… would that be an extenuating circumstance?

    also assuming one used an escort for just the physical act… and did so for the reason of not wanting a “relationship” outside of the marriage is that considered as bad?

    what about sexless marriages? how is that factored into a conversion?

    1. I don’t know why people try to convert monogamous relationships to poly ones, Rich. It seldom works. But I’m not the one trying it.

      I don’t care how many examples you give of whatever has gone wrong – two wrongs don’t make a right.

      If your spouse deceived you in some way or you don’t find the relationship tenable, leave. Don’t cheat.

  14. just to expound on the sexless marriage example
    – guy / girl get married…
    – girl determines that she doesn’t want another kid and even though she is baptist figures that sex is only for children… of course, she said nothing before marriage (which actually is a grounds for divorce in itself)
    – guy / girl have fight and where he states that at some point he will find a venue..
    – guy / girl get along well otherwise and they have a son together due to premarital relations…

    if guy goes to excort, is he cheating? (He did tell her that it was only a matter of time…)

  15. of course you don’t, because of your narrow tunnelvision with “all the answers” please… its a bunch of hype and hooey… and your response is, of course, simplistic…

  16. rich extenuating circumstances don’t fit into ANY scientific, religious, social examples. There can always be BS thrown into any example. Religions state we should love one another and forgive…BUT let’s say that a man kills your entire family and you forgive him but in the act of meeting and forgiving him you drop a letter on the ground that has your return address on it. The murderer takes the address and gives it to many evil people and these people kill your relatives, friends and neighbors. Since this religion says to forgive does it count if this person has a lot of bad people trying to exterminate your relatives? Should we forgive Hitler? Well since these aren’t family members then we should forgive Hitler! Giving extenuating circumstances is merely trolling for the sake of trolling. In giving out medications the doses are different for everyone because of differences in humans. sometimes it’s physical differences other times it’s a mixture of things. Not all issues can be boiled down into one four word sentence. Common sense and logic HAVE to be included when trying to debate. Come back to me when you decide to bring up valid points.

  17. Your “extenuating circumstances” are excuses. Common sense and logic HAVE to be included when trying to debate. Come back to me when you decide to bring up valid points instead of trolling.

  18. I have now felt like I’ve tried the experience enough, yet am unsure how to move any further. I was in a mono relationship when I was cheated on by my partner, who has fallen for the person he cheated with. I don’t believe he knows or thinks he’s poly, but I don’t think he would have loved her and slept with her while I am pregnant with his child if he wasn’t. He wants to keep her and me, which in my desperation of losing the father of my child, I agreed to. I know I messed up at that point by agreeing for the wrong reasons, yet it is how this has panned out. I have given it over a month of him keeping her and dating her, yet I cannot move past the fact that I am uncomfortable and unhappy. Maybe if he would let me meet her or something I wouldn’t feel so negative against them, yet he will not let us meet. I asked for us to go to counseling so I can try more openly and have us talk through/resolve issues, yet that was shot down as well. I’m at a loss of where to go from here; due to the fact that although I love him and feel he’s my best friend, I feel that all I am to him is a friend now unless she stops giving him the attention he craves. Then I become his number one while I’m within eyesight. I feel like I will be made the bad person for not wanting to be apart of this anymore when I said I would try, but I can no longer stomach this and just want to leave him so he can be with her like he wants. He says he doesn’t see a future without me (especially now that we’ve been together for 4 years and I’m pregnant) but I don’t see a life with someone who lied to me and then expects me to just go with it now that I’ve been trying. Is there any advice you may have?

  19. I’m a monogamously-inclined person who considered, during the traumatic haze of post-infidelity-discovery, accepting a polyamorous relationship with someone who had been living a double life for years. I stumbled upon this post during one of my sleepless nights a few years ago and it helped me sort through my thoughts and feelings. That my partner’s infidelity entailed an abject lack of respect for me was reinforced when they harassed me for months after I ended the relationship. I have a lot of respect for people who ethically practice non-monogamy. Thank you for this brave and thoughtful post.

  20. I too am a monogomosly inclined person who is considering a polyamorous relationship with someone I love that leads a secret life. I am at a loss as to how to broach the subject of polyamorous relationships as a more honest approach to what is going on. I don’t think he ever considered it as an option in a relationship as neither did I until I stumbled across your blog. All we have to go on in life are the ways we are programmed as children by our parents and society. If we could reach a level of honesty with me, he could be relieved of the burden of his guilt and lies and be free to enjoy who he is and what he wants out of life. This person enriches my life in many ways, and I would hate to lose that. I would also like to be free of the pretense and deception. How do I approach this in conversation with him without put him on the defensive, as my current role is to believe I am the only one etc etc.

  21. Not all polyamorous are cheaters and it is not always about sex, when I first met the man who is now my third husband, i will still married to the second, we were just friends at this point but I could feel my feelings getting stronger, so I explained that I was poly, and he accepted it, we even spoke about having an open relationship after we got into a relationship, and he agreed, but now many years later he has back tracked, stating that he didn’t think I was like “that” anymore, like it’s something that can be just switched off like a switch, the fact is that I never hid anything about myself, and later on it want accepted when I found myself loving two men, this subject is not black and white as many think, it is much profound and deeper, than the casual fling, there are expectations, there is just a deep Love, unfortunately we still live in a society where this is not accepted, anyone who dares to think of feel differently is an outcast, is wrong, is seen as a sinner, no wonder people repress themselves and try to live a normal life and end up pleasing others, with the ultimate sacrifice of their soul, yes indeed, this is a totally grey area, where many do not want to even approach.

    1. Hello, Joo. I’m not sure where you got an idea that I think all polyamorous people are cheaters. I’m poly, and I’ve never cheated in my life. Nor do I say anywhere that polyamory is always about sex.

      When you find that your feelings are incompatible with the agreements you have in your relationship(s), it’s time to renegotiate those agreements – not break them. That’s black and white, not grey.

  22. My partner of many years cheated on me for months behind my back. He came clean that they had been having an affair when I confronted Him and then he confessed that he thought that he might be poly. Its not that he is poly that breaks me… its that for all that time he was lying to me every day. I feel so hurt and betrayed. He is still in contact with the other woman ( who is poly and knew that their relationship was happening behind my back without me knowing), and would like to be able to keep us both. I have said I would try, because I love my partner so much and don’t want to part from him. But I don’t think our relationship will actually heal while they are still seeing this other woman… I can’t tell him who to date…. but unfortunately their relationship will always be an open wound for me.

    I know he was scared I’d leave if he told me that he was having an affair and was poly. But he took it so far. He is trying really hard to try and fix this, but I’m scared we can’t be fixed, and that I wont be able to move on if he insists on holding onto his relationship with her. I dont’ feel like I can veto their relationship because it would destroy our… and I don’t want to force him to chose… only he can make those choices, and when he does I will need to make my own.

    1. Hello Del,

      I’m so sorry that you’re having to deal with this!

      Might I suggest that you ask him to read this article? Also, this article might be a little more applicable to your situation.

      Take care of yourself!

      1. Thank you Cyn.
        My partner has admitted to being in love with this other woman and feels that no matter what they do they will have regrets. I have said well its too late for that we already have regrets don’t we.
        He is going to see this other woman on Wednesday this week to talk things through with them. I have made it clear as far as I believe that I am not comfortable with him continuing a relationship with this woman and that her being in the picture will only throw wood on the fire of an already toxic situation We have organised t see a poly friendly therapist this week, although after he has seen this other woman. I hope that they can help.
        Yes I have been reading though your articles. At first I had been trying to force myself to be OK with him being with both of us, but now I am really starting to want to put my foot down on this specific relationship.

        1. Good for you on putting your foot down! I hope you have a good support network to take care of you in this stressful time.

  23. Hi. I know this article is quite a few years old but I’m looking for advice.

    I cheated twice in my relationship with my partner of 4 years. However, they were not affairs but ‘drunken’ one night stands. Both times I called my partner the day of, or next morning and let him know what happened (to the best of my ability but never with too many details partially because I never remembered every detail but also because he never asked and I think it hurt enough to know I had been intimate with someone else). I’ve experienced a lot guilt and shame for these actions and we have done the best we can to move forward (we have never done therapy but we try and talk about things very openly). Our situation is still cheating obviously but it still feels different because there has never really been any lying involved. And both of those hook ups were not with the same person. I wish I could get into both situations and explain it all but it’s long and they’re not my proudest moments (I fell into deep depression after both). I have mental health issues so I’ve been doing my own individual therapy and have really been trying to work on moving forward from these two incidents. My partner has forgiven me and never throws it in my face. I’ve questioned whether I’m polyamorous though and we have discussed the possibility of being open but he is very unsure (for good reason) and I told him I’d never force him if he doesn’t want to be but the conversation has occurred more often than not in recent months as I’ve been feeling less connected and more of a need to connect with others (more specifically in friendships BUT given the fact that I’ve been attracted to friends before and I have cheated through these two one night stands I genuinely think maybe I am polyamorous but I don’t want to lie to my partner so like I said we often talk these things out and I often let him know when I have “little crushes”)

    Anyways this is kind of a long tangent. He seems to be open a bit to some extent of trying it out but reading a lot about it and finding information about whether it can work after cheating is stressing me out. I have been chatting with people through online platforms (again my partner knows) and although it’s been very friendly and just genuinely good conversation the thought of what if I do end up liking this person comes up in my head a lot. My partner and I have discussed this but he just said he doesn’t fully understand so I don’t push him on the manner. I guess my question is that,

    Can polyamorous work in this type of situation? Or am I fooling myself thinking that it could even though there was no ‘long term affair’?

    Idk. I have so many thoughts about it and I’m sure my partner does too. I just want genuine advice without the judgement of my previous acts (because I am genuinely not proud of them and wish I could take them back) but at the same time after something like this happens so unexpectedly, not planned it causes me to question not only my loyalty but also, whether I am polyamorous. I also want to say I take full responsibility for my actions and have never tried to blame my partner. I think a large part of it does have to do with self sabotage and such (on my end). I know they were mistakes but I haven’t fully forgiven myself but I also feel like I crave connections with others while still loving and fully wanting to support my partner. I don’t know. This is all very confusing.

  24. Looking for advice from the perspective of already identified as poly person – struggled in a mono/poly dynamic for years – mono person began to be more open to accepting poly person’s need for other intimate partners – communication had already degraded through years of poly person feeling rejected and shutting down – poly person didn’t trust mono person was truly accepting and able – poly person walked on eggshells too scared to actually persue other relationships in a healthy way – poly person found themselves in an intense chemistry situation they’d never been in and broke one of the only agreements (communicating before getting intimate) – communicated immediately after the fact – was treated like shit for it enduring emotionally abusive reactions for days/weeks/months mixed with periods of emotionally supportive apologetic behaviour – was told having a relationship with sweetie is unacceptable – has feelings for sweetie and resistant to letting go of the relationship – wants to repair relationship with partner but feeling hurt and scared after emotional reactions and terrible things that were said – wants a relationship with sweetie to be possible – mono/poly have both been in therapy with poly positive counsellor for months but dynamic is still volatile and both are confused about how to move forward

  25. First of all, thank you for writing this article. I found it to be very helpful.

    My situation is a bit different, and wanted to see if you had any advice.

    I have been with my boyfriend for a couple months, and before we got into a relationship he was very aware that we would be in some type of polyamorous relationship. We were waiting for him to be more comfortable with the idea (he said he was willing to try it out for himself, not just for me). I was always the one bringing it up, asking about it, etc.

    About a month or so ago, I found out that my ex/child’s father was having a baby with one my friends from high school. She and I stop talking after I graduated high school, but I still considered her a good friend because of how close we were in school. Anyways, finding this out hurt a lot. I think if it was some random girl, I wouldn’t feel as hurt. This situation also made me realize that the feelings I thought I had gotten over were still there. It also made me ponder on the fact that he wasn’t really there for me when I was pregnant like he is for her (I am glad he is doing it right this time, but it still hurts). I always wish things had turned out differently between us and we could be a happy family.

    I bring this situation up because it lead me to cheating on my boyfriend with my ex. It was 100% my fault, of course, and I acted based on feelings and heartbreak. Like you said, there is no reason to cheat, but it happened and it doesn’t just go away. I did tell my bf two weeks later and he still wants to work things out with me. He also knows that the polyamorous relationship situation isn’t just going to go away because we both want to try it (I know I want to try it more because he has expressed that if he could just be with only me, he would be, but he knows that’s not what I want).

    Do you have any advice on how to go about the polyamorous relationship lifestyle after this situation? Is it still the same advice as stated above?

    Thanks again for taking your time to write this article.

    1. Hi Nicole,

      I can understand grieving for what might have been, and we’re often vulnerable while we’re grieving. I hope you’ve given yourself time to feel that grief fully now.

      My advice is the same as above. You and your partner have gotten past the disclosure stage without breaking up, which is great. If possible, I would add that you should try therapy (if it’s accessible to you) to explore the feelings that led you to cheat and how that might be avoided in the future. We all have vulnerable times throughout our lives, and a therapist might be able to help you build better coping skills.

      Best of luck to you and your partner!

  26. This article is very ‘American’. Which is one of the most religious countries in the world…Now the author may not be religious at all, but it has all the overtones of their extremely religious culture..

    I get the impression that the author thinks cheating is the greatest sin in the world.. It ain’t, not even to the offended partner unless they’ve been totaly brainwashed by this brand of morality.
    It reminds me of those women who discovered their husbands watched pornography and by their response, you’d think they caught their husbands blatantly having sex with a stranger in front of them…And all the advice from the forum is, ‘He’s a cheater! Divorce him!’.

    If a person has a high sexual drive but a dead bedroom and every effort was made to improve it but no luck, so they found a spot of passion elsewhere, this author would send them to hell for their unforgivable sin.
    Sex and passion for some, is only marginally less important then food..
    Would the author condemn a literally starving person for stealing food?

    1. I’m an atheist. No, I don’t think “cheating is the greatest sin in the world,” as I don’t even believe in sin. Cheating is, however, a serious offense. It damages the trust between partners, and if you can’t trust your partner you can’t be intimate in the fullest sense of the word.

      It doesn’t matter how high your sex drive is. If you’re an ethical person, you’ll renegotiate the terms of your relationship or end the relationship. If you can’t don’t live up to the agreements you have with your partner, you aren’t ethical.

      Likening sex to food is a false equivalency. You will not die for lack of sex.

  27. Thank you for this article. It brings clarity to an emotionally charged situation. And thank you for setting boundaries and holding them. We need more people who will stand by what they say.

  28. Hi, 10 months ago I met this guy with two kids and a girlfriend of 6 years ( mono). He came on very strong and fell hard for me. I was interested in poly, but had never experienced it. He was also interested in poly, but never experienced it. He told me that him and his girlfriend had talked about it briefly a year before we met, but nothing was set and stone…fast forward after a month in, we ended up being physical and was head over hills for each other (I am that other woman). I was under the impression his gf knew we were dating because he talked to me on video chat all the time in front of her.. so one day they went out of town and she called him out while we were chatting video, said he never told her for sure anything about me and he betrayed her, and basically… he cheated. A week later I ended up meeting her, I talked with her and she stated she didn’t know what was going on, they discussed poly a year prior but never set anything in motion or agreed to anything. She said she wanted no parts in any of us, but she gave her consent for us to date. She mentioned how would I feel if her and him got a girl to live with them to be in a relationship with, I told her I wouldn’t want that. After this convo, she went through some depression, I tried to break things off with him because I felt bad for her, but he kept reassuring me she was ok, I asked her again was she ok , she said she never wanted this, but she’s ok with it. Needless to say, it’s been 10 months… things are great with him and I, but their relationship is very rocky. I agree with everything you said in this article because I’m experiencing it… I notice her wanting more time to herself more so than wanting to spend with him… he is paranoid when she goes places and such without out him because he’s thinking she’s going to leave him. When him and I broke up two months ago briefly, because I wanted him to find a relationship with someone else they both liked, she saw him emotionally detached and a wreck for a week because we weren’t talking….we ended up getting back together…i believe he’s damaging his present relationship, but he insists he doesn’t want to let me go. within our relationship…we’re head over hills for eachother.. soul mates. It’s hard for me to enjoy the experience knowing she is feeling some type of way.  I don’t know where this is going… but I found it best to not talk to her as much in order for me and his relationship to flourish better. With me talking to her/hanging out, him and I started having problems.  I decided to stay out of their relationship entirely and focus on ours. As far as her, I told her she shouldn’t agree to anything she does not want to do several times in the past, But she insist when we talked that she was ok🤷🏽‍♀️.

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