From time to time I meet people who say they are in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) relationships. Their spouse has supposedly agreed that they may have outside relationships, but the spouse doesn’t want to know anything about their other significant others (OSOs) or what they do together. They don’t want to know when dates happen, they don’t want to meet the OSOs, they don’t want to know who is having sex with whom, nothing.
DADT agreements seem to be most common when a polyamorous person is partnered with a monogamous person, but they certainly aren’t limited to that situation. I usually hear about DADT from men who I feel are trying to get away with something (that is, they seem to be actually cheating on their partners, rather than polyamorous)—they show all the signs of sneaking around.
But sometimes a person will show up at poly events wearing a wedding band, saying that they have a DADT arrangement with their spouse. If the person keeps coming to events, the ring is usually gone in a few months, and we hear that there’s a divorce in the works.
Whatever the reason, I view DADT as a major warning sign that the primary relationship is not healthy, and that we may well be hearing its death rattle. It is frequently used when the monogamous partner does not, in fact, want their partner to have other relationships but does not feel secure enough to demand monogamy from that partner. It is almost always a compromise arrived at when one partner does want other relationships and one wants a closed relationship.
The main problem that I see with DADT is that it kills intimacy. It prevents full and honest communication between partners. Intimacy can only occur when there is total honesty. When certain topics are off-limits, there are barriers between you. Most people do not live strictly compartmentalized lives.
For instance, Jamie is really looking forward to their weekly lunch with their sweetie, Leslie. A crisis comes up, necessitating an urgent meeting. Jamie has to cancel the lunch plans, leaving them out of sorts. When Jamie gets home that night, they can’t explain their mood to their spouse Taylor. Taylor knows that something is bothering Jamie, and they want to know what it is—but they may be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to know about it if it has anything to do with Leslie. There are walls between Jamie and Taylor, and slowly the withholding spreads to other areas of their lives. DADT is not sustainable in the long run and can lead to the couple becoming roommates more than partners.
DADT can also present safety issues. If Jamie learns that Leslie has decided to stop using condoms with their other sweetie(s), their relationship with Leslie presents a greater health risk to them and to Taylor than it did when Leslie was using barriers. Jamie needs to disclose that increased risk to Taylor. If they have a DADT agreement, they’re likely to be reluctant to bring up the issue.
True intimacy requires true honesty. True honesty is complete, without holding anything back. I can’t imagine sacrificing intimacy to avoid discomfort. Why would you do it?
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have the One True Way to Do Poly, so obviously, there may be people for whom DADT works. I just haven’t seen it myself.