Poly & cheating

Poly Means Many: there are many aspects of Polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found on Poly Means Many. This month, we’re talking about cheating…


“Isn’t that cheating?” is one of the most common questions I ever get when I tell people I have two partners. And while it’s not, the second most common misconception I hear about poly once they understand more, is that cheating can’t happen when you’re in polyamorous relationships.

Cheating *can* happen. But it’s not as black & white as it can be in monogamous relationships. When you’re mono, cheating is most commonly perceived as one person emotionally or physically starting a relationship with another, without the knowledge or consent of their partner. And I’ve seen that in action: OKCupid dating opened up a world to me of people wanted to hide cheating under the moniker of being poly.

“Hey! I’m poly too…would love to chat more. Oh – but my girlfriend isn’t poly, she doesn’t understand, we haven’t spoken about it because it’s not her thing. But I can still sleep with you, mmmkay?”

While the above is a combination of a number of messages I received, it portrays the general message pretty well.

Cheating in poly is – essentially – an action which intentionally breaches the trust between you and your partner(s) – and it relies on boundaries being established and communication being strong between all involved. These parameters can be as narrow or as wide as they need to be for the individuals concerned, but it’s important everyone understands and agrees to them. I’ve been caught in a trap I set for myself by not appropriately communicating those boundaries. Assumptions that what works for one couple will work for the other meant for me that long story short: lines were blurred, people were hurt and difficult conversations were had.

Lessons have been learnt and the moral of my story is: to avoid cheating in poly – heck, to do anything successfully in poly – communication is absolutely key. To ensure every person in a relationship is happy, feels trust and is trusted, and understands the boundaries, conversations have to happen to establish those things.  So in essence, no – being poly isn’t cheating but doesn’t mean we’re immune. 

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