Inner Trek

Therapy Questions: Episode 3

Therapy Questions: Polyamory or cheating?


Hey everybody. My name is Dana Mooney, licensed mental health counselor with Inner Trek, LLC and welcome to Therapy Questions. This is episode number 3 where I answer your questions that I get about therapy.

So for context I work with nonmonogamous people here in Tampa, Florida. So this is a question I got about that. The question is: "Polyamory is... polyamory seems like a excuse for people to cheat on each other. What's the difference between polyamory and cheating?" Okay so this came from somebody who doesn't have a lot of understanding about what polyamory is so I'll kind of explain what's polyamory and then what is cheating, kind of in a monogamous sense and then what does cheating look like if you're a polyamorous person.

So the short answer is polyamory is definitely not equivalent to cheating because it is consented to by all people, but poly folks can cheat on each other, and I'll talk about that. So polyamory, we'll break it down: ‘poly’ meaning many and then ‘amory’ referring to love so if you put it together polyamory means many loves. So poly folks generally are open to having multiple loving romantic partnerships. And if you talk to five different poly folks they might give you five different definitions because every person practices polyamory a little bit differently. But that's the broad definition.

So then we'll talk about cheating in a monogamous sense. So in monogamy you're with, there's two people together and there's no other people outside the partnership and that's the boundary. And so cheating is breaking that boundary. But even then there's not really always an exact agreed-upon definition of what is cheating for monogamous folks either. So for some people it's if you flirt with somebody that's cheating, or if you're constantly texting with somebody, that's cheating or if you're sexy dancing with a person, that's cheating or if you're kissing a person, that's cheating or if you sleep with somebody that's cheating and there's different levels based on who person is or who, what partnership came together.

So the reason I say that is because it's the same with poly folks. Poly people will define what their relationship is and then what the boundaries of that relationship are and what their expectations surrounding those boundaries are all very uniquely and so the lines of cheating are gonna be different for every single relationship. But the core thing is that there's breaking of those boundaries and that's what qualifies as cheating.

So I'll talk a little bit about what common ways that poly folks could cheat on each other. So one way which is common and an often unintended is if boundaries and expectations are not clearly communicated at ahead of time and that definitions of certain words are not the same from one partner to another.

So I'll give you an example. Say we've got partner A and we'd have partner B and they're together and they're in love and they're gonna add, they're gonna be adding other partners as well. So partner A says, "I'm totally cool with you having relationships outside of this one. In fact I'm really happy about you finding other people to love as well as me. I just want to be well-informed about what's going on I want to know what's going on with you and other people." And partner B says, "That's great! I love and I care about you and I want to I want to keep you updated too." But if that's the extent of the discussion and they don't really define what that means, what can happen is partner B goes out on a date with another person and they come back and they tell partner A, "Wow I just had a great time! I went on this date and it was great we're gonna go on another one." Partner A says, "Great, thanks for letting me know." But if what partner A actually meant in that first conversation was, "I want to know exactly what you know what your feelings are about this person, what the extent of those feelings are. I want to know did you have any interaction with them physically? Were you kissing? What did you do together? Did you have sex? Did you have safe sex? What did that safe sex look like? What kind of risk did you put yourself at and therefore me?" And if they didn't go into those specifics about what details they wanted, partner B might think, "Well I fulfilled the expectation. I told you I went out on the date and it went well." And genuinely think that they fulfilled the expectation when partner A was thinking something completely different. So you could see how this could feel like, if information came out later, partner A might feel cheated on if they find out you know that sex happened or you know whatever happened that they didn't know about. So that's one way that that cheating could happen or feelings of cheating could come up even unintentionally.

Another way is if, let's see, let's say partner A has some feelings about partner be going out on dates with other people, but they're very supportive of them doing that and they consent to it. So when partner B comes back to tell them about their date they might feel a little intimidated or a little bit shy about saying all the details because they want to protect their partner's feelings and they don't want that to see them feeling pain because that sucks. So they may leave out details about what happened or they may downplay the extent of their feelings for the person or how excited they are about this new relationship as a way to try to protect their partner, when in reality what happens is that information comes out later and then partner A feels blindsided again. And they feel like, "Oh my gosh I can't believe you didn't tell me that information." And so you can see where there's good intentions but then all of a sudden it feels like cheating again.

And so this is common ways that poly folks can cheat on each other. Or maybe even labeling it as cheating isn't exactly helpful but the similar feeling could come up and it's a good place to work and look at, and kind of redefine expectations and boundaries.

So that's the long-winded answer. I hope that that was helpful. And if you have any questions that you'd like me to answer you can put them in the comments or you can send them to me through my email at InnerTrekLLC@gmail.comor you can put it in the submission form on my website at Alright! Thank you so much for watching, and be well!