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"Cheating" by the Rules: Making an Open Relationship Work

Updated on January 10, 2018
Open relationships can be a healthy and exciting way to forming strong long term relationships.
Open relationships can be a healthy and exciting way to forming strong long term relationships. | Source

When Is Cheating Not Cheating?

Interestingly enough, some people who are involved in open, non-monogamous relationships tend to be very jealous people and extremely protective of their relationships with their partners. For example, a male partner may be perfectly willing to knowingly share his female companion with another man sexually but could become extremely offended if the woman secretly sent nude pictures of herself to another person. At first, this might seem to be contradictory to the definition of the phrase, "open, non-monogamous relationship", but, with some explanation, it is easily understood.

Just like other people, those who practice a poly-lifestyle (a more common way of saying "non-monogamous lifestyle") have feelings and emotions that are related to their relationships. Due to the complexity of the poly-relationship, ground rules are often needed to ensure that all partners are comfortable. In almost all cases, poly-relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. With complete honesty and adherence to the predefined ground rules, cheating, as defined by traditional monogamous views, is almost non-existent within the poly-community.

For some people, these ground rules might state that sexual activity between multiple partners is permissible, while a combined family living arrangement would be out of the question, For other groups, it may be that only certain sexual activities are condoned, such as threesomes or group sex. Still others may decide that their partners are free to engage in sexual activity in a more individual setting as long as they have knowledge of the activity.

There may be as many variations of these ground rules as their are couples participating in open relationships but the essence of the matter is simple; Cheating does not exist when all participants are willingly following the same set of ground rules.


An Introduction To Open Relationships

To understand what makes an open relationship work, it might be best to first understand that this is a complex system based on very simple principles. There are countless varieties of poly-relationships in the world and each of these situations has its own unique characteristics. In nearly every case, for the relationship to have any lasting value, being upfront and honest about everything involved is essential.

Approaching the subject of open relationships and poly-lifestyles can ignite a powder keg of emotional responses in many people so some members of the poly-community tend to shy away from public notice while others seem to launch headfirst into the heat of public scrutiny. This in itself can cause issues among the various participants in a poly-relationship. For example, if one member of the relationship prefers to remain discreet while another individual is flamboyant in speaking out for their lifestyle choices, it could lead to some serious relationship issues.

It is also important to realize that poly-lifestyles mean different things to different people. As a general outline, poly-lifestyles fall into two main categories with countless sub-categories. The two main divisions are polyamory and polygamy. Polyamory is deep emotional attachment to more than one individual on a romantic level. Polygamy is the practice of sexual relationships with more than one individual, with or without the presence of romantic feelings. The two terms are often mentioned together or used synonymously but it is important to note that they are distinct and separate terms. Once the basics of what an open relationship is are understood, deciding how to carry on a successful poly-lifestyle becomes much easier.

Making It Work


  1. Decide upon the type of relationship you are comfortable with. Are you looking for love or just to spice up your sex life? Can you put aside feelings of jealousy or resentment when your partner engages in a relationship with another person? What are your personal limits? Knowing both your own and your prospective partner's answers to these questions is important in establishing an open relationship and can prevent hurt feelings. These questions are also crucial components for establishing the ground rules about how your poly-lifestyle choices are handled.
  2. Keep communication lines open. While your primary partner(s) may be perfectly happy to share your time and heart with another person, they may also feel threatened if they feel they are losing you completely. By maintaining communication, you can reassure your partner of your relationship with them as well as be in a good position to discuss any issues or ideas either of you have. Communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and seeking the same goals and prevents the issues of jealousy and resentment caused by apparent secrecy.
  3. Keep things fair for everyone. The old saying is "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" and it applies in the realm of relationships as well. Basically, this means if you are going to expect your partner to be accepting of your relationships with other people, you must afford them the same respect and acceptance. One sided poly-relationships rarely work out well, especially when only one of the partners realizes the relationship is open. (Hint: That's called real CHEATING!)
  4. Establish rules of the relationship. For example, if you are seeking a poly-relationship, is your partner comfortable with you speaking and acting romantically towards another person or are there certain forms of contact that are reserved for just the two of you? Some couples are perfectly happy with polygamous sexual encounters but draw the line at kissing on the lips or developing polyamorous relationships. By setting the rules in stone now, you can save your relationship serious damage.

These are just the basics to creating an open relationship that can survive the tests of time but they are key elements. Building poly-relationships can be very satisfying and useful in keeping a couple committed to each other if handled correctly or it can tear them apart if handled with improper care. Developing mutual understanding and respect will go a long way in creating an environment where your relationship can flourish.


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