We get a lot of questions related to infidelity: can you even "cheat" when you're consensually non-monogamous? If my partner cheats on me, should we transition into an open relationship in order to stay together? Is it possible to heal a relationship after infidelity? Tune in for the answers to these questions, as well as guidance on recovering from infidelity or other major breaches of trust.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about infidelity. We've gotten a lot of questions from our listeners over the years about this topic, and so we wanted to explore some of the most common and the most intriguing questions that we have received many times.
Dedeker: Yes. We have a couple of main questions motivating this episode, and the first one is going to be how common is infidelity, and it's a lot more common than one might think, although probably-- I don't know. It seems like it's rampant out there, like it definitely is something that is talked about all the time.
Emily: Maybe we'll dive into it when we get into the numbers, but I think the unfortunate thing is that based on this study, the numbers do seem to vary quite widely. That's why it's kind of hard to put an exact figure on it.
Dedeker: Yes. Another question is, is it even possible to cheat while you're practicing ethical non-monogamy, because if you're not sexually exclusive, then what actually counts is cheating and what doesn't. The answer is yes, it is possible.
Jase: We're just teasing the questions right now, we're going to get to all of this.
Dedeker: Yes, then will you find out. Next question.
Emily: Next question that we get all the time, is it possible to recover after there has been an infidelity? If I found my partner cheating or if I cheated on my partner, should I stay with my partner or should I leave them? A lot of people get caught up in that predicament. Then related to that, and this is the doozy, people ask us all the time, is ethical non-monogamy a viable option after there's been infidelity?
It's usually a situation like my partner cheated on me and I found out. They still want to stay with the person that they were with, cheating on me with. Should we try to be polyamorous or should we open up the relationship like is that what they want? Is that something that we can try now? Or often I'll also hear from people who are in a situation of like either I cheated on or I am currently cheating on my partner. I feel like I identify with polyamory or ethical non-monogamous. Does this mean I should try to pitch that to my partner? Should I suggest opening up the relationship? Should I tell my partner that I've been cheating on them and then open up the relationship? I get a lot of emails from a lot of people in a lot of very messy situations wondering if it's possible to transition to non-monogamy after infidelity.
Jase: To start off, we're going to start with one of our favorite things which is some stits and stats on infidelity. Though a lot of this right now, like we were saying before, the statistics are hard to come by for this, and we're going to talk about that a little more later too, but conducting a study about people doing something that they keep secret and that there's pretty high stakes for being honest about is a very hard thing to get honest answers for.
This particular study was where a lot of these statistics are coming from, is from a relatively small study of about 200 people, some of whom are married, some divorced, some single in different relationship states, but we have some stits and stats from that that are quite interesting.
Emily: As I was saying earlier that there has been a wide variety of studies but the figures range anywhere from like as low as 20% of people in a committed relationship have had some kind of extramarital sex or had an affair of some kind, to as high as 60%, studies say. 60% of people.
Dedeker: That's huge range.
Emily: Yes, it's a huge range. It is a little bit hard to pin down, and also the target moves depending on how the study is defining infidelity and things like that. But for this particular study, this somewhat smallish when there was 200 people, this is what they found, they found that 55% of their male respondents admitted to cheating on their spouse with five or more people, which is a lot. But again, this is out of the people who admitted like yes, they had cheated on their spouse or on their partner. Half of those men said that they did cheat on their spouse with five or more people. 50% of the female respondents admitted to cheating with at least one person.
23% of the men said the leading cause of the affair was due to a lack of sexual satisfaction, 28% of the women said the cause of the affair was due to a lack of emotional satisfaction, and I actually want to point out that the 23% and 28% is actually a pretty small percentage. I think that we definitely have some cultural stories around affairs and we assume that if a man strays, it's because he's not getting enough sex, and if a woman strays, is because she's not getting enough romance or emotional intimacy, and of course it plays very neatly into our gender stereotypes that we're taught growing up.
However, what we actually find is that most of the time, affairs aren't necessarily a direct product of the person not getting something in their original relationship. That often it's factors that are not necessarily related to disappointment.
Dedeker: I do find it fascinating that the way in which this study was operated and the questions that they asked were surrounding like emotional satisfaction or sexual satisfaction, and then geared towards the men and the women. I just wanted to point that out. Probably I would be interested to hear the other end of it like the women, was it due to sexual satisfaction, or the men, was it due to emotional satisfaction or lack thereof.
Jase: Well, I may not have been in the study but unfortunately they didn't give all of those.
Dedeker: It wasn't published.
Jase: Because this was done by a company, this wasn't something that was like published in peer-review journals or something like that, also take that into account with all these stats.
Dedeker: Well, so let's move on. Apparently, 68% of men and 87% of women consider online or cyber relationships infidelity. These are a couple of specific stits and stats on what kind of things constitute as an affair. Essentially, okay, in online or cyber relationship, 68% of men and 87% of women consider that type of relationship infidelity, which is interesting.
Emily: When was the last time anyone referred to it as a cyber relationship?
Dedeker: Cyber relationship, in this article.
Jase: The age of the people conducting this study maybe.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly.
Emily: It's almost key or cyber relationship.
Emily: Maybe you have cybersex, maybe, I don't know. It really brings you back to the late 90's, early 2000s.
Dedeker: For sure, yes. Then this big one, this idea of an emotional affair which, again, I'd be interested to hear what you two think like that constitutes as, like what is an emotional affair. What this article says is that there is a strong emotional but not necessarily physical relationship between two people other than a spouse. This one was kind of more of a gray area for men. 51% said that yes, this qualified as infidelity, but for women, 62% said that it was. Well, 25% said no, and then 10% of the participants said that they weren't quite sure, which is another percentage opted out is interesting has a few percentages. This doesn't add up to 100, but yes.
Jase: I think it is interesting though that with that sort of question, that essentially 50% of men and 60% of women, both of those are pretty close to a 50/50 in the study of like does that count as infidelity. I think that starts to get into something that I think non-monogamy raises a really interesting question about and that's like what counts as infidelity, and it's something I often-
Dedeker: Which I think we're about get into.
Jase: Yes. It's something I really like to ask monogamous people about, if they're curious about polyamory or maybe if they're a little suspect of it or something, and that's one of the examples I like to give of things you can learn from non-monogamy even if you are monogamous, is that infidelity isn't just a thing, it really depends how you define it and that that's a conversation you need to have. I think this next statistic actually kind of shows that.
This is how they worded it, 36% of our male participants and 21% of our female participants said they had cheated on a spouse. When asked-- and these are all people who were formerly married, formerly married or they're divorced now. 36% of men, 21% of women said they had cheated on their spouse. When asked the other question, did your spouse ever cheat on you, 58% of men and 65% of women said yes.
Jase: If we look at that, we're like wait, wait. Assuming this sample is representative, basically, two times to three times as many people say that their spouse cheated on them, then said that they ever cheated on their spouse, which to me means people define infidelity for their spouse different than they define it for themselves.
Emily: Now that is interesting.
Jase: That really kind of points to how important that question is.
Dedeker: Yes, for sure.
Emily: Yes, definitely. It's a question that I think we've said this on the podcast before, that it's important to have a conversation around that with your partner if you're in some kind of non-monogamous dynamic, but it's also important if you're choosing monogamy as well. I think that is a part of being conscious monogamous, is having those conversations of what does constitute cheating for both of us. What constitutes as violating the agreements of our relationship? Because it actually is different.
For a lot of different people, it can be different based on their cultural background. It can be different based on their family background. It can be different based on their trauma. It is really important to be able to have those conversations. Among the most common things, I think at least in traditional monogamous relationships, the very baseline fundamental thing that most people seem to agree on counts as cheating is like having sex with someone who isn't your partner. It tends to be very sexually focused. But in practice, I've seen people both in non-monogamous and in consciously monogamous relationships settle on a wide variety of what they count to be cheating or not.
For some people, as we said, are in emotionally intimate relationship, that's not with your partner they consider to be infidelity. This whole term the idea of emotional affair, I really go back and forth on it, honestly, because I think that it's very extreme. It can be taken to this place of essentially you're not allowed to have a support network outside of just your spouse or your partner. I think you're like, "Yes, it can get to this extreme of being in a really unhealthy place." For some people, they consider flirting with another person who's not your partner to be some kind of infidelity, and with other people, they really don't care like whatever, sure, if you go to the bar and flirt as long as it's relatively "harmless", you're not sleeping with this person then, "Sure, have your fun." Some people really feel violated, again like we said, by these "cyber relationships" that the kids are doing.
Then the people don't care so much. Then we keep going more into the extremes where like I've definitely met some people where the idea of a one night stand or making out with someone at a party where some couples even if they identify as monogamous they're like, "Sure, if you want to make out with someone at a party, that's totally fine. If you want to have a one night stand as long as it doesn't turn into anything else, that's fine." That again starts to get into the territory of people who maybe identify as monogamish or something like that. I don't know. What do you all think?
Dedeker: Yes, it's really interesting.
Emily: I've also met people who think that if their partner watches pornography or masturbates without me, that's some kind of infidelity.
Jase: Yes, absolutely. I think that the flirting question's really interesting too because if you're going to say flirting is cheating, then there's the question of what is flirting. Right? You can see how it just goes further and further into this like, "Well, it's whatever makes me feel uncomfortable." That is where we start to get into this dangerous territory, and I think that's where most people leave all the time when it comes to infidelity, is it's like I couldn't tell you what it is but I'll know when I see it kind of a thing.
Dedeker: Just like flirtatious touching, even like-- There are so many grey areas of what is it actually.
Jase: Yes. I think that not actually talking about those things in an actual clear upfront way is very problematic because then you can that where one person is like, "This person's been my friend for years. This is how we are together, and that's an important part of my life," and the other person goes, "No, that's what you do with that person is flirting." You can't really argue it because it's not coming from a place of, "Let's try to figure these things out and find a way to make this work." It comes from this place of, "I just feel bad, and this is the thing I've decided is the problem."
Dedeker: Yes, totally.
Jase: Or on the other extreme, you have people doing things that are very much, very shady, and very dishonest in their relationship, but saying well, because of the letter of the law of what we agreed on, this isn't cheating. Or I don't think this is, so, it's okay. By a look on both sides, you can use that kind of wishy-washy sort of thinking to do some bad things.
Dedeker: It becomes really ambiguous. I don't know. I think absolutely, ideally, it's nice to be able to have a conversation with your partner, especially if you're monogamous about what this means to you, and not just leave it to by the wayside for the potential for it to occur. Because obviously I think one might get into a situation with friends or with old friends or friends that you've had a flirtation with for years even if that's just the way in which you two interact with one another and then all of a sudden to your partner it becomes like, "That's really not okay with me."
I think to avoid potential situations like that, to really be honest about what your expectations are maybe is a good plan. Also, to allow for a little bit more flexibility because it's not like somebody necessarily is going to want to be a dick to you and just say, "Yes, okay, I'm going to flirt in front of you and deal with it." Rather they may just not know this is something that's going to be triggering to you.
Emily: Well, I think-- I don't know. I feel like this is now bringing up another question of, if it makes your partner uncomfortable, does that mean automatically it's some kind of infidelity? I think that's what you're hitting on, Jase. A lot of people are just living with the sense of like, "I'll just know it when I see it." Because it's more of a reactionary thing.
Jase: I'm trying to think of, kind of another example. I feel like people do this a lot with manners or etiquette too, that's a very subjective thing but people talk about it as if it's a concrete thing that everyone should know. As a silly example, I remember when I was in middle school, I had a friend who'd come over and whenever he would have breakfast in the morning after we'd had a sleepover, he would slurp his milk out the spoon and I was just like, "This is so gross." My mom agreed with me obviously, because she's the one I learned what manners are.
After a while, there was a time where this same friend was criticizing me about my table manners about something. It was just that weird thing of, oh my gosh, we've both just come from these totally different realities of what is and isn't acceptable. To us they're facts, they're universal, but they're actually not.
Emily: That's actually interesting.
Jase: Unfortunately, about relationships, it can have a lot more serious consequences than us just bickering about who, you know, sits at the table.
Dedeker: Let's' move on to that very old chestnut question of can you actually be in a non-monogamous relationship and still have infidelity in your relationship. Because I absolutely have people in my life who I know who are polyamorous or who are in some form of non-monogamy and they're like, "Yes, my partner has cheated on me." Or, "I have been cheated on while on the midst of this type of relationship." How does this happen?
I think the old adage of having a rule and having a rule be broken in your non-monogamous relationship. Even just the rule of like, "If you're going to sleep with someone, then run it by me first or just let me know. Let me know that it's going to happen before you do it." That gets broken, for example, like two weeks later you find out that this happened, that can constitute maybe as cheating. What are some other ways that this could be a thing?
Jase: Well, something that often comes up-- What often comes up is that, is like starting a new relationship without informing your existing partners. That one's often-
Dedeker: Or even just having a one night stand.
Jase: Yes, and then not talking about it.
Emily: It depends, I think that depends on their relationship. I've known some people where it's like, "Whatever, if you just want to go have a hookup or whatever, that's fine, but if something is turning into a more serious relationship, then I'd like to know." They agree on that. A lot of people it's like, "No, we've agreed to keep each other in the loop with any kind of new partner that comes into the scene even if it's just a one night stand."
Dedeker: Yes, for safety or whatever.
Jase: That's a good example of how it can really vary though in terms of what people consider to be cheating or not. Some people are like, "You're out and hook up with someone? Cool. I'd like it if you told me afterward but you actually don't have to do that." That's how I do my relationships or like, "I would like you to be able to tell me these things but I'm not going to be like, "You didn't call me immediately after and let me know." That's your own decision to do what you want, right?
Whereas for other people, there's a much more thorough agreed upon thing of like, "These are the certain checking ins you need to have, and this is how long before having sex you need to have and gotten it approved by me. Maybe that's an extreme example, not a healthy example, but you can have different agreements that you have. That if you broke those and you're secretive about things, that would count as this breach of trust, like cheating.
Dedeker: Another breach of trust that could happen is a potential violation of a sexual boundary that you have. Such as the two of you decide, "Hey, we're only fluid bonded with one another and we're going to use condoms with everyone else, and that all of a sudden that doesn't happen, for example. That could maybe, to some people, constitute as cheating.
Emily: Yes, I feel like the added part on top of all of these is there has to be this element, it feels like there has to be also this element of like trying to hide it or trying to not talk about it in some way. Because I feel like-- I've been in situations where the partner has come to me and said like, “Hey, like I've actually made this decision that I want to be able to have unprotected sex with so-and-so.” At that time, with this partner, we weren't having unprotected sex anyway, like we were using condoms and so it didn't change anything about me.
It was like we didn't have some kind of agreement around like, you're only going to use condoms with everyone else except me. He told me that he wanted to make this decision, and so I was like, “Okay, yes, that's fine.” I feel like if he hadn't told me and made that decision and like kept it a secret, then I would have had-- then maybe would have felt more cheated on or something like that. I don't know, I guess as I'm thinking about this, it seems more like the choice to also deceive, it seems to be an important part of this, I think.
Jase: Yes, I actually think that the thing that ties all of these together is about the breach of trust though.
Jase: Is about is something to use like a bank account metaphor, is something like depositing into the trust account, or is it taking a big withdrawal out of it, right? I'm going to have a little-
Dedeker: The biggest withdrawal.
Jase: I'll have one of my like soap box moments. We should have a little theme song that plays like Jase's soap box moments.
Emily: I feel like we need more of a theme song of whenever Jase tries to get us to say a new word or something, that he came up with.
Jase: Yes, that’d be a good one.
Emily: That happens more frequently than soap boxes.
Jase: Well, okay, here's my soap box moment about this, and that’s the something I think is interesting about this topic in general is that an affair, or infidelity, or cheating. We have been taught to think about those things as in like as if it is a kind of a tangible thing that exists that is a very big deal. I think this is actually similar to the way we're taught about either about monogamy and like finding the one, or taught about marriage where we're kind of sold this idea that a marriage isn't just what it is, it's some kind of magical thing that's like deeper and more profound than just the reality of this commitment, and this legal contract, and like those sorts of things, which are wonderful things.
We sort of have this element of magic, and like extra meaning that gets put on it and then it influences a whole lot of other things about like how our society is structured and how our laws are set up and things like that. Where it's just taken for granted that this relationship is somehow more important than any other relationship, in this kind of magical way. I think we have the same thing with affairs, where we are sold this idea that affair kind of is this breach of trust that somehow worse than any other kind of breach of trust. I actually think if you were to really reasonably think about that, that's actually not true. There are much worse breaches of trust that can exist out there, right?
Like the breach of trust between a child and a parent in cases of abuse or something like that, or of abandonment, or right, like there's a lot of very terrible versions of betraying trust and losing trust. I think if you think about it that way, you can see that all these things rather than having to pick apart like, “Oh, well, in order for it to count as cheating, there had to be a rule that it was against,” and like, “Oh, well, you the rule wasn't quite this or I think it's this.” No, it's not like cheating isn't this sort of thing that exists, it's just a word we have for certain types of betrayals of trust. I think, anyway that's my soapbox, I'm done. You can play the outro theme song.
Emily and Dedeker: [dissonant humming]
Emily: Well, no, I think that that is a very important point to make because especially as we go on in this episode, we talk about is it feasible to bounce back after an affair, what are the ways to bounce back after that. What are the pathways towards recovery that these things don't just apply to specifically an affair, they don't apply specifically to the situation of your partner having sex with someone and lying to you about it, or to not upholding any like a particular agreement that you made or whatever that it can apply to any kind of unexpected breach of trust that happens in a relationship, it doesn't have to be something that's just based on affairs or infidelity. Before we get to that, we're going to take a quick break to talk about our super-duper awesome patreon group called the Petro's.
I don't know, I realize we don't-
Dedeker: Patreon group?
Jase: We should have a cool name for it.
Emily: Yes, we call them the Petro's, but I just love a name for them as a collective, like there's a murder of crows.
Dedeker: The Multiamory Community, oh, I see.
Jase: Oh, I see, like a cluster of Pedro's it’s nice.
Emily: A plethora of Petros? I kind of like that.
Dedeker: That's good.
Emily: I don't know, okay, we will chop it.
Jase: A squabble of Petros?
Emily: A squabble. Oh, I like it, although it makes them sound like really combative, I think.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly.
Emily: And noisier.
Dedeker: Thought it was some negative connotation-
Emily: Noisier than they are. Okay, we'll think about that one. Anyway, so our patreon community is fantastic even though we haven't figured out a nice neat name for a group of them together. We have a fantastic private Facebook discussion group that our patreon supporters can take part in, and we also have a discourse forum, and we also have a newly launched a fun little discord chat, for those of you that want to play video games with each other and also discuss relationships if you so choose. That is open to people who join our patreon at the $5 a month level. If you join at the $7 month level, you get access to all of that, and in addition, you get ad free episodes that also include bonus content and that also come out a day earlier.
If you join us at the $9 month level, you can get access to all of that as well as to our monthly video discussion groups, to be able to come, process, share what's going on, get some sympathies and supports, some advice from other people who maybe have gone through similar things. If you want to join our super awesome patreon community, go to patreon.com/multiamory and you can sign up there.
Jase: Then another thing that is actually incredibly helpful and doesn’t just benefit this show but actually benefits the whole world and you, is to write a review for this show on iTunes or on Stitcher, and maybe I'm speaking a little bit hyperbolically here. In addition to just letting us know what it is that you like about this show, like what it is that this show does for you, it actually helps other people to find the show, it helps it to show up higher in search results. If someone's thinking about listening to the show, being able to read people's reviews and reading your review about what it is that has been helpful about the show for you will help someone else to go, “Oh, you know what? That's something I also need help with.”
By doing that, helping to get the word out there, making more awesome people out there having healthy relationships which then you in turn get to have relationships with and it all comes back around. Take a moment, take you just a couple minutes to write us a review on iTunes or on Stitcher, and let us know what it is that you like about this show.
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Jase: Yes, that's the free stuff that comes with it, it's the swag.
Dedeker: Yes, absolutely. Also we have been talking about it for the last two weeks, but Dedeker Winston created a beautiful book named The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory, and she recently got an awesome audio book to go with it, and so that came out just a couple weeks ago. If you want to get that book, then you can use our promo audibletrial.com/multiamory.
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Dedeker: No, you can tweet about it, sure, why not?
Emily: Yes, you can tweet.
Dedeker: Back to the show.
Emily: Yes, the big old question. Is non-monogamy an option after an affair? Okay, I really wanted to address this question in an episode because as I mentioned, I get it a lot. We get it a lot on the show. I get it a lot in my coaching practice. A lot of clients reach out to me and basically, unfortunately, there hasn't been any studies done on are there people who successfully transitioned into non-monogamy after an affair or does it crash and burn? I don't have any science to give people on the chances of them succeeding, and trust me, I've had people who were like, "Can you give me the percent chance?" I'm just like," I don't know, I'd be pulling it out of my butt. I don't know."
I can only speak from anecdotal experience and my experience working with clients. I have found that sometimes, people who have an affair, sometimes, the affair is the thing that was needed to literally break things open and create this new relationship, this new way of communicating. It forces things to be out on the table, and sometimes, depending on the couple, that's exactly what they needed. They needed some big dramatic inciting incident to finally be like, "Okay, we can finally just be freaking honest with each other about who we're attracted to or our interest in non-monogamy or something like that. We can finally talk about it and move forward."
Some people are able to go from the pain of an affair to actually launching quite successfully into a non-monogamous relationship. However, that is definitely the minority of cases that I've seen. Usually, for that to be the case, the relationship itself has to be already pretty dang solid with pretty good communication. Then this affair is just a hiccup where they're like," Oh gosh. Okay, how do we rebuild, move forward, and find a way to make our relationship better for both of us moving forward?" As I said, it is the minority of cases.
As most people know, I think non-monogamy and polyamory, it's something that takes so much trust, honesty, and communication. To start after an affair is starting at your life already with a ton of debt, like with a negative bank account with no job. You're really shooting yourself in the foot trying to transition a relationship where you've been cheating into something that's non-monogamous. I can never say to someone like, "No, it's impossible. You can't do it. Don't even try," but it's definitely going to be difficult.
Jase: I've read some articles by people. There's one that we read in preparing for this where they were basically saying they've never known anyone who has successfully transitioned into non-monogamy with that same partner. Often, people can find like, "This really opened my eyes to non-monogamy but maybe not with that person." There's lots of different ways that it could go.
Emily: Right. Yes, I think that is definitely interesting that I think a lot of people, if they've been in, let's say, a monogamous marriage for a long time and then they finally have an affair, they find someone, they have some kind of extra marital affair at that, that can be the inciting incident that helps them to realize, "Hey--
Dedeker: This is what I want in my life.
Emily: Yes. "This is what I want, I feel like I am capable of loving more than one person," or, "I am really interested in this." That's great, it's great that you've realized this, but the chances of succeeding still keeping the same people in your life, the person that you cheated on and the person that you're cheating on your partner with, that is definitely an uphill battle from what I've seen.
Dedeker: That's fascinating because I think anecdotally, people think in their minds like, "Okay, a lot of people get into polyamory because it's coming out of a cheating relationship." Then they have the affair or whatever, and then they start becoming polyamorous after that. That's just a way in which polyamory can happen in people's lives and that people just think," Okay, that's a thing that people do, so it's a possibility that it can work." I don't know.
Jase: I think the reality is it doesn't tend to work that way.
Emily: Yes, It doesn't tend to work out. I've definitely--
Dedeker: There's so much pain from the beginning incident or there can be potentially that yes, I agree that it's difficult to crawl up out of that and then all of a sudden just be comfortable with this new thing.
Emily: Right. I have seen people really dig themselves a really deep hole. Some people who they've been cheating on a partner, but they're like, "Maybe, if I pitched them on the idea of opening up our relationship first." They pitch them and then the partner agrees like, "Yes, we'll open up our other relationship." Then they're trying to pretend that this partner they've been seeing for a year now that, "Actually, we only met two weeks ago."
Dedeker: My gosh.
Emily: It does become that old adage of the tangled web essentially where it just get in deeper and deeper and deeper. I don't know. I guess that's where I ultimately land.
I have seen people really pull it off pretty amazingly, but I would call that more of a miracle rather than something to be expected. That I think for most people that I know who are in this situation of their cheating on their partner or they've been cheated on and now they're considering, “Should I be non-monogamous, should I be open?" That's basically that it's like you can try, but I wouldn't count on it being successful.
You're probably going to have a better time trying to find some way to have a fresh start, either leaving the relationships that you're in and knowing now, going forward, I know what I want, and now, I can create relationships that are built on honesty and trust about what I want. Basically that, you have to find some way to have a fresh start generally, because there's probably going to be too much pain, suffering, baggage, and mistrust trying to transition it from that.
Jase: Yes, because like we said, that it takes a lot of trust and honesty to have an effective non-monogamous relationship and that in this case, if you've been having an affair and then you want to open up your existing relationship and continue that relationship you're having the affair with, not only are you starting from a place of having lost a lot of your partner's trust, of violating that trust, but also, you're not starting off their metamour relationship on a good foot, because you're starting with like, "I don't trust you to respect my relationship," that and more.
Jase: It strikes on both sides, it's just really not a great place to start from. I would argue like not a reasonable thing to ask of someone, to ask of your partner who's been cheated on. I know people do it, it happens a lot, actually. People try to make it work. I personally would say that's not a fair thing to ask of someone.
Emily: I know we're really ragging on this situation and I'm going to keep ragging. Basically, just saying that a viewpoint that we haven't really considered yet is I also get a lot of people who come to me who are "the other woman", they are the other person. Sometimes, it's actually even under the guise of like, "This person came to me and said they were non-monogamous, so I got into a relationship with them and then found out too late, they've actually been lying to their partner this entire time, but now, I love this person."
Dedeker: What do we do?
Emily: Yes, what do we do? I don't know. I feel so sorry for people in this situation because it is really just a case of if you found out that your partner's been lying to their other partner this whole time? At least for me personally, there is no excuse on the planet that this person can give me, that makes it justifiable for why I should stay with them after they've been lying to their other partner this whole time.
Dedeker: They are also a liar, that's not cool, man.
Emily: Yes. It doesn't matter that you're not the person necessarily being lied to. You may as well be.
Jase: You will be eventually.
Emily: This person will be eventually.
Dedeker: No, you were because they said they're non-monogamous.
Jase: That's true.
Emily: That's true.
Dedeker: Now, you were lied to. That whole situation is shitty.
Emily: That's true. It's so messed up. I've heard from so many people in that situation and I don't know why it happens so often and I feel so bad. I feel like I can't stress enough to people that if someone you're with is actively proactively lying to another partner, that's not a person that you want to be with. I'm not normally so black and white on this show or with my clients, but in this situation, I'm just like, "No, this is not going to be good. You gotta get out before you get too hurt."
Dedeker: They need to be doing some serious work in order to not continue in those lies and deceiving everyone for their own benefit. Okay, is it possible to recover ever after an infidelity, how does one even do that, and not necessarily like going into a non-monogamous relationship afterwards but just even keeping on in the same type of relationship that you already were in? Is it possible to recover, is it possible to continue that relationship, or is it just done deal, no way?
Jase: Yes, so something that was interesting in the stits and stats that we were looking at earlier is that same study found that of marriages where the infidelity was either admitted to the partner or was found out, that most marriages did continue after the affair, most didn't immediately lead to a divorce.
Dedeker: That's fascinating.
Jase: Then, again, they do this weird thing with the gender in this study, but they say 40% of women admit they're not on good terms with their spouses though even though they are still married, while 60% of men say they are on good terms.
Dedeker: It’s the exact same for both.
Emily: That’s such a weird split.
Dedeker: It's so stupid.
Jase: It's the same number, right? 40% of women said it's bad, 60% of men said it was good. Okay, maybe I'm just assuming this is all heterosexual couples, but I think it is. I think we read that in the study that it's all heterosexual couples and so I'm like-
Jase: -"You're saying the same number, why can't they make it into this-
Dedeker: Exactly, why would they do that?
Jase: -gender thing?" Anyway--
Dedeker: I'm mad at this study.
Jase: It's not a great study, yes.
Dedeker: Again, it's like trying to dupe you into saying like, "Well, look at all these women who are saying that they're not on good terms and the men who are trying." I think they’re both--
Emily: Well, we only have ourselves to blame for finding this study and using it.
Dedeker: All right, fine. be that as it may, It's fascinating.
Jase: I think there are two interesting things to take away from this though. One is that, first of all, is that most relationships don't end right after an affair. I think that first part is very interesting, and I think the other part is this 40-60 thing, those aren't great odds, right? About being on not good terms with your partner after this. I think it's interesting to see that that many people are still in this relationship even saying that they're not on good terms. I think that in itself says some interesting things about the way we treat marriages specifically.
Emily: Right, yes, definitely.
Dedeker: Yes, fascinating.
Jase: But through this, we found some steps for recovery, and this is not from these guys who did this study, thankfully, because I don't think-- I wouldn't trust them to help us repair a relationship. There were some really great articles, some from The Gottman Institute, some from other therapists who've written about it online. We want to talk about some of those that we felt were the most applicable to all types of relationships. Dedeker, I think you have the first one here.
Emily: Right, yes. It is hard when we are doing research into how does one recover and move forward with a partner after there's been an infidelity, because specifically, when you're looking at literature that's about affairs, it's all very mono-normative, right? It’s all very much about like your marriage needs to be the most important thing, the first thing you need to do is you need to completely cut off this other person out of your life.
It's like, "Yes, for a monogamous relationship, that makes sense. If it's some other kind of breach of trust or breach of an agreement in some kind of consensually non-monogamous relationship, then you can't just default to, 'Well, the things going to solve it is to cut off this particular person,'" because sometimes, it's not even based in a particular person. Usually, it's based in an action or something like that, but these are some steps that I think can be applied to any kind of breach of trust that's major and unexpected, not necessarily just infidelity.
The first one being that it's important to recognize that forgiveness, it is an option, that it is something that is possible to attain, but it is going to take time. I think that it is okay to hold both of those truths of knowing it is going to take time to get over the pain and to heal that pain and suffering that was caused by the breach of trust, but that it is possible to attain forgiveness and to still maintain that sense even when things are feeling really hard. The other thing that's really important is to recognize that before this infidelity or before the breach of trust, there may have been problems in the relationship. According to the studies, it's unlikely that. It's usually not like a perfect A+B=C.
It's usually not a perfect like, “She wasn't getting her emotional needs met therefore, she went to someone else to get them fulfilled.” Usually, what causes people to have affairs is a lot more complex and sometimes not quite intuitive. It is important for both people to recognize that they both probably took part in something that helped contribute to the relationship, maybe not being ideal before and being able to take ownership of that even though they know that the problems and the relationship wasn't what caused the infidelity or the breach of trust. Again, being able to take ownership for each person's part in what the relationship was like before this breach of trust.
Jase: I thought that The Gottman Institute put it well when they were saying that the problems in the relationship weren't what caused this to happen because the breach of trust comes from not being trustworthy and not taking maybe the more brave choices to be more honest or to be more upfront about your behavior. However, that doesn't mean there aren't still things that could be improved. If you are going to continue this relationship, that should be from a place of wanting to improve it. It's like that of making that distinction, I like the way that they put that.
Dedeker: Yes, the next two, wow, are real doozies because I think that if you're able to master these two in any relationship regardless of what it is, I think you were one hell of a Zen master, because it's really difficult to do but also, I just think so unbelievably loving, stepping outside of yourself, and getting out of your own way. The first one is learn how to express feelings of pain in such a way that it encourages dialogue rather than continual rumination or punishment.
I think this is incredibly difficult for most people to do because we do get so caught up in our emotions instead of being able to be like, "Hey, I'm going to help you help me by setting up a good way in which we can have a good conversation about this as opposed to me just dumping on you about all of my shit that I'm feeling in this moment." You can learn ways to self-soothe through negative feelings as well rather than always needing to let them loose on a partner, that's one of them. You want to say something about that, Dedeker?
Emily: Yes, I just wanted to point out that I feel like this is where I see so many people get stuck is, "My partner did something. I felt--
Dedeker: Yes, I get stuck.
Emily: Yes, I felt hurt about it and I'm like--
Dedeker: Almost like stuck.
Emily: Yes, and I need to process those hurt emotions about it." I see people just get stuck in this pattern of the partner that was hurt just processing and dumping all their hurt feelings on the other partner, the other partner often going through periods of just trying to apologize/being indignant/being tired of having the same conversation or feeling like they're just being beat over the head constantly or being guilted constantly. It creates this really vicious cycle, because then, the partner who is hurt then feels like they're not being listened to and it really-- I don't know. I feel like I've seen that cycle destroy a lot of relationships-
Dedeker: For sure.
Emily: -and just really wear down a lot of people because it's really hard to get out of that cycle. It makes sense. It's like if you're so hurt and the person who hurts you, you don't feel like you're getting the thing that you feel like you need from them in order to be able to not be hurt anymore, but the other partner just feels like, "How many times are we going to go over this? I have apologized, I've done everything I possibly can. I'm at the point of offering to cut off parts of my body if it'll just make you feel better."
People just really get stuck in this loop, but yes, this of learning to be able to express those feelings in a way where there can either there can be dialogue, like productive dialogue about it or in a way where you can process it by yourself, because again, I think that--
Jase: Or even with an objective party.
Emily: Exactly, or with a friend or a therapist or things like that, because the thing is that if your partner's done something to hurt you, it can still come up many years later and still feel like twingy or hurtful even after it's been “resolved” and even if it really has been resolved. Does that mean you need to bring it up to your partner again? Does it mean you just sit on it? Learning to tell the difference between those two things I think is so paramount to help prevent you from falling into that really toxic vicious cycle with a partner.
Dedeker: Yes, and I think all of that leads into the next one which is something we've talked about on this show and that you guys have talked to me about over many years, I think, and it's understanding your own personal biases and potentially shifting them in your mind. What The Gottman Institute said was creating a new context or paradigm that sets up you and your partner for success in the future. I also want to point out that we often will create these stories in our minds about who we are and who our partners are. Regardless of what they say, what they do, that tape is what plays constantly.
You never can really move forward simply because the two of you have these ideas about one another, and it's not going to move forward from there. It's always going to be those tapes that are playing and always going to be us banging ourselves over the head with like, "This is what happened. You did this, how dare are you," over and over and over again, instead of really deciding for ourselves. I'm going to decide after this amount of time or after this amount of process saying that my partner is a person who is trustworthy again, that my partner is a person who is worthy of my love, and therefore, move forward with that story as opposed to the old one.
Then I think that can change the way in which you communicate with one another, you can feel safe, honest, trustworthy, and truthful in order to move forward if you really want to in this relationship.
Jase: I think that also involves changing the story about yourself.
Jase: That I am someone--
Dedeker: Yes, that you’re not a victim anymore.
Jase: Well, no, but even just-- Yes, that too, but that I am worthy of being loved and my partner isn't going to cheat on me again or leave me or something because I'm not worthy, that we can also end up with a lot of that sort of story about ourselves in our head, that-
Jase: -I'm just not loveable enough that I can be enough for this person. I think it can really work for ourselves and for our partners. Boy, okay.
Dedeker: All of that is a lot, I bet. Okay.
Emily: Some big stuff, some big stuff for sure.
Dedeker: We’re getting a little bit a more here. Take it away, Jase.
Jase: This comes from The Gottman Institute again. Again, we've talked about this when we mentioned The Gottman Institute in the past. They're great, they are really great resource, they do a lot of research, they're a huge body of knowledge and stuff that said they are very, very, very mono-normative, very heteronormative. There's that, there's our disclaimer. Okay, moving on. They have these three questions to ask yourself in determining if you're going to move forward in trying to repair and rebuild a relationship after an affair. These are questions for the person who was the one who was cheated on.
Emily: As in it's questions to ask yourself if you're struggling and trying to figure out, "Do I stay with this person or do I leave?"
Emily: A lot of people are caught in that situation.
Jase: Right. The first question is would you want to be committed to your partner if you trusted them again? That sounds like a so basic level question which is why I think it's really worth asking. In other words, do you admire this person, do you respect this person enough to even want to have a relationship with them if you did trust them, right? And really be honest. Do I still enjoy being with this person, is this still a rewarding relationship for me, or is it not? If it's not, well, none of this is worth trying to repair anyway.
Emily: Right. Question number two, have you let go of your anger and resentment about your partner's betrayal and are you able to move forward? Another way of thinking about this question is can you close your eyes and can you imagine feeling happy again in your relationship with this person, can you imagine wanting to be close or wanting to be intimate with your partner even in spite of their actions? I think a lot of people can envision like, "Yes, I can envision. If this never happened, of course, I want to be close to my partner and trust them and be intimate with them again."
But it's like, "No," knowing what your partner's done and knowing the pain that you have because of it, can you ever imagine yourself feeling happy, feeling close, feeling intimate with this person?
Dedeker: Then finally, can you forgive your partner for their actions? Again, it's not condoning their actions, but really not letting those actions have any more power over you. Apparently, research suggests that a willingness to forgive can help heal marital problems, both big problems and small problems. In fact, marital therapists have found that forgiveness is an essential ingredient of healing from infidelity and it contributes to a long-lasting successful marriage. Isn't that in the Bible, forgiveness?
Emily: Oh my goodness. Even referring the Bible into this, Emily.
Jase: Crossover episode here.
Dedeker: Hey, that’s a really good podcast.
Emily: Yes, that was not what I was expecting.
Dedeker: Really know just like doing it in general is probably good just also for your own mental health like learning to forgive.
Emily: Well, I think that's-- This makes sense in our question of asking is non-monogamy viable after an affair? I think all these three questions apply as well. If you're considering do I stay with this person and be non-monogamous with them or do I leave? These three questions definitely apply, because it's true, if you haven't let go of your anger and resentment and if you don't feel like you can forgive your partner for the breach of trust, there's no way in hell you're going to be able to have a healthy functioning non-monogamous relationship until those things happen.
I think the other important thing is if you don't feel like that's in you, that's okay. If you really don't feel I can't forgive this person, I can't get past that, that is okay. It just means you probably do need to leave the relationship, if you really can't get past that. You're definitely not under any kind of obligation to have to forgive someone or had to have to let go of feeling angry about what someone did to you. It's not going to be good to hang onto those things and be in a relationship with this person at the same time.
Dedeker: I do think that ideally, eventually, a sense of forgiveness just for the situation so that you don't hold onto the idea that every single person that you meet later on in your life is going to potentially do this to you. I feel like I've absolutely had moments where I'm like, "Fuck." My old relationships, they were really bad and this person did this terrible thing to me. I come into a new relationship being like, "This is going to happen to me again." I think holding that sense of resentment or that sense of anger continually for something that happened to you in the past, it could lead to baggage in new relationships.
I think even just for yourself, even if you don't stay in the relationship, just being like, "I'm letting it go. It happened. Fuck that person, I'm letting it go." That'll allow for some understanding when you do decide to get into a new relationship.
Jase: I think these questions also work even not with an affair in kind of the traditional sexual infidelity sense of the word. Like we're talking about earlier with some kind of breach of trust, I think these questions still apply. It's that like, "Is there still something here in this relationship that if I can trust them again, I would still want to be in it, can I see myself letting go of my anger and resentment about whatever this betrayal was, and can I see myself forgiving them?" I think that absolutely applies. If you're having that same question of like, "Well, it's not so black and white as an affair because we're taught to think that's black and white, but there was some other violation of trust," I think this still applies.
Dedeker: Yes, for sure.
Emily: Yes, if people want to find more about this, I often refer people to our Episode 155 that was specifically about rebuilding trust. That episode is not just about rebuilding trust, it is also conversations around like is it even possible to rebuild trust in a relationship after a huge violation, what is it going to feel like after that. Again, if you're interested in this, go check out Episode 155 to get a little bit more information on that.
Jase: The closing thought that we wanted to leave you all with for this episode is that the best outcome isn't the one where you stay in the relationship necessarily, it's the one where you have healthy, respectful, and rewarding relationships. If that is this relationship, then making it work after infidelity is great, but if this isn't that relationship, no one is out there giving out points for making unhappy relationships last longer. When we think about that statistic of 40% of people saying they're not on good terms with their partner even after sticking together after an affair, no one's giving you points for that, no one's rewarding you for that, so just keep that mind.
Dedeker: No high scores.
Jase: That this isn't about finding tricks to somehow win at the one result which is making a relationship last, that's not the goal of this game. What about you, what have your experience has been with infidelity or with trying to move from infidelity to non-monogamy or trying to repair a relationship? We would love to hear from you and the best place to be part of that conversation is in our private Discourse discussion group and our Facebook discussion group which you can access through our Patreon, which you can get to by going to patreon.com/multiamory and pledging there to become part of one of those groups.
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