Polyamory and Reformed Cheaters: Fessing Up is Hard to Do

a photo of a person in a white shirt viewed from the back, they are sitting in a field of grass, text over picture reads "the first boy I ever loved was my best friend and I'm afraid that's what pushed him away"
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Polyamory is Harder for Reformed Cheaters

“Polyamory? That’s something that’s for reformed cheaters, right?”

And I want to say no when people say that, but it’s a great deal more complicated than that.

While there are plenty of people who become polyamorous without ever being physically unfaithful as monogamous people, there are others who did. Who figured out they were polyamorous this way. Or at least nonmonogamous.

I never physically cheated during a mono thing. But I did develop feelings for other people, which some would consider emotional affairs. Although Present Day Me? Rolls her eyes (poly has rendered the whole concept of emotional affair strange for me). I just know that’s the way I work now. My emotional attachment patterns don’t make a lick of sense. I fall in love without meaning to. And this tendency informs the type of monogamy I could do.

But some people had physical affairs, too, before finding polyamory. And lots of them.

It’s an easy thing to shame the reformed cheaters. “How dare you!” But the ones capable of being shamed are feeling it anyway. Shaming themselves. Others have reconciled this within themselves.

And one thing I’ve learned watching and listening to them?

Polyamory isn’t a quick fix. Polyamory is actually harder for reformed cheaters. And anyone who dates them.

Polyamory is a Poor Substitute for Self-Control

Some reformed cheaters landed in hot water due to a lack of self-control.

As I wrote before, if you can’t exercise self-control, then there’s no fucking way you should be poly. All that lies down that path is drama, bad behavior, heartache, and disappointment.

If impulse control is your problem, poly is not your solution.

Fessing Up is Hard to Do

But you know what? Let’s say self-control is not the issue. I don’t care who you are. Everyone makes mistakes. What’s more important than not making a bad decision in the first place?

Being able to admit that mistake to the people who it affects.

And that’s really where I see many reformed cheaters struggle.

It’s not the crime that gets them in trouble — it’s the cover-up.

The fact that they have a really hard time admitting to others when they’ve messed up.

Confidante Imbalance and Jealousy

My former boyfriend Rob struggled a lot with this. He hid things.

I noticed fairly early on in our relationship that he felt comfortable confessing to me when he’d do things that would piss his wife Michelle off. Little things. Like bumming a cigarette off a coworker on a stressful work day when he knew she’d freak. And some really big things that made me sick to even hear them. And put me in awkward spot. There was nothing in my Poly Honor Student manual on how to handle any of this.

I don’t kid myself that he told me everything either. It was the best and worst part of dating him — I knew I wasn’t getting a full version of the truth, but I also knew the truth was hard for him. So when he would tell me something that he wasn’t proud of, I felt honored.

I became addicted to his confidence.

I’m sure, looking back, that was part of why Michelle would get so jealous and upset with me. She knew Rob confided in me. And she wanted that from him.

To be fair, Michelle was tricky. She had a way of using your vulnerabilities against you. I wrote about the worst case of it here (under heading “The Perils of Oversharing”). But briefly, Rob was having a stressful meltdown one time. Became very apologetic. And it occurred to me that part of his shame stemmed from the fact that he thought I had never gone through anything. Because I had my shit together. So I told Rob about some times where I’d struggled to make him feel better.

And I still don’t know why he did this, but he told Michelle without asking me if it would be okay. Which could have been fine once I took a step back and maybe cooled my jets a bit.

However, over the ensuing weeks and months, Michelle used a trauma that had occurred nearly a decade before as grounds to assert that I was “fragile.” To invalidate me. And argue for things based on concerns about my present mental health (which was fine, I worked full time, took care of myself).

Only Telling the Truth When It’s Easy Isn’t Good Enough

It’s tempting to say “Well, if Michelle weren’t so difficult to confide in, then Rob wouldn’t need to lie so much.”

And I’ll be honest here — I’ve thought that. A lot. Especially when I was in the thick of it and frustrated with her.

But here’s the thing? It can be very difficult making it completely comfortable for someone to tell you the truth. Especially if you want to be able to set healthy boundaries with them. You have to be able to express your displeasure with something they’ve done. Let them know that it’s not okay.

And to be able to tell the truth to yourself about how all their actions and words affect you, logistically, emotionally, and otherwise.

And some of that? Probably gonna be really uncomfortable. A lot of personal growth is.

*

Having other confidantes who are not our romantic partners can help.

I’m hoping that Skyspook has good outlets. He deserves them.

But more importantly? If I have a problem with something he’s doing, I tell him. And he tells me. It’s not always smooth. It’s not always pretty.

But being able to tell the truth to one another — even with the truth is no fun — that’s how you know that it’s something good.

It’s actually one of my tells now. If I feel like a person and I can’t handle one another’s difficult truths, especially if there’s a pattern? Well, then it’s not a good match.

Crucial Conversations is an excellent framework to use for the tightrope walk of assertiveness during delicate situations. I know I suggest this book a lot, but it really has helped me to navigate difficult talks.

P.S. Please Don’t Be an Asshole When People Tell You Things You Don’t Want to Hear

Just because you’re sharing difficult things, it doesn’t mean you’ve quite nailed this whole assertive communication thing. You have to be open to others’ viewpoints as well.

If you make yourself hard to talk to, don’t be surprised if you don’t know what’s going on.

There’s a reason aggressive people are surrounded by “liars.”

It’s not that others are being passive-aggressive or dishonest. Many times people are actually attempting to tell you how they see it (rather than not saying anything and seething silently). You just rudely dismiss or ignore them.

If you are really closed to other people’s viewpoints, you’re not actually going to force everyone around to your own by being emphatic and selectively deaf (as is often assumed from the silence that accompanies steamrolling). You are instead going to walk around with very false impressions of how everyone else feels about things.

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2 Comments

  1. Linked here from your FL post. This is so powerful and to the point and true. To be colloquial, you’ve hit all the nails square on the head and danced on my toes in a way that was exactly what I needed. Thank you.

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