Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cheating: It's Not the Sex, It's the Lying - Jenny Block on FOXNews.com

The last two years for Jenny Block must have surely been an exhiliarating ride. Jenny is the author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, published summer 2008, her courageous memoir of being a mainstream wife, mom and writer who, with the full knowledge and cooperation of her husband and with his and their daughter's best interests at heart, opened her marriage. Ultimately she added a long-term relationship with her girlfriend who is considered a part of their family.

Since that time Jenny has been busy.  She's made the rounds doing readings from her book and being interviewed on the topic of open relationships and polyamory. She won a Lambda Literary Award in the bisexual category.  She's appeared on national TV talk shows (for example, Fox's Mornings with Mike and Juliet) and TV news magazines (ABC's 20/20, defending responsible non-monogamy in a seventh Commandment debate on adultery with evangelical Christian ministers in the presence of a very large evangelical Christian audience), syndicated radio programs, in print newspapers and in online venues. Along the way she's blogged on sex and relationships for Huffington Post and - what a pleasant surprise - now writes FoxNews.com's weekly sexual health column, Fox on Sex. Her latest column is Cheating: It's Not the Sex, It's the Lying, and it is fantastic. Jenny offers excellent advice on why, whether monogamous or otherwise, it's necessary to communicate clearly with our partner(s) and come to an understanding as to what specific behaviors with others are permitted and which ones are to be off limits.

Those who attend my workshops know how often I emphasize the importance of trust as key to building healthy, happy, functional polyamorous relationships, and as Jenny points out, this is important in ALL intimate relationships. Our monogamy-focused society creates expectations in us that few really think about, much less discuss with the people they love and are committed to.

Some people may not be phased by their love engaging in a bit of flirtation at a cocktail party, while another may be livid about it - who is to know for sure where the line is that shouldn't be crossed if this isn't thought about and discussed? I'm not talking about angry accusations and blaming, that's not effective communication. But I am saying that discussing it before it happens is going to be a lot less difficult than doing so after it does.  For one thing, even if it's an uncomfortable discussion, the trust you share is intact and more likely to stay intact if boundaries and expectations are clearly acknowledged between you. 

Obviously it's less likely that people in stable polyamorous relationships are going to object to a partner's flirtation with others, but I've known plenty to end up in conflict for having failed to establish a clear understanding of each other's expectations.

For example, conflicts have been known to arise between poly partners due to differing views over what constitutes "sex."   If:

  • Poly partner A agrees to tell poly partner B if they have sex with someone new,
  • Poly partner A's definition of "sex" requires penitration to qualify, while
  • Poly partner B's definition also includes making out and manual stimulation/foreplay,
  • It is easy to predict that it's merely a matter of time before the drama begins.
So whether you are in a monogamous relationship or an open or polyamorous one, talk to your partner(s) and be gently direct about your feelings and point of view. The more you are honest with each other, the better your agreements will hold up and serve your purposes, especially when it really counts, and the more solid the trust you share will be. Jenny rightly says that it's not the sex, it's the lying. But it's also about the omissions. Either way, honesty and transparency will go a long way toward preventing damage to the trust that is vital to keep any relationship sound and happy.

To put it more bluntly, don't be stupid. Never, ever secretly rationalize breaking an agreement and crossing an established boundary as a means to have who you desire while expecting to avoid a potential confrontation with a partner. You are playing with a fire that in the blink of an eye will destroy the trust required for your relationship to be happy. Before you know it you are in deep relationship trouble, a kind of trouble that will require hard work for a long time to repair the damage done. Erase from your memory forever that old saw about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It's a lie, especially in this case. For the vast majority of people it will not be worth it. Trust me, I've been there.


Anonymous said...

"it's merely a matter of time before the drama begins"

I wish there was a way to tell if someone is secretly, or unconsciously, heavily INTO drama.
Mistakenly add one to your relationship and all of a sudden things turn into an un-funny sitcom.

Sadly, the only way to know is to find out the hard way.

NobleCaboose said...

I recently had an incident where I hadn't established boundaries with my secondary partner because he claimed he was "monogamous," in that he only had one partner at a time even though he was comfortable sharing his partner with someone else. This backfired when an opportunity for a casual fling arose and he used the excuse of "well, we're in an open relationship so it's probably ok" to rationalise it. He really hurt me, even though it's technically not breaking the rules. The fact that he went ahead without having established boundaries really bugged me a lot. We're trying to work it out, and I really hope there isn't permanent damage to our relationship.

Anita Wagner said...

Anonymous, you might consider having a discussion with a new love interest fairly early in which you talk about seeking partners who are emotionally intelligent, i.e. they don't indulge in drama and instead have the necessary communication skills for processing difficult emotions without drama, and define what behavior constitutes drama in your eyes. Then ask them what they think and how they feel about that. The answer should give you something to go on. That said, if the person is new to polyamory, they probably won't know how they will feel until things are in motion. Still, it's not so much how they feel but how they react to their feelings. Good luck.

Anita Wagner said...

Noble, I hope things work out for you and your secondary partner. Unfortunately such things will happen, sometimes even despite our best intentions and preparations. The important thing is how the individuals react in conflict. Forgiveness is always an option, and the people we love deserve to have it so long as they are clear about their intentions going forward to do things differently next time. Good luck to you as well.