Does one person cheating mean you should open the relationship?
There is a lot of good that can come out of an open relationship — there is also a lot of good that can come out of a polyamorous relationship, which is completely different than open relationships, but often confused with them. The truth is, any variation of relationship can work — any version can be happy, healthy, fulfilling, and exciting. Whether it’s monogamy, long-distance, polyamory, or open relationships — it can work for you if you’re doing it for the right reasons.
The problem is, of course, knowing whether or not you’re doing something for the right reasons. When one person in a relationship cheats, it’s really tempting to open up your relationship or try polyamory as though that will magically solve all of your problems. But does one person cheating mean you should open the relationship? Does it mean you should break up?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple solution. The truth is, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between making a bold, honest choice about your relationship or just kidding yourself to try and put off the inevitable. That’s why it’s so important to be honest with yourself and have a candid interrogation of the state of your relationship.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind, because every relationship is different.
What state was the relationship in before the cheating?
Cheating is rarely just about sex. Sometimes it about the sex, but it can be about so many other things — a lack of intimacy, a lack of regard for your partner, trying to escape or sabotage the relationship, or just a total breakdown of communication and falling into complacency. You need to be really honest about the state of the relationship beforehand. If you had an issue with trust or communication, that’s not immediately going to change with an open relationship.
Open relationships require your communication, your trust — every part of the foundation of your relationship — to be totally on point. If you felt like your relationship was in a very good place, that the cheating was just a blip, or that it was really just about sex, then maybe an open relationship is the answer — but you’re going to have to make sure your relationship is strong AF to make it work.
How much damage has the cheating done?
If you’re both casual about sex and have been talking about trying something new, then the cheating may not mean as much to you as a couple who always assumed the other was happy with monogamy. But no matter what, you need to do some healing from the cheating itself. Talk about why and how it happened — the roles you both may have played in it — and make sure that you’ve recovered from the cheating before you try to move forward. Otherwise, an open relationship will just be a (potentially dangerous) bandaid on the situation.
Were you interested in an open relationship before the cheating?
This is one of the most important factors — have you been interested in an open relationship before? Even if you hadn’t vocalized it to each other, have you thought it might work for you? Because here’s the thing — even if an open relationship could work for you, you’re probably going to resent it if you only consider one after you've been cheated on. It’s such a huge breach of trust, that there’s a good chance the open relationship will always be tainted by that.
Now, maybe months down the line you’ll decide that an open relationship is right for you, totally separate from the cheating. But just leaping to the idea that it’s all about sex, that an open relationship will take the pressure off, that it will make the cheating go away — few people could ever really relax into an open relationship if they felt that they didn’t really have a choice in it. Maybe you can, but I'd seriously struggle.
Is this a decision you are both behind?
OK, so it all really boils down to this. Yes, you need a strong relationship — yes, you need great communication and you need to feel like you’ve healed from the cheating. But even if that’s there — even if it’s all there — the only way an open relationship will really work is if it’s something you both want. And that’s something you need to be brutally honest with yourself about.
Do you actually like the idea of having sex with other people? Are you actually OK with navigating your partner having sex with other people? The answer might be yes — some people love it. But a lot of people love the idea of keeping their partner at all costs and of keeping the relationship alive, even if it kind of makes them miserable. So make sure that this is something you can really, truly get behind. If it feels forced, if you feel unsure — if you sense that your partner is kidding themselves — you have to pay attention to that. Yes, reservations and fears and concerns are normal, but you both need to be truly committed.
Will an open relationship help your partnership, especially if you’ve been struggling with cheating? Be honest with yourselves. You and your partner know yourselves and each other better than anyone. Does it feel like the right fit? Or is one of you — or both of you — just trying too hard to make it work? You know the answer. Yes, you need to have the foundation to handle an open relationship — but you also both need to have the desire. Otherwise, you’re just prolonging the inevitable. You owe it to yourselves to be honest.