Intimacy, Secrecy, and Myths of Non-Monogamy

Last week I posted a blog on couples healing from infidelity and was overwhelmed by your response.  Emails, calls, comments, and responses poured in, most of them heartfelt descriptions of pain and recovery from affairs and mistrust.  It has been a great honor to read your personal stories.  

I am happy to talk with more of you, if you're interested in a conversation contact me here.

I’ve also received questions from some readers about affairs that really help to highlight some of the myths I combat regularly in my practice about affairs and polyamory.  I have specialized in working with polyamorous, open, and non-monogamous couples (and groups) and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer) communities in my graduate studies and private practice for years.

Its surprising how many of us believe these myths to be true!  Unfortunately overcoming them a great challenge for so many of my amazing clients.  Two of the most common are below, maybe they have also been a challenge for you.

Read on and reconsider.  I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.

1.  Myth: Affairs mean sex

One of the big assumptions out there is that an affair has to involve sex.  You are welcome to define affairs as you see fit in relationships, but my definition reaches further than just sexual encounters.  As you know, in honest open relationships, partners may have sex with multiple people and these are not affairs.  There are two main ingredients  in my recipe for an affair: the first is intimacy (not necessarily sexuality).  This could mean flirting, deep friendship, heartfelt care, kissing, play, texts, and/or a whole bunch of other intimate activities.  You don’t have to have sex with someone to have an affair.

The second ingredient is secrecy.  Many couples have agreements allowing intimacy with other partners but get into trouble when they hide whats going on.  This can include lying, cover ups, hiding details, creating secret forms of contact, sneaking away, omitting information and many other inauthentic forms of communication.

The secrecy in affairs is doubly hurtful for many of the partners.  Whether you are in a monogamous relationship, an open dating partnership, or a polyamorous marriage talk with your sweetheart about the kind of information they want to know about your intimacy with other people (do they want to know when a bartender flirts with you?  your porn collection?  your ex-boyfriends visits to town? etc).  Then revisit and revise these agreements as your relationship grows.

Intimacy + Secrecy = Affair  No mater what be up front and honest.  Feeling the need to keep secrets from your partner is a good signal to talk through your agreements.

2.  Myth: Open couples can’t have affairs

The last myth I read repeatedly in the last week was often framed in a question: “I’m in an open relationship, so there can’t be an affair”  If you read my definition of affair, you know this just isn’t true.  Opening a relationship does imply investment in communication, agreements about other people, and an intention to be honest but unfortunately it also creates more opportunities for misunderstandings.  Non-monogamy does not mean a free pass from the consequences of secrecy.

Although open and non-monogamous relationships do agree to have intimacy in various forms with more than one partner, they do not involve secrecy.  If you are in an open relationship is is important you create clear agreements and are upfront about your expectations for information sharing to avoid miscommunication.  Don’t forget to include your expectations about privacy when you create your agreements but recognize that privacy is different than secrecy.  It is also critical to revisit these often as your relationships shift and change.

Tristan Taormino has created a few free downloads on the Opening Up website if you would like help with this conversation.  I also often work with couples to create clear expectations and to talk through difficult agreements.  Email me if you would like to set up a time to talk.

Whether you are in a monogamous or open relationship, affairs can happen.  Keep communication honest and up front with your partner to avoid the problems affairs can create between you.  

If you want help having a conversation to create these agreements in your relationship give me a call for help.