Download the latest issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine just for ₹69/-

What's The Difference Between Polyamory And Cheating?

In simple terms, ethical non-monogamy *isn’t* the same as infidelity

Seen the phrase “ENM” or “poly” pop up in people’s Hinge bios? You’re not alone. With research by YouGov suggesting that 18% of the UK population are in a polyamorous relationship or open to the idea, it’s clear that ethical non-monogamy – the practice of having more than one romantic or sexual partner at a time – is becoming more common than ever.

But for those who’ve only ever explored monogamy within the dating world, there still remain fundamental questions about the relationship style. And, at the forefront of many people’s minds, is concern around how ethical non-monogamy differs from infidelity.

As anyone who has been cheated on knows, it can be a really traumatic thing to go through with the after effects reverberating for years. Experiencing infidelity can lead to low self-esteem and jealousy issues in future relationships, as well as a long-running fear of being cheated on again. So it’s understandable that there might be a hesitancy regarding lifestyles like ENM and polyamory which involve dating or building relationships with more than one partner at a time.

With this in mind, it’s important to stress that polyamory, while not for everyone, places a focus on honesty and openness. There are many ways in which alternative relationship styles can be explored consensually and without a betrayal of trust.

Want to learn more? Well, buckle up, we’re going to break it down for you.

Getty Image

FRANCESCO CARTA Getty Images

What are polyamory and non-monogamy and how do they differ

First up, let’s define some terms.

Ethical Non-Monogamy: Also known as consensual non-monogamy, this is an umbrella term designating a relationship philosophy which involves more than one relationship or sexual partner. While this can take many different forms (swinging, open relationships, relationship anarchy, solo polyamory, triad relationships and much more!) the uniting factor is that everyone involved has given their enthusiastic consent.

Polyamory: This term designates a relationship preference for multiple partners, placing an emphasis on the ability to love or desire multiple people. As with ethical non-monogamy, honesty with all your partners is central to any connection you make. But while ethical non-monogamy is the catch-all term for an approach to relationships and sexual structures involving more than one other person, polyamory is a subset of ethical non-monogamy which focuses on building multiple romantic relationships at one time.

Is polyamory cheating?

At times, there can be confusion between polyamory and cheating. You might even remember when Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith appeared on Red Table Talk to dispel cheating rumours and reveal, on the record, that they had experimented with non-monogamy in their marriage.

However, polyamory tends to be built around the ideas of honesty, communication and centring the feelings of everyone involved, so in most cases ethical non-monogamy doesn’t equate to cheating. Within a polyamorous relationship, both parties will have agreed beforehand what their boundaries and rules within that relationship are. So if a partner betrays your trust within a monogamous relationship and later claims that it is due to them being polyamorous, you are entitled to feelings of hurt and confusion. While it’s important to respect the other person’s identity, you never consented to being in an open or polyamorous relationship – meaning that you have reason to view their activity as unfaithful.

The next steps from here would be to reexamine the basis of your relationship and decide whether or not polyamory is something you want to explore or whether remaining monogamous is a better fit for you. As with all relationship struggles, allow space for everyone’s feelings to be heard and for honest communication. Ultimately you need to decide together whether your relationship styles are compatible and if anything needs to change about your relationship – only you and your partner can make that call.

What does infidelity look like in a polyamorous relationship?

Remember that betrayal isn’t unique to monogamous relationships - it also happens in polyamorous relationships, too.

Monogamous relationships are based on an unspoken rule; “I promise not to sleep with or pursue a romantic relationship with anyone but my chosen partner.” While this isn’t the case with ethical non-monogamy, where multiple connections are encouraged, polyamorous partners will draw out their own rules and boundaries between themselves. This can be anything from not inviting other partners into the marital bed, agreeing to undergo sexual health screening after every new hookup, or mutually deciding that exes are off limits.

Such rules, as well as the commitment to being honest, are what make a polyamorous relationship feel like a place of safety and trust. To ignore these boundaries, then, could be described as a form of cheating – or at the very least a sign of disrespect.

In short, whether you’re in a polyamorous relationship or a monogamous one, it is still possible to betray a partner’s trust and violate the terms of the relationship. All romantic and sexual attachments should be based on transparency and clear boundaries – and no matter the circumstance or relationship orientation, that’s the foundation we all deserve.

Image Credits: Ana Maria Serrano Getty Images