What cheating really looks like in polyamorous relationships, according to people who are in them

  • A popular misconception about polyamorous people is that they can’t cheat. 
  • A polyamorous person can cheat on their partners by ignoring agreed-upon boundaries about dating others, like not telling their partners when they have sex with new people.
  • Hailey Gill, 26, has been polyamorous since high school and told Insider what cheating looks like in their relationships. 
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hailey Gill, 26, realized they were polyamorous during their sophomore year of high school. They’ve been navigating being polyamorous in a monogamous world ever since. 

But having more than one partner doesn’t mean Gill’s relationships are a free-for-all. Gill, who has a husband and another partner, said cheating could occur in their relationship if they started seeing someone else without telling their husband or boyfriend.

“Cheating is frowned upon in my relationships structure much like a monogamous relationship,” Gill said. “We don’t mind fooling around and loving others outside of the relationship as long as communication is maintained and due notice is given that we have an interest in someone new.”

Gill and their partners have clear boundaries around what cheating looks like in their relationship, but not all polyamorous people do.

Polyamory can take many different forms, from triads, where three people all date each other monogamously, to entire webs of people dating each other openly and without rigid boundaries. 

This makes the definition of cheating different depending on the relationship, similarly to how the definition can vary in monogamous relationships. 

Like Gill, some people have firm boundaries on communication, while others opt for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to seeing others. 

cheating couple hand holding

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The myth that polyamory is “just an excuse to cheat” makes it difficult for some people to understand how infidelity works

Polyamory can be difficult for some people to understand because it breaks away from traditional, monogamous understandings of what it means to be a good partner,  including being faithful. Because of that, some people read polyamory as a way to cheat on your partner with their vague consent. 

Riya and James, polyamorous YouTubers and founders of blog Open Lifestyle, believe the idea that polyamory is “an excuse to cheat” often comes from a misunderstanding of what non-monogamy is, as well as deeper insecurities.  

“It’s a charged statement,” Riya said in a YouTube video on polyamory and cheating. “There’s a lot of emotion behind it. There’s the fear of being used. There is the fear of being betrayed by someone that you invest time and emotion into.” 

This fear is what makes it difficult for some monogamous people to understand what cheating looks like in a dating dynamic that is built entirely on their definition of cheating. 

couple phones cheating

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Breaking boundaries and failing to communicate can spell disaster for a polyamorous relationship

As in monogamous relationships, jealousy can be a problem for polyamorous people. While polyamory is about giving your partner the freedom to have other sexual or romantic partners, natural human emotions like insecurity can get in the way. 

“Humans are messy creatures. We have messy hearts that feel things strongly. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong or that you’re bad at poly, it just means that you’re having feelings,” sex therapist Liz Powell told Glamour. 

This human inclination towards jealousy makes communication and boundary-setting especially important in polyamorous relationships. 

Aside from the emotional implications of this kind of cheating, respecting boundaries and communication is important in polyamorous relationships because of the health risks that can come with having multiple sexual partners. 

While polyamorous people on average get tested more regularly tested for STIs, according to The Chicago Tribune, it’s important for all partners to be informed on the sexual status of their partners and know if there’s a risk of contracting an STI through a new partner who hasn’t been tested — especially in light of the World Health Organization’s report on the rise of STIs globally.

 

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