Polyamory vs infidelity
Some time ago, on Nigerian twitter, there was a debate about polyamory and how it differs from cheating. From observing the conversations, I realized that people conflate polyamory and infidelity.
The concept of polyamory is one that is alien to many people and they have not taken the time to seek out information about it.
Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved. It operates on the idea that relationships can be loving, committed, and serious, without being sexually exclusive. It is often referred to as consensual and responsible non-monogamy, the keyword being consensual.
Polyamory is not to be confused with polygamy, which is practised in many parts of Nigeria. Where polygamy has men marrying multiple wives with or without the consent or approval of said wives, polyamory usually involves two partners consenting to have romantic or sexual relations with other people.
Infidelity, commonly referred to as cheating, is the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or a committed sexual and/or romantic partner. Infidelity occurs when there has been a prior agreement to be exclusive, and one or more persons break that agreement.
The key difference between polyamory and cheating is communication and honesty. Polyamorous partners usually inform their spouses of the people they are with whether it is a one night stand, a friends-with-benefits situation, or another long or short term partner.
Infidelity occurs in secret, with the cheating partner hiding their actions and lying to their partner to cover up. Open and honest communication is valued and even required in a polyamorous relationship to reduce the chances of feelings of jealousy or betrayal. Yes, polyamorous people can get jealous too. They’re human after all, and jealousy is a natural human emotion; no one is exempt from feeling it—no matter what type of relationship they’re in.
Plenty of polyamorous people struggle with jealousy over their primary partner’s other partners. However, the best practice is to talk through these feelings and resolve them. On the contrary, people who are cheating on their monogamous partners will often dismiss their partner’s feelings of jealousy and make them feel crazy for having suspicions.
Another difference between polyamory and infidelity is informed consent. Cheating is never consensual. Having another partner on the side without consent from your primary partner is cheating.
In polyamorous relationships, everybody involved is well informed of each other, and consent to the terms of the relationship. There is no sneaking around or deceit. If there are parts of the relationship hidden from the other party, it’s cheating. Polyamory is about love and trust, while infidelity is the act of betraying love and trust. See? They’re opposites.
If you are in a monogamous relationship and feel that you want to transition into polyamory, do not secretly start seeing someone else. Instead, have a talk with your partner about what you want. If they agree, then you’re good to go. If they don’t, you respect their decision and either stay monogamous or opt-out of the relationship.
Often, polyamory is regarded as the same as an open relationship which is not necessarily true. While an open relationship has two partners who have consented to have sexual relations outside of themselves, polyamory is often about more than just sex, with people having multiple committed romantic relations.
It is important to remember that polyamorous relationships are relationships, even if they look a little different from yours. People express love in different ways and no relationship is the same, which is why polyamory is becoming increasingly common.
Even if you don’t fully understand it, remember to respect it. Most importantly, do your research, there are tons of resources and books on polyamory. Knowledge is a sure way to eliminate prejudice. So, the next time a discussion comes up about polyamory, do not be tempted to dismiss it as ‘just cheating’ or ‘unserious people’.
Are you in a polyamorous relationship? Share your experiences with us below. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and our moderators will be available to respond.