I’m always surprised by the mental gymnastics people do around finding a partner and the behavior they’re willing to forgive in certain situations. I really shouldn’t be by now because instances like this come up fairly often. I’m sure if a friend were to explain the same story to the people in these situations that their own advice would be similar to mine – yet so many people see their own situation as unique. Often it is not.
What am I talking about? Let’s look at an example:
A person starts dating someone who is married/separated/not divorced. This new love interest is NOT practicing ethical nonmonogamy/polyamory with their married partner (I define this specifically because ethical polyamorists don’t do this). The fact is, this new partner has not ended their primary relationship yet; whether on paper or not, they are still married. If beginning another relationship is not negotiated in their existing/current marriage to start, there are a few red flags for me:
1) that they haven’t had a crucial conversation with their spouse about where things are going for certain, at best;
2). at worst they don’t respect their spouse enough to talk about wanting someone new;
3) also if they are doing this to their spouse who at one point was presumably their beloved, what makes you think this new lover won’t do this in time to you?
(Again, I’m presuming the initial pairing isn’t practicing ethical polyamory here.)
A person who doesn’t want their own relationship to end in a maelstrom of betrayal might wish to think about this: look for people who can ethically end a relationship. It shows they can communicate, understand what nonconsensual nonmonogamy (aka cheating) is, and respect a relationship enough to allow their partner to be in on the decision to end the relationship or not. I look at this scenario like this: if it were me, I’d hate for my relationship issues to get so distressed that we live separate lives and just can’t end it.
This is really hard stuff. It takes a lot of internal mental work to stop this before it starts. It can be even tougher to stop once people get intimate and that oxytocin is flowing; we are so much more willing to overlook bad behavior if the sex is good. New Relationship Energy (NRE) can be quite a strong pull as well; the novelty, the attention, the anticipation, the passion, not to mention we don’t yet know all their sh*t (and it’s so appealing to presume this new partner doesn’t have any). To give you an indication of how difficult these conversations are, I’ll also share this tidbit: outside of my polyamorous or sex educator colleagues, I only know one person (actually one couple) who were brave enough to have this type of conversation before they moved on officially.
I do not condone cheating. I am a realist though and know that sometimes relationships start before others have a chance to end. It’s not optimal in my mind since some people do get hurt.
When this situation comes up in my work, I advise how to get clear on what one wants and expects, determining for one’s self what behavior is okay, and next steps. For the people I have consulted on this topic recently, they are pleased with the progress and the subsequent empowerment they feel in setting boundaries. Given the nature of the situation, no one is entirely clear where the budding relationship will head (no relationship has guarantees) but at least in these instances it is clear that the marriage was over and the partners are moving apart as respectfully as possible. And regarding divorce, respectful is the ideal way to go; both people deserve to move on to hopefully happier lives.
This work illustrates that one can get what they want through clear communication and without giving up too much of themselves in the process.
If you find yourself beginning a relationship with someone who is unethical in this way, think about if you really want to attract that kind of person into your life and into your bedroom.