What Counts as Cheating in Your Relationship?


And what do you do if that line gets crossed?

by Najva Sol, Brand Director

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Maybe you glance at your partner’s phone and see an intimate text from a strange number. Maybe you see a tagged photo at an event… that happened while they were supposed to be at work. Maybe you just feel it in your bones. Maybe they come clean and tell you they slipped up.

For many of us, the moment you realize you’ve been cheated on is the worst. Nobody ever expects it, even though it’s a relatively common occurrence. You start to wonder if everything else is a lie, if your sexual health has been compromised, if your relationship (and effectively, your whole life) is about to change. I should know, since I’ve been cheated on by multiple partners (surprise: open relationships don’t make cheating okay). So it’s no wonder that (almost) everyone I’ve met, no matter their values, isn’t really a fan of infidelity.

But what I have found over a series of conversations—and through reading many, many APW comments—is that there isn’t a fixed definition of what people consider “cheating.” I would have never imagined that a close emotional relationship with someone other than your partner (specifically, of the sex you are attracted to) would be a cause for dismay. As someone enjoys intimate friendship—sleepovers, deep emotional talks, the whole nine—I find they are a huge portion of my support system and integral to my healthy existence. I also tend to remain (platonically) close to my more casual exes, and oddly, they remain some of my closest friends. And even in my monogamous moments, I’d still like the freedom to grind with a stranger on a dance floor. But to some people, things like intimate friendships, keeping past sexual partners in your life, and grinding with strangers are utterly out of bounds and cause for a reevaluation of the relationship.

On the other end of the spectrum, I chatted with a friend who considers herself strictly monogamous, and they had a surprisingly flexible approach. They figure life is long and people make mistakes, and if it’s a one-time mistake…. their policy is, “Don’t make it my problem, and clean up your own mess.” It’s not that cheating is encouraged, but they admit it might happen, fundamentally trust each other, and don’t want it wreaking havoc on the lives (read: children, house, etc.) they’ve built.

In a strange way, believing in non-monogamy means I have an even lower tolerance for cheating. Since I have candid, regular, and vulnerable conversations with my partner about desire, sex, and attraction, I am extra-crushed when they cheat. In my mind, they could just have talked to me about it first. In that case, cheating translates as a lie of omission, and the lies hurt far more than the sex. Why? Because now I’m not sure I trust them to be honest with me, and where does that leave us?

It turns out for some, infidelity is a friendship that’s grown too close, and for other people “accidental sex” (while frowned upon) isn’t a deal-breaker. Perhaps the rules of relationships are set up to protect of the aspects of your connection with your partner that feels the most sacred. And maybe a couple’s guidelines on how they plan to deal with violations of trust have to do with what their deepest values are. Do you prioritize stability (which makes sense if you’ve got a deeply interwoven life, maybe with kids or finances), or total honesty (you know, if you’re paranoid from being hurt before), or something else entirely?

What are your relationship agreements around fidelity? Did you both agree about where the lines were immediately, or were there some trials by fire? What kind of saint-like restraint and bigger picture focus does it take to NOT want to know when your partner’s meandered? And finally, do you have it in you to forgive, or is the first chance also the last chance?

APW, For today’s #monogamymonday let’s go anon (or not) and get real about where your lines are, what happens when your partner’s acting shady, and how late is really too late to say sorry.

Najva Sol

Najva Sol is a queer Iranian-American writer, photographer, branding consultant, artist, and ex-poet.  She’s the token staff Slytherin and—while formally based in Brooklyn—tends to travel as much as possible. Storytelling is her life, but making chicken broth is a close second.

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  • PolyAnna

    We’re polyamorous, so sex and relationships with other people are absolutely on the table, but only with advance permission. However, I’ve told my husband that if he finds himself in a situation where he really can’t get permission (out of cell phone range and this is the only time he’ll ever see this person, for example), then he can proceed as long as he’s reasonably sure I’d be ok with it.

    So for us, cheating would be unauthorized sexual / romantic contact. I’d be far more upset about a romantic relationship I hadn’t been asked about than about just sex, and he feels the same, so we make special efforts to be very honest and open at all times.

  • Loren

    We are pretty strictly monogamous. So my personal boundary on cheating is ‘anything I wouldn’t want to tell my S.O. about’. So, a silly kiss at a party on a dare (not cheating) or a bump & grind on the dance floor with a stranger (not cheating). But a private dinner with just me & one attractive man that I didn’t tell him about is DEFINITELY toeing the line.
    We’ve had conversations that cheating wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker, depending on the circumstances and considering how long we’ve been together. The more that our lives become entwined the more I find myself willing to forgive, people are not infallible and while I certainly would be mad that he cheated, and don’t plan to cheat myself it’s hard to cross it out entirely as a possibility. Honestly I think the line is ‘does the betrayal hurt more leaving him would’.
    If he slept with another woman tomorrow I don’t think I would be able to take it, but once we start having kids I think the lines get moved around because uprooting our lives takes on drastically different problems.

    • Eenie

      This is where we fall too. If you feel like you need to hide it, it’s not ok. If you tell me about something and I feel uncomfortable about it, it’s up to me to speak up about that fact. We can’t talk about every single possibility beforehand. We’ve got an agreement to go to counseling if one person thinks we need it.

      We don’t have any kids, but I’m not ashamed to say we would probably work harder to stay together for our cats. We split them up once when I moved away for a job, and it was really hard.

    • JenC

      For me I think the more that our lives become entwined the harder it will be to forgive. At each year, each milestone as our lives become more entwined I would wonder why he’s so willing to jeopardise it. I don’t know, him cheating now we’re married is worse than if he’d cheated before we were married but cheating when we have kids is ultimately worse than cheating when it’s just me. That is so much harder to forgive.

      • Loren

        I get that too. In my mind it is partially a matter of numbers. One bad day out of fifty is not a great ratio. But one bad week after 400 good ones is pretty good odds.
        Plus once there are children and a mortgage there are a lot more factors & everything becomes a lot more complicated. Not that I would definitely stay after an affair, but I would have to give it a lot more thought if we have kids than I would if it happened now. If we can’t keep it together while our lives are relatively uncomplicated what’s going to happen when things start to get harder?

        • Eenie

          I think it can be simultaneously harder to forgive and harder to walk away. All the things that make it unforgivable also makes it harder to give up on. It can be hard to know how you feel until the situation comes up. A close friend was on the brink of divorce for an unforgivable (his words) transgression a year ago. Today they are very happy together.

        • JenC

          And not that I would definitely leave after an affair now that we’re married but I do think it’s more likely to feel like a bigger betrayal. So it then goes back to your statement about weighing up the hurt of leaving vs the betrayal.

          I think part of the reason it’s a worse betrayal now that we’re married would in part be down to our vows. Before he would have just broken a private promise between the two of us made early in our relationship. However, now he would break a public vow in front of our friends and families, he’s then broken the promise he made to all those people who supported us too.

          I completely agree with Eenie’s comment that its simultaneously harder to forgive and harder to walk away.

          • JenC, I think you bring up a good point about promises and vows. I don’t think it necessarily has to be a legal vow, but once vows/promises are made (to be together for life, for example), whether public or private, I think you just assume the other person actually means it. The betrayal from my now-ex-husband breaking his vows was excruciating. I really did think we were going to be together forever. And his ease at suddenly abandoning the vows I held as sacred was astounding (and excruciating). It took a long time to even start to be able to process it.

            We had a community vow in the ceremony, and I know a lot of our people in our community felt hurt, betrayed, angry and scared. (If it could happen to us, could it happen to them?) Anyhow, after my ex left me, one of his family members even admitted that at the time of the ceremony she didn’t get that. But she said she did now (then), and she has been a amazing support in the last three years, as have other people I wouldn’t have expected. It’s a beautiful blessing to have them in my “family” even after what happened. And I know it’s incredibly rare, but I’m deeply thankful…

    • Rachel

      And what’s so important to note here, looking at Loren and JenC’s opposite views on the “deal breaker” side of things, is that these are absolutely conversations partners should be having. People often assume “cheating” is a clear-cut thing that they don’t need to discuss, but there’s such varied opinions on what it actually looks like, so it’s critical that everyone involved in a particular relationship is on the same page about what that looks like for them. It’s fantastic that you’ve both been able to have those conversations with your partners, and I would strongly advocate for anyone forming long-term partnerships with other people to have similar conversations upfront!

  • Mrrpaderp

    Najva’s point about the big picture focus is an important one. A marriage is (supposed to be) forever. A dealbreaker is something that so fundamentally unravels the fabric of your marriage that forever is no longer possible. Generally it takes a course of conduct to accomplish that kind of betrayal. For a single act to have that power, it has to be the kind of act that demonstrates that your partner is not the person you thought he or she was.

    This is part of the reason that an emotional affair hurts more than a one night stand, for some. In an emotional affair, you’re habitually choosing to turn away from your marriage to seek the emotional connection you should be sharing with your partner, and typically shutting out your partner in the process. By contrast, a one night stand is a bad decision made in the heat of a likely very drunken moment. It’s a failure of restraint. The first seems more like a character flaw that might cause you to reevaluate whether you’re married to the person you thought you were. The second is a terrible mistake, yes, and maybe even the kind of terrible mistake that will make you doubt whether forever is possible. But it seems, to me, easier to forgive a one-time out of character mistake than the repeated choice to turn away from the marriage.

  • Rachel

    I’m also polyamorous, so for us, relationships with other people are on the table, but are discussed openly, and honestly, with everyone involved. The constant clear conversations about expectations, consent, and boundaries ensure that everyone is on the same page, and there’s no ambiguity about what’s acceptable or unacceptable.

    In this context, cheating or infidelity would be anything that violates those clearly discussed boundaries. My partners and I talk regularly about these boundaries, so to violate those would be unequivocally out of line. However, it wouldn’t necessarily be relationship-ending. It would be something we discussed and worked through like any other relationship issue, and we would decide from those discussions whether we could move forward as partners, or whether the problem ran deeper. This has never occurred in our relationships, but if it did, we would handle it as needed when it came up.

    All of our partners are involved in each other’s lives in some capacity, although that capacity is usually pretty casual. My partners know each other, and we can all hang out together, although that doesn’t occur that frequently. The lines of communication are open between them, too – which helps ensure there’s no confusion.

    Our only hard and fast rule is nicknamed “no home-wrecking” – which basically translates to absolutely no involvement with someone who is not either single or 100% definitely in a non-monogamous relationship.

  • Anonysaurus

    We’re currently monogamous, but we’ve talked about opening our relationship at some point in the future. I asked my husband at one point whether he’d want to know if I ever had an affair (defined as: a sexual encounter with another person without husband’s prior knowledge/consent), and he said that, yes, he would. I, on the other hand, said that I’d rather not know if it was a one-time occurrence and if there was a way he could reasonably keep it from me.

    One of my favorite discussions we had recently was prompted by my co-worker’s (inappropriate) story of how she and her husband got into a fight over his answer to his sister’s question about whether or not he’d ever considered having an affair. I asked my husband what he would want me to do if I was ever propositioned for such a thing, and he responded, “Ask if it would be ok if I tag along.” The response made me laugh and is totally in sync with what we’ve discussed we’d be open to sexually. It was great to realize we are really on the same page about this topic and don’t view sexual exclusivity as our be-all, end-all.

    • Hmmm

      The only thing is that if he kept you in the dark, you wouldn’t be able to get tested. That reason alone would make me want to know.

      • Anonysaurus

        I understand that, but I think that falls under the “if there was a way he could reasonably keep it from me” clause. If he cheated and later discovered he had an STI, then it affects both of our lives and is something we have to control for. If no STIs are in play, then I don’t want to know.

        I don’t want to bemoan the point too much of which STIs are important in comparison of others, but I think my peace of mind is more important in this situation.

  • Anon

    We’re more traditional–intimacy with others that is greater than or equal to the intimacy we share, whether it’s physical OR emotional, is a no-go. If we would use it to express affection to each other, we won’t do it with others. I also have a specific personal line with lap dances at strip clubs, though I’ve conceded on him actually going to strip clubs for bachelor parties as to not make waves with his old friends (though luckily he’s not a fan either so it hasn’t been a battle)

    We wouldn’t uproot our lives over one event, but I would personally be much more upset about the combination of emotional and physical intimacy than drunkenly making out with a stranger. Though then I’d be upset that he got that drunk, since I think we’re too mature to go to that kind of risky excess anymore. But I’d be more upset about the lack of judgment and cavalierness than the actual making out. But anything deeper than that would require significant therapy and strict boundaries moving forward.

    • Lisa

      intimacy with others that is greater than or equal to the intimacy we share, whether it’s physical OR emotional

      I think this is a great definition of what an affair is.

    • Arie

      We have a very similar approach. Because the physical is more clear-cut, I define the emotional intimacy portion as having an internal room within myself where only the two of us go together.

  • LucyPirates

    An older couple very close to me and my fiancee told us on Saturday that they are splitting after nearly 40years of marriage as the wife had begun an emotional relationship with someone at work. Although she says nothing physical had actually happened (which I believe as she rarely has evening activities to lie and cover her whereabouts) she feels there may be something more and thinks it may make her happier.
    In her relationship, to her husband, she has cheated and he is beyond devastated. Although he would love nothing more than for her to stay with him and she broke down a lot claiming she did have doubts and under pressure from her children, I feel that this is irreversible – Had they separated on issues between themselves only, then maybe better communication and therapy would help but with even the hint of another, if she stays, he will never know if it is for the right reasons or to just stop tearing their family apart.

    Discussing this as a couple, we have both agreed that lying by omission is cheating to us, in a similar way that others have commented – something you hide or an intimacy (especially emotional) that replaces something you have with your S.O. is cheating. I can rarely understand emotional cheating – if you aren’t happy, speak up or separate, you can chase whoever you want after but betrayal is so much worse than incompatibility IMO.

  • Alexandra

    I found dating in any other context besides a committed relationship to be (in the aggregate) a miserable, damaging experience. I did a lot of it in my single days, and one of the wonderful things about being married is that I don’t have to do that anymore. It was a drain on time, money, and emotional resources.

    So this is not even a discussion for us. I shut down everything when my husband and I got engaged (actually, I did this before I met him, because I was so over it with dating). All friendships (and facebook friendships) with former boyfriends, all internet dating services, all the contacts in my phone. I don’t check up on any “formers”.

    And yet I do remember the excitement of the initial spark, of finding somebody who “gets you”, and all the physical attraction energy. That part used to be a lot of fun. Going through it with my husband is one of the nicest memories of my life.

    And I recognize that it would be extremely dangerous now, so I rigorously avoid situations where that might happen. I avoid being alone with men if at all possible, and I don’t share anything too personal with men. My most intimate friendships are with women…such a pleasant change from my dating days, when I didn’t find as much time to cultivate female friendships because I was so busy with romantic “startups”.

    I mention all this not to preach that my husband’s and my way of going about marriage/committed relationship is the only way, but more to present things that work for us if you are of the same mindset. There is a time for everything–the exciting passion of the beginning of a romantic relationship is a wonderful time. But it is also (in my experience) a huge energy suck, and I love what it has morphed into for my husband and me. I’m ok with the prospect of not feeling those feelings again, in exchange for the trust and deep (and growing deeper all the time) knowledge of another person. For some it might be possible to experience both at the same time, with different people. For us, not so much. We put up very, very high fences to guard against it.

    • Elizabeth

      In general I support what you’re saying and I 100% think you and your husband should do what works for you. But every time I see the sentiment of avoiding being alone with men or sharing anything too personal with men, or cultivating close friendships with men because it’s dangerous, I feel shocked on some level.

      Maybe it’s because I’m bisexual (and avoiding being close friends with anyone at all would be unreasonable), maybe it’s because I have a generally low sex drive & don’t truly open up emotionally easily (so it would take a deliberate action for me to turn a friendship into something more and I hated taking those actions/being that vulnerable/feeling that there might be that tension even when I was single and potentially interested in dating) and maybe it’s because I’ve always had friendships with men that were equally close to my friendships with women (two of them are standing up in my bridal party, along with my sister and one female friend). It’s also possible I’m reading in more to your comment, and your definition of sharing anything too personal with men is something I would agree would cross a line, but your boundaries are definitely something I’ve heard expressed before and I just find it so hard to understand…

      • Alexandra

        A lot of people find it shocking, just as many people find the idea of open relationships shocking. Which is why I bothered to post about it, because I know our view is a bit extreme, and I wanted to represent. :)

        I think it’s just…I see my own emotional resources and capacity for intimacy as a finite supply. Maybe because I’m introverted? Emotional intimacy with a female friend serves a purpose that my husband can’t–women can understand problems/life issues that he can’t relate to. But to bring my deep stuff to another man…I just don’t have time/energy for it. It’s for my husband. If he doesn’t respond the way I’d like, well, the primary goal of my life maybe doesn’t need to be for me to feel perfectly understood/supported all the time.

        • Elizabeth

          Yeah, I’m introverted too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take friendships where they come. I guess I see gender as less essentialist in my interactions with people. I would say that friendship serves a different purpose than my relationship with my fiancee (even if I also consider her a friend), yes, and that it’s an important purpose. I think the gender of my companions is pretty much irrelevant and I’ve always had a huge problem with the idea that platonic friendships have to stick to gender lines because there are so many factors that seem more important/of more relevance.

          But while I might have become a friend with one of my coworkers in large part because she is one of the only other women in the workplace and so we have shared experiences, I’m friends with another former coworker because of the insights he’s offered across our conversations and because he’s been a great judge of people and reminded me to calm down a lot and there are times I’ve really needed that at work. (To the extent that we’re still friends/get together for lunch regularly, even though he’s quit the company I work at.) Ultimately I see him as an individual and also fail to see how talking with him would lead to me cheating.

          • Alexandra

            I was thinking about this when I finished my previous comment. There IS a pretty big gender binary at play in my assumptions. That kind of goes along with my worldview, but I can see how it would be incomprehensible and perhaps a bit wrongheaded to others.

            Also, I’m acting as though my life is very black and white around these issues, but there are some grey areas. For example, my husband and I have a mutual friend who works with me. He was actually the best man at our wedding, and his wife was a bridesmaid of mine. This friend and I have had many great conversations at work, just the two of us. He’s offered me fantastic advice at my job and also given me insight (sometimes painful insight!) into my job performance.

            This relationship actually is strong on my radar as something I need to be very careful about. I always tell my husband about the conversations I’ve had with this friend, and I’m very careful about not treading into that hard-to-define territory of topics that should only be discussed with my husband.

            So I DO have male friends, it’s just that there’s this boundary of intimacy. I don’t know that crossing the boundary would feel like cheating to me, more like…incredibly awkward and wrong.

          • Lawyerette510

            Out of curiosity, did you and your husband work together to set the territory of topics that you only discuss with one another? Would you share examples of what those are?
            Are they the same for both of you and are they the same regardless of the gender of the person you’re speaking with or do they change?

            I find all this so interesting.

          • Alexandra

            I’ve never talked to my husband about what’s appropriate to talk about with our mutual friend. It’s more just an implicit understanding, I guess. I would never triangulate to this friend–in other words, I wouldn’t talk about my husband to the friend. I wouldn’t talk about personal hopes and fears except maybe in general terms as they related to something else that might be relevant to something more appropriate.

            I just wouldn’t…go there. You know how the wind in a conversation changes when you’re starting to know someone in a more romantic, emotionally intimate way. It’s very contextual; you just…don’t bring things up, and don’t take the conversation in certain directions. There are probably concrete examples of inappropriate conversation genres, but the only ones I can think of are sex and complaining/talking about one’s spouse.

            I’m also careful about how much time I spend with this male friend, and about being alone with him. My husband and I do this with opposite sex friends a lot…we have a mutual girlfriend who doesn’t have a car, and I always drive her home if she comes over for dinner. If I couldn’t do it, he would, but in general it’s better if it’s me. Also, I ALWAYS drive the babysitter home (that one’s more nonnegotiable because it’s just not appropriate for him to be alone with a 16 year old girl, and he feels the same way–big time liability; I’m a teacher and he’s a social worker and we’re hyper aware of the potential problems in situations like that).

            This stuff isn’t about not trusting each other, it’s more about just knowing how romantic relationships start and being hyper-conservative in order to avoid that. With my husband’s best man, well, he’s a pretty handsome, charismatic guy, and we get along well, so that’s something I need to be very careful about! I’m not above having feelings for someone inappropriate, but it would be incredibly destructive, so I have strong boundaries.

        • Lawyerette510

          I think you hit on an interesting point. While I don’t draw the gendered-boundaries you do, I do think there is something to be said about knowing what you can and cannot get from your significant other and having consensus in your relationship about how those needs (physical, emotional, logistical) will be filled in a way that respects the relationship as well as personally determining if those are needs or wants. For example, my husband is a rock climber and I am not, I don’t want to fulfill his need for someone to go climbing with, and his not climbing is not an option for his happiness. The climbing trips often involve days/ nights away (sometimes weeks). I’m fine with him climbing with anyone and I trust that he will behave as if I was there just as he trusts I will do the same while we are apart (for us that means no sexual flirting or intimacy, no telling stories that aren’t your own/ sharing private stuff about the spouse who isn’t there). Similarly, I want to and enjoy talking about current events and the feelings and emotions raised by them, feminism, and social justice more in-depth and more frequently than he does, so while we do talk about those things I have other emotionally deep and intimate friendships where I fulfill that need.

      • G.

        I agree. One of my best friends is a guy and I have a number of close guy friends with whom I email/text/talk/hang out, and cutting that off would be devastating. They are emotionally intimate friendships, but to me it’s a different type of emotional intimacy, akin to that which I also have with close female friends. I’m straight, but I find that need to separate by gender really problematic as personality and values, not gender, determines the closeness of my friendships. I also have a hard time understanding how people just “slip” from friends to more, since like Elizabeth, it would take deliberate, conscious action for that to happen. Hell, my male best friend was my roommate and he started dating his now-wife when we lived together. The lines are very clear and don’t need to be extra-policed because he’s a guy.

        Which is all to say, people will and should so what works for them, but I’ve cut off relationships with men who can’t fathom my male best friend. If that’s not going to work for a partner, then he’s not the partner for me.

        • “I also have a hard time understanding how people just “slip” from friends to more, since…it would take deliberate, conscious action for that to happen.”

          I completely agree with this, but I heard “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

          That seems rather unaware though because I feel like there are quite a few small choices that lead up to slipping into more-than-friends territory…

        • Melody Jones

          “I’ve cut off relationships with men who can’t fathom my male best friend. If that’s not going to work for a partner, then he’s not the partner for me.”

          One of the most common reasons my romantic relationships have ended were precisely this. This was also how I got a triad, but it was a very intentional thing, and not something that I anticipate happening ever again.

        • Anna

          I actually totally get the possibility of “slipping” from friends to “more” – I’m bisexual, so it’s not like I can restrict the gender of my friends to prevent this, but there’s generally no clean line for me between solely-platonic friendships and relationships where there’s a sexual attraction (which can sometimes, but not always, shift existing, innocuous emotional intimacy into potentially problematic territory). When I was single, most of my close friends were either outright “friends with benefits” or there was a mutual attraction (not necessarily to start out, it’s not like I was screening who to become friends with based on attraction, I just tend to become attracted to people I’m emotionally close to).

          This can definitely be difficult in my relationship with my extremely monogamously inclined fiancé, who doesn’t even want to hear about me being attracted to people* we know (he occasionally enjoys hearing about, like, celebrity fantasies of mine, but that’s never much been my thing). These days I don’t have sex with all my friends anymore – just with the fiancé – and it has changed the nature of some of those friendships (in a more solely-platonic direction) for sure. But with some friends the attraction is always going to still linger and it’s just a question of how do I (or we) manage that so no lines are crossed, since in my case it often requires deliberate, conscious action for that NOT to happen. It’s a bit of a balancing act; we don’t totally have it figured out, but it’s worth it to me to go a little bit against how I’m hardwired in order to be with this person I care so much about, while still maintaining friendships with other people who are also really important to me.

          • Missy

            Thank you for this. This is so similar to my own experience, and it’s extremely healing to have it validated.

      • C.R.

        I’m bisexual, but my standards are almost identical to Alexandra’s, except I replace “men” with “people of a gender/orientation I could potentially want to have sex with”. Usually that means no one-on-one time or intimate conversations with straight men or gay women. My husband is straight, so for him it means no one-on-one time or intimate conversations with straight women. Granted, some of this is decided on a case-by-case basis.

        I guess I just wanted to add another opinion! I always hear other bi people say, “I could never do that!” with regard to boundaries like Alexandra’s, so I just wanted to throw this out there! It doesn’t have to be a strictly gender thing – for us, it’s more of a “don’t play with fire” thing.

        BTW, my husband and I are both incredibly introverted, if that makes a difference.

        • Elizabeth

          I mean, I feel personality wise, I could never do that, regardless of my sexuality. Excluding straight/bi men and gay/bi women is excluding more than 90% of my friendships, maybe more, I might be assuming some female friends are straight when they’re not. Maybe it’s that I see that ‘potentially want to have sex with’ as a far far line away from me and away from friendship, so it’s not something I feel the need to have a fence around. If I wanted to have sex with or date my best friend from high school, I’d have had plenty of chances to do so before I met my fiancee, and I had no desire at all to do that and still have no desire, even though we’re theoretically sexually compatible — on the most surface paper level. I’ve turned friendship into a romantic relationship twice (both times while single when it started and with clear intent to date from when that friendship started to shift), and the first time burned me badly enough that the second, my now-fiancee, had to make a pretty hard sell to get me to consider her, and I was actively interested in dating at the time. (And my feelings only turned romantic/sexual after a couple of dates.)

          I guess I have a hard enough time making friends, rejecting 90% of the people I interact with strikes me as a punishment that I’ve done nothing to deserve. It’s so hard for me to fathom it as something other people desire or think helps them. (Which isn’t meant as offense against those for whom it works it’s just me pointing out that it’s difficult for me to understand.)

          • C.R.

            Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone. I do wonder if it works so well for me because I’m incredibly introverted, and don’t have much of a need for close friendships? My husband is really the only one to whom I turn to for emotional support, and I’m fine with that. I’ve always had trouble getting close to people, and the few times I can bond, it’s very intense – if that bond was with someone I could potentially be attracted to, that would make me feel like I’m betraying my husband.

            More from my husband’s perspective, he’s seen people in happy relationships get cheated on because their spouse got too close to a friend, often someone from work. It always seemed to start out very innocently, but after sharing lots of little things together (lunches, chatting about work-things their spouse wasn’t “in” on – so, bonding with them in a way their spouse couldn’t – progressing to talking about more emotional stuff), several of those friendships ended in physical and/or emotional affairs. We both decided we didn’t want any part of that.

            I do think it’s safe to say that all of our friends are mutual, so neither of us is ever really alone with anyone, regardless of gender/orientation. That really makes it easier.

            I’ve enjoyed chatting about this with you! I know my boundaries aren’t popular ones; usually, if I bring this up, I immediately get shouted down as some sort of controlling, insecure, nag (and there are many, much crueler things that get said). Thank you so much for being respectful!

    • Rachelle

      While I don’t avoid being alone with men, I definitely am the same way in avoiding sharing too much with them or becoming close in even a platonic way. I’ve never had close (straight) guy friends that I didn’t develop feelings for and I’m not sure I’d be able to, so for me it’s best to just keep men as acquaintances or only friends in the context of another couple. My interests are very stereo-typically feminine, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything meaningful with most men.

  • fishy

    We’ve had a couple of trials by fire that have led us to the perspective that boundaries in our relationship (and in our relationships with other people) need to be clearly defined and flexible. I think that over the course of our lifetime together, our individuals needs may change and we need to recognize that our relationship may also change and evolve. That said, it’s important to me to be able to communicate clearly what my needs are right now. Right now, I am not interested in dating anyone besides my partner, so I prefer that my partner does not date anyone, either.

    We’ve found that the boundaries in our physical/sexual relationship are pretty easy to draw. There are discrete actions that we can each say I’m comfortable/uncomfortable with you carrying out that action with another person. What has been much harder to define is emotional relationships with other people–and again, this one has been a trial by fire. We decided that an emotional relationship crosses the line into emotional affair when you add secrecy/lies/guilt. My partner became close to another woman and initially lied to me about the depth of their connection, and the lies were definitely what hurt me the most. Sometimes he confessed a lie, sometimes I caught him in a lie, and both were terrible. Now that he is honest with me about the time they spend together and how he thinks about her, I feel much more comfortable with their friendship. Not all problems have been solved, and it’s an ongoing discussion, but I’m grateful for our ability to have the discussion.

  • Melody Jones

    I’m part of a semi-closed triad (technically we’re open? but none of us have had other relationships in over two years and we’re individually adverse to starting other relationships) right now, so we’ve all talked ad nauseum about the nature of infidelity and what our “deal breakers” are.

    We have fairly loose agreements around fidelity. Two of the three of us have never held marriage certificates or vows in very high regard. People who want to stay committed to someone will do so without an outwardly binding symbol. People who are going to break that commitment will do so whether there is an outwardly binding symbol or not. My other partner though, has very clear expectations about what a marriage certificate means. For us, infidelity is when someone deliberately and clandestinely builds a home somewhere else, without telling the others. If one of us is traveling for business and there is chemistry, by all means, go to bed with them. Be safe, use protection, tells us about it when you get back. If you are interested in befriending someone, do that. Stay up late drinking single-malt and pouring out your hearts to each other. Swap comic books and life stories with each other. But if you start getting involved in a daily life routine with them doing chores, or planning exclusive joint future decisions, or decorating each others houses, that’s the point where it crosses into infidelity for us.

    There was… not a trial by fire, but there was one relationship that one of my partners had where his other partner wanted all of that. The chores, the eventual owning of a home together, and that relationship ended disastrously between them.

    It’s the framework we all agreed on because it addressed our deepest worries about relationships. Relationships, strong ones, are important to us. Sex is a thing you can do with your body, and in some ways it can be about trust or connection. There are so many ways to embrace these things that don’t have to undermine the foundation you are building a long term entangled relationship on.

    If someone cheated on me, I’d want to know if they wanted to still build a home with *me*. If they didn’t, I’d make plans for us to separate. If they did, we would talk until we figured out a way forward. Them having a best friend, or having sexual relationships, these things do not have to indicate a dissatisfaction with building a home and a life with me. They might be wanting sex, they might need to talk to someone who actually has a relationship with their parents, they might want any number of things.

    At the end of the day, it comes down to “am I still your family?” and “do you still want to build your home with me?”. Aside from that, I want to know everything, but nothing else is likely to make me leave.

    • Rachel

      I love this metaphor (and the literal interpretation) of building a home together. Our relationship is hierarchical polyamory, which I understand isn’t everyone’s choice in the poly community, but for us, that just means that my “primary” partner is the partner I build a home with. That doesn’t mean I can’t have close, intimate, loving, long-term, committed relationships with other people, it just means that my “home” is always with my primary.

      • Melody Jones

        I keep running into people who seem to think hierarchical poly means restricting emotions, so I’ve stopped using that particular phrase, but that’s exactly how it works for us. Having a “home” was an intensely important thing for all of us, and my interest in people and being passionately joyful about their existence in my life was a completely separate thing.

        I was born out of my dad’s second marriage, and a variety of experiences throughout my life have left me with I N C R E D I B L Y strong feelings about not wanting to have two ‘homes’ or having entangled partners who do not see me as their ‘home’ too. I can understand (sort of) peoples’ expressed feelings about infidelity and cheating, my brain just doesn’t see their lines as ethically enforceable, even if they might be ethically chosen by individuals (if that makes sense).

        In the end it really, really does come down to picking people you’re compatible with, because a lot of people seem to fully embrace those sorts of lines and standards, so, I’m glad they’re able to find things that work for them! I just…. couldn’t. Can’t.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that we are hyper-socialized for monogamy, but not at all hardwired for it.

    Defining monogamy in the digital age is even more nuanced, in my opinion. What is the difference between my husband watching porn and me watching camgirls? I once (two months before our wedding no less), wound up drunkenly on chatroulette, stayed completely clothed, and had an orgasm in front of a stranger in Sweden.

    I remember being wrecked emotionally about this — did this count as cheating? Was it my body some how saying, “Don’t get married!”? Would my partner want to cancel the wedding?

    Four days after the fact, I wrote him a letter explaining what had happened and read it out loud. He was quiet for a long time, and then sang the chorus from this song to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L87sCyCjrE

    I wept and wept and he was so patient. He said that he was surprised that I imagined this single event could totally uproot our relationship (very telling of my background what expectations I hold for marriage/monogamy). His knee-jerk reaction of grace and communication made me realize that yes, this *is* the person I am supposed to marry (and I am very excited to parent with him!).

  • Ashlah

    My husband and I are monagamish, in that he has a male partner he has sex with. We are otherwise monogamous. Boundaries around cheating have come up three times, and I’ve actually been gearing myself up for a discussion of the most recent two, involving whether there’s more emotional intimacy between he and his male partner than I’m comfortable with, and whether certain communications between him and a female colleague constitute unacceptable flirting. At this point, I’m actually looking at both instances as yellow flags that maybe there are areas for improvement in our marriage. They’re nothing worth getting upset over quite yet, but it does feel important to talk about it now, if they are in fact signs of him seeking out emotional fulfillment outside of our marriage. Has anyone dealt with something like this? Where you’re not necessarily angry about what they’ve done, but feel you need a deeper understanding of it?

    • We’ve recently gone through this and I choose to look at it as a opportunity for us to clarify expectations both to each other and ourselves. I found out that my theoretically boundaries were a lot farther out that my actual boundaries so I am working on really learning where the boundary is and whether it can move. Mostly it means asking a lot of questions.

  • cpostrophe

    I am / have been flexogamous. I’m currently monogamous with my fiancee, and we’re likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. We do have a number of mixed gender friendships, and both my best person and her person of honor are essentially Friends That We Could’ve Dated (but it’s all cool now), and it’s never been a source of jealousy or tension for either of us. If anything, a partner who would’ve insisted on non-mixed gender friendships would’ve been a dealbreaker for both of us.

    In my past relationships, I was in an open relationship with someone with whom I had lived for seven years, and our general rules were, “a heads-up should happen if you want to kiss someone or have some level of intimate physical contact. Permission is needed for dating, or if the person is going to be a presence in the relationship. Sexytimes with the other partner happen at their place.”

    That was all fine, and when we broke it up, it was for reasons besides the open relationship. If anything, I found that experience as being really helpful for helping me develop communication and confidence.

    I had another relationship where I was involved with someone in an open marriage. Their rules were relatively similar. The husband and wife could kiss or flirt with anyone that they wanted, but before we started our relationship, I also had to talk to her husband to ensure that he was cool with it (we were all friends and also wanted to be sure that we wouldn’t mess up the friendship because of it). We could date, but needed to take our time and be intentional about when we crossed certain boundaries. He was also dating someone else at the same time.

    At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be living in that city longterm. My future was up in the air, and a casual, no-real-strings attached open relationship seemed like a decent idea. Also, as an unexpected bonus, I spent extra time hanging out with the husband just to check in on where he was with the arrangement, and show that I still valued his friendship; and that made our own relationship stronger.

    She did eventually meet another person, and she fell for him hard. And she fucked up and broke a few of those rules, and that did hurt a lot. That period was messy, and for a long time I wondered if that was a wise idea at all or not.

    Now, we’ve forgiven each other and gotten back to being friends. I’m closer to both than I was before the friendship, because we had seen each other through the experience; and I think, to a degree, we’ve all come out of it a little better, because at least we answered the question about what would happen and we’ve now laid it to rest. Sometimes that sexual tension is just a distraction, and I sometimes wish I could just get a vision of seeing how it would all play out to satisfy my curiosity.

    Anyway, to answer your question: as with anything in open relationships, it’s about trust and communication and being on the same page with things. I think rules are definitely worth having even if rules can be redefined by having conversations with your partner. The rules aren’t about saying what you can’t do, but defining the boundaries for where everyone is comfortable right now.

  • ruth

    Ooh I have so many thoughts on this topic! I don’t have any stats on this, but in my relationship there’s an absolute correlation between fidelity and communication. My hubby and I tell each other everything – and I mean everything. We’ve always been open to the idea of opening up our relationship, but in practice I think we’re just too busy as freelancers working multiple jobs to really have time for this (we lament that we barely get enough time to sleep with each other. Or to sleep period!) But one thing we do, that I think may be rare among married couples, is that we tell each other whenever we feel attracted to an outside person. I have had a crush on a friend and colleague – I told my husband that. He sometimes still has feelings about an ex – he’s told me this. While these conversations can bring up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings, in the long run, I think we both feel better having them aired. Making these things not secret anymore, taking them out of the dark, and airing them drains them of their power. When I broke down and told my husband I thought I might have feelings for my colleague, and felt embarrassed to have such feelings but I did, all of a sudden I wasn’t attracted to the person anymore. As I was telling my husband about this person, I actually realized that they’re kind of a dick, and not someone I would ever actually want to be with – even if I was single. And it’s given him the chance to articulate how much better what we have is emotionally than anything he’d ever had in previous relationships. I think having conversations about things that could be the potential for affairs are the best defense we have against an affair actually happening. Secrets breed bad things. Honesty – though temporarily uncomfortable – in our case has lead to renewed intimacy.

    • Lisa

      My husband and I do this, too. We also discuss people that we find attractive and what it is about them that we like. It’s natural that we’ll find ourselves attracted to other people over the course of our marriage, and instead of pretending those feelings don’t exist or automatically make us awful people, we acknowledge that they happen. It’s what we do with those feelings that matters more. When we start turning away from each other tin response to them is where, I think, problems would occur.

      • ruth

        THIS! Perfectly put!

      • I did this in my former marriage, so I thought I would avoid surprise infidelity and we could fix any problems before they started. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way in that relationship. But I think in general this approach probably creates a nice openness that is conducive to discussions that would create a healthy environment to fix any potential problems before they arise.

    • Non

      You can’t expect yourself or your partner to not be attracted to other people. ESPECIALLY when it’s an ex (someone you shared feelings with in the past) or a coworker (someone you spend many hours of your day with).

      When I find myself attracted to someone I’m not married to, I 1) decide that this person might be great and different from what I have, but is in all likelihood not better than the amazing supportive kind person I married and 2) decide that if I can’t trust myself not to add fuel to the crush-fire (most of the time I can) I should actively distance myself from them until it wears off. And then, as @RuthVS:disqus said, being open about it really helps! Certainly much more than feeling shame and burying it. At least that is what I have found.

    • ep

      I really identify with this. My partner and I enjoy sharing with each other when we’re attracted to other people. And given that he is attracted to women and I am attracted to both men and women, we are often attracted to the same person, which is fun to discover. We did have one experience where he was in your situation–feelings for a colleague that went deeper than a passing attraction. It took him a few weeks between realizing he had the feelings and actually telling me about them, and when he finally did, we had a long series of conversations about it over the course of many weeks. It was a difficult time in our relationship, but I feel much better about our relationship now, knowing that he is honest with me. I’m grateful for the talks that we’ve been able to have about our relationship since then, and I’ve also found in my relationship that honesty led to renewed intimacy.

    • Abby

      “Taking these things not secret anymore, taking them out of the dark, and airing them drains them of their power.”

      Without a doubt. Even if you just say it to a friend. Eons ago I was convinced that I was going to act on my attraction to a friend while in a relatively new (but definitely monogamous) relationship. Just saying it outl oud to my best friend stopped me in my tracks, and made me remember how much I actually cared about SO and how little I cared about the other. But keeping it inside made it seem exciting for that brief moment and it was always all in my head.

  • anony

    Husband and I define cheating thusly: If you wouldn’t be comfortable doing/saying something while your spouse is watching/within earshot, it’s probably some form of cheating. For us, that runs the gamut from accidental drunken sex to emotional attachments to flirting, whether in person or otherwise. Granted we are strictly monogamous, though I do think we allow for some forms of cheating being “lesser” than others. Accidental drunken sex with a stranger, especially if the other spouse is immediately told, really sucks but may not be a deal breaker. A secret long term emotional attachment however – grounds for divorce.

    • Amy March

      Ya know, I never really get the accidental drunken sex thing. I’m single, and I drink, and I never have accidental drunken sex. There are always many many decisions that lead up to a consensual sexual encounter for me, that I make even drunk. I’d struggle to understand a partner with a sex just happens attitude.

      • anony

        Believe me, I don’t condone it or think it’s a small thing. If my husband were to reveal that something like that happened, I wouldn’t just brush it off. Our relationship would for sure be damaged and in need of therapy and a lot of work to get back to a good place. I was just using that as an example of how cheating comes in different forms and is not always equal, i.e. coming clean after a one night stand vs. hiding a long term affair.

      • Lawyerette510

        I get what you’re saying, it’s not like “Well I’d had 4 margaritas and I was walking across the bar and tripped on a chair someone hadn’t pushed in all the way, and ended up penetrating./ being penetrated by another person with mutual consent.” I think that the idea of “accidental drunken sex”is really more like “poor decision making when inhibitions are lowered and faculties are compromised due to alcohol/ drugs,” which I agree is not accidental.

      • anony

        I should clarify that I agree with you – I don’t really believe that sex can be accidental. My wording was a bit hyperbolic.

  • ruth

    I was surprised, and a little disturbed, by what I’ve heard in some of these comments – the idea of having emotional intimacy only with your spouse. I think I get what the writer is talking about, but to me, and from the studies I’ve read on healthy marriages, I think it’s SUPER important to also have emotional intimacy with other people outside your significant other. I think there’s a dark side to the idea of a “soul mate,” the idea that your spouse is also supposed to be your best friend, and it’s putting all your emotional eggs in one basket so to speak. I do consider my husband an incredibly good friend as well as a husband, but I still have deep rich very emotionally intimate friendships. I think it’s important to have multiple sources of support in life. It doesn’t put all the burden, when one is going through a rough time, on one’s spouse. And god forbid, if something happens to your spouse, you have a larger support network. My grandparents were a model of marriage to me, but they both had incredibly strong friendships with other people – and when my grandma became a widow, these friendships sustained her in the decades that followed. I think people in that generation were better at “community” – and I think community is still important for a sustainable marriage.

    • A.

      Personally, I think there’s a difference between emotional intimacy that supplements a marriage and emotional intimacy that supplants.

      I suspect many people here are talking about the latter in terms of what makes them uncomfortable. In my marriage vows, we promised to both always put each other first AND to honor our communities. I don’t think those are mutually exclusive concepts. Truth be told, there *are* things I can share with my best girlfriends that my husband either doesn’t quite get or doesn’t really care about–likewise with him and, say, his sister. BUT (big but) we *never* share things with friends or family that we actively keep from each other, nor do we go outside our marriage for our first line of support on major issues. And if you add physical attraction to a hypothetical scenario where someone would do that? Yeah, I think you have an emotional affair on your hands.

      Mileage may vary, of course, but I don’t think that’s a surprising or disturbing viewpoint for many marriages in our culture.

  • anon for today

    This has been a difficult and enlightening conversation for my husband and me, because we come from very very different places relationship-wise. I had a range of different relationships before I met my husband – long and short term, serious and fun/casual, some overlapping temporally (with the knowledge and consent of all involved). Most of them ended well, and I am still close with many of my exes (though none of them live in our current city, which makes that much less complicated). I think as a result of these diverse positive experiences with intimacy, I am very open to a relationship with my husband that includes space for intimacies of various kinds with other people – with lots of careful talk and clear understanding that our relationship with each other comes first and foremost.

    My husband, however, had never been in a relationship of any kind before we met – for a lot of different reasons that I won’t dig into. So I am the only person he has ever been intimate with, physically or really emotionally. So for him, my relationships with other people can be scary, and our very different experiences really do create some real differences in our ideas about what might constitute ‘cheating’ (not a word we really use, but for the sake of this convo). I’ve worked really hard to make sure he knows that I put his emotional security first, and am very, very careful to use his comfort as a guideline in all of my interactions with my exes or other male friends. And we’ve talked about it a lot. And it’s not that he’s opposed to me being close with other people. But it’s still something where I feel like I need to monitor myself pretty closely, and I do worry about accidentally crossing a line and hurting him – not like, ‘oh I accidentally slept with this person’, but more subtle encroachments on the space that we hold for each other, that feel different for me than for him. And I do sometimes wonder if there are ways to expand his horizons on this front. So – any thoughts from folks who have worked with a partner to become more open in a relationship?

    • Melody Jones

      For me and my husband it was three things: finding things that addressed the underlying fears of loss, both of us getting more ‘comfortable’ with the fact that we would both hurt each other unintentionally in our lives, and accepting that how we handle the aftermath is at least as important as the actual harming. I am friends with almost all of my ex’s and most of my relationships were fairly serious. He had a very casual relationship before me, back in high school. Coming up with tangible ways to show him that I was keeping his fears and boundaries in mind (sending him a text when I wouldn’t normally, specifically to reassure him) was probably the most useful “skill” we’ve learned, but that would be highly dependent on you and your husband. There’s no way to eliminate hurting your partner. But you can have plans for how to handle the fall out, and in my relationship experience (your might vary), being able to be called out on it, and to have a concrete plan to fall back on has been reassuring to my partner that I do actually value his presence and our relationship.

    • Amy March

      I think there is a fine line between “protecting the intimacy of our marriage” and “using your anxiety as an inappropriate method of controlling my behavior.” Your post had lots about what you avoid out of fear of hurting him, but not much about the cost to you of that. Entirely possible you’ve already done that calculus, but I think also possible that this isn’t a conversation about him becoming more open, it’s about trusting and respecting you.

  • Jessica

    The only time I’ve had a problem with my husband’s behavior towards another woman is when he was going out with single friends a lot and, while trying to be a wing man, acted like a creep. He didn’t hide what he’d done, he just didn’t understand what it looked like from a woman’s perspective.

    We’ve had conversations about boundaries and monogamy. He is totally into the idea of a threesome, but I have my own jealousy issues around that.

    I think it’s important to realize that these are conversations that can change and morph with a marriage. What I’m OK with now is different than what I was OK with when we started dating, and there are different desires and emotions that I expect to change with age, with kids, with empty-nesting, and so on.

    • Rachel

      That last paragraph in particular is so important! When my husband and I first met, and for a long time afterwards, we were monogamous. Had you asked me then if we ever would have been anything but monogamous, I probably would have said no – not because I was opposed to the idea in theory, but just because it didn’t feel like something I wanted. Over time, my views on this changed (independently of my husband, at no point did he ever try to pressure me or change me), and so we started having conversations about it. It’s been a slow, gradual transition to polyamory for us, and we’re very happy to have made this choice. But it doesn’t mean we weren’t happy when we were monogamous, it was just a different phase of life, with different needs and wants.

      • We do a regular check in with each other to make sure we’re still on the same page about stuff. For now due to work, it’s every two months. Some years it was once a year. We’ve decided that life is long and as long as we agree, what we’re doing is perfect for us in the moment.

  • Laurel

    As someone who is currently going through a divorce involving some of these issues (emotional affair, etc.), I’d say I agree with others who have stated the basic premise with regards to a spouse: I will act in your absence as I would in your presence. To me, this does not mean you are exactly the same all the time – obviously different friendships, family relationships, situations warrant different sides of you. Rather, inappropriate emotional intimacy with another person and dishonesty can be so monumentally damaging to a relationship. If you feel cannot tell your spouse about your whereabouts, behavior, interactions, or activities, that is an indication that what you are doing is not within the bounds of the relationship you have established with that person/those people. And if your choices are breaking the trust and boundaries you have set forth together, it is cheating.

    • Anon

      Not sure if I read that in a book or a blog about how to recover as a couple after infidelity, a way to know when boundaries are crossed and the flirting / friendship goes too far is to ask ourselves “would I be confortable if my partner was watching right now?”

  • aft!

    Tangential, but curious about the thoughts of the amazing people here on whether being friends with someone who is openly attracted to your partner (in a strictly monogamous relationship) is ever okay/something you can get past.

    So what happened to us is that our mutual friend–a gay man–drunkenly came onto my (heterosexual) husband this weekend while the 3 of us were hanging out at a bar (I was getting us all drinks while this happened). He asked if our marriage was fluid and/or if it ever could be because he is extremely attracted to my husband. My husband turned him down as gently as possible and we left for the night. The friend has since been texting us like nothing happened; clearly wants to pretend that nothing happened. We haven’t responded yet because we both don’t know how to move forward.

    On the one hand, it seems like attraction is a natural thing that sometimes happens and as long as you trust your partner not to pursue it, it shouldn’t be a big deal and something you can move past as long as boundaries are clearly laid out. But on the other, I can’t shake that it feels like disrespect to our very established commitment (the friend was even at our wedding) and/or that I’ve just been seen as an impediment to him…that our personal friendship wasn’t real. But then I’m also trying to be sensitive to that fact that it can be so much harder for him in our city and I know he’s extremely lonely right now (so it might have been a moment of heartache/hope that just came out of him after drinking). And I also am just shocked because he and I have always been close before this and it seems totally out of nowhere. So I’m torn between feeling very betrayed and not wanting to end a longterm friendship that meant a lot to me, especially since I don’t have a lot of friends to begin with…

    so basically tl;dr: How much leeway do you think is fair for established friends who fall for and/or are openly attracted to your partner? Is it something you can move past or is the trust always broken?

    • Eenie

      From what you’ve said, it seems like he respected your relationship enough to ask. I’m sure he thought there was some risk when he did it, but if you can move past it I think you should. He didn’t act on his attraction in a physical way. But if you can’t move past it, that’s fine too.

      • Amy March

        I liked this comment but upon reflection I’m not sure. I would never tell a friend’s husband I was attracted to him and ask if they might have an open relationship. It does feel incredibly disrespectful of their relationship to me. Lots to think about here for sure!

        • Eenie

          I think it could go either way. I’m with you, but I don’t think it would be that way for everyone and every relationship.

          • Lisa

            I think the friend could have been a bit more discrete in discerning whether the relationship was open or if the husband had any interest in him/men sexually, but we could chalk that lack of sensitivity up to nerves and/or first time ever trying to broach this topic. I’d be willing to cut him a little slack on this, especially if he’s never approached the husband or made him feel uncomfortable before.

      • aft!

        I guess part of my issue is that he definitely knows our marriage isn’t open on my end. Not that he ever said to me, “Hey, are you two open?” but that we’ve explicitly talked about how important monogamy is to me and with my husband in the past. That’s where I felt disrespected – like he was trying to go around me and be like, “no, but really, are *you* open to this?”

        Honestly, if he were a straight woman with whom I had a similar friendship and shared similar things with who then tried to feel out my husband’s willingness for fluidity, I probably would be less ambivalent. Maybe I’m being too reductivist and I definitely can’t quite put my finger on it overall, but the fact that he’s gay and my husband is straight makes it feel like a different situation for me that requires more sensitivity. Or maybe I’m just justifying.

        • Eenie

          No no, I feel like those are relevant details. If he knew your feelings explicitly on it, that’s a breech of trust.

          If you want to save the friendship, I’d talk with him directly and see what he has to say. But I think you need to have your husband’s input on this as well.

          • aft!

            Yeah, it’s the trust thing that sucks and I can’t figure out if I’ll ever be able to really move past it :-/ I feel like theoretically I can or I *should* but it’s hard to emotionally get there.

            My husband is good with whatever I want – he thinks that the friend got the message and wouldn’t try it again, but he definitely gets if I feel like the trust is too broken. And he would prefer not to hang out one-on-one with him for a bit, mostly as to not accidentally lead him on or anything. But I was always closer to this guy and he didn’t feel *violated* or anything, so he’s going by what I want.

            I guess talking to him is really the only way to see if I can continue being friends with him. If he’s mortified and apologetic, I could maybe move past it. But any defensiveness would honestly be hard for me.

          • I think I’d have a big problem with this since he already talked with you about how you were monogamous. It does feel like a trust thing, or a disrespect thing. Would he have acted if your husband had been interested, even if he knew that you thought you were in a monogamous relationship?

    • Lisa

      My opinion would be based on the friend’s reaction when your husband pushed back. Did he push your husband further to try and see if anything was possible between them, or did he immediately back off and say he understood?

      It’s of course going to be awkward for a while either way, but if he completely dropped the subject and respected your boundaries after your husband turned him down, then I say it’s probably worth powering through the awkwardness while possibly reducing the amount of face-time the two men have for a little while. If the friend continued to push your husband’s boundaries, then that’s when I would start to pull back from my relationship with him and take this new information into account.

    • cpostrophe

      wait, this part:

      “My husband turned him down as gently as possible and we left for the night. The friend has since been texting us like nothing happened; clearly wants to pretend that nothing happened. We haven’t responded yet because we both don’t know how to move forward.”

      can you clarify? It can be read as either your friend is pretending that they weren’t turned down and are still texting you to try to make something happen, or that they’re pretending that they never propositioned your husband in the first place.

      The latter sounds ok. The former -doesn’t- sound respectful of boundaries at all. This is no different than if your husband were single and being hit on by your friend, who isn’t listening to him being let down.

      fwiw, when I introduced my fiancee to some of my friends for the first time (before we were engaged), I’d get teasing jokes from some of them of the form of: “I’ve totally got the hots for your partner.” Which I totally took as flirting, and them just paying us a compliment because they didn’t follow it up with any kind of further proposition. Attraction is attraction, and it’s a brain chemistry thing that we can’t control or suppress. What we can control is what we do that impulse when it comes up.

      • aft!

        Oh he wants to pretend it never happened – that he never hit on him. Definitely not an ongoing thing!

        And I wouldn’t be this upset if he had told me that he thought my husband is hot (he is!) It’s more than he propositioned him behind my back, while knowing that I’ve always described my marriage as monogamous, that feels lousy. But he has been a good friend to me 99% of the time otherwise, so that’s my ambivalence.

    • emilyg25

      Hmm. I think if I really liked this friend and wanted to continue the friendship, I’d say something. Like “I know you were drunk, but that wasn’t cool.” And then maybe let tings lie for a bit and then try to resume the friendship. But it was definitely uncool and crossed a boundary.

  • After having my marriage end about three years ago because my husband fell in love with someone else and left me, I admittedly have strong feelings about faithfulness, cheating, etc. My limits as far as what cheating is or isn’t are probably about what they were before, but now I feel like I have less tolerance for putting up with sh*t, in general. Going through all that also taught me a lot about what I want my partner to value. My boyfriend seems to also value the same things and have the same views on cheating, so I am thankful for that. He has also been wonderful in my healing process.

    I couldn’t knowingly date someone who tried on purpose to push the boundaries of what I consider to be faithfulness. It’s just not worth it to me, and I’d rather be single again than deal with a partner who acts differently with women when alone than he would if I were I’m there. And if someone were to minimize cheating, I would take that as a red flag that they were not a good person for me to date. (And I probably wouldn’t pursue a close friendship with someone who felt that was either, after my experience.)

    • I was thinking “has it been three years for Jenny already”? Then I realized it’s been 7 years for me. Seven! We’ve come a long way. Just wanted to say yay to us.

      • Wow, seven for you! Yay to us and everyone who comes out on the other side of this kinda thing! Definitely something to celebrate! :)

  • CP2011

    My definition of cheating is physical/sexual, rather than the emotional. For me, if my husband kissed someone else, that would be cheating, no questions asked. But we encourage each other to have deep and intimate friendships, so I have no problem with my husband working through personal problems or anxieties with someone else if he feels that they might be more helpful for that particular issue. We don’t want to come the sole repository for each other’s problems. That said, a pattern of preferring to discuss personal matters with someone other than me due to issues within our relationship would be something we’d need to address.

  • Anon

    It’s hard to predict how someone would react when confronted to cheating. I thought it would be a deal breaker, a hard limit. My dad cheated on my mom. Repeatedly. After years of that it ended in a bad divorce. Then he cheated repeatedly on his second wife, one of the “other woman”. They haven’t gotten divorced, despite decades of lies and open disrespect. She is not happy but apparently gave up. I grew up telling myself I would not let anyone do that to me. I would not be the one staying home being miserable and crying, while pretending everything was ok on the outside. I would not be made fun of by my husband’s dumb friends for being so easy to fool. I would not be like my mom or my step mother. Ever.

    Then it happened. One evening at dinner my partner came clean and confessed he had cheated on me. Despite all my promises to myself to immediately leave whoever did that to me, I couldn’t bring myself to break up. He was genuinely sorry, for all the hurt he caused and all the lies, for abusing my trust. We weren’t ready to give up on our relationship. We picked up the pieces. We were determined to make it work. That’s what felt right to us, in this particular relationship. We learned a lot about each other, the ugly, the vulnerable parts as well as the noble. We have a deeper connexion now, and I think we see each other more as what we really are: human beings that can make mistakes. We set up new, clearer rules: no secret, working on telling what’s on our mind, flirting is ok as long as we’re both present and included, efforts on communication…

    However something is still bothering me. Statistics say that child of cheating parents are more likely to forgive. It was my own decision to work on our relationship rather than walk away, and so far I don’t regret it a tiny bit. But I wonder how much of that decision was influenced by my dad’s behavior, and I ressent him for that. The last thing I want is to replicate my parents relationship. Surely my partner’s 4 months of friendship gone too far are not the same thing than my dad’s lifelong lies, is it?

    • Juliet

      No, it’s not the same thing. It’s different because of how you two are handling it after the fact, and how you feel about the situation now, and deception involved. Also, don’t let that statistic get under your skin too much. Statistics on how common cheating is are all over the place, but the gist is that cheating happens, a lot. To say this impacts all children the same way isn’t realistic, and isn’t reflective of your reality.

    • I think if a partner is genuinely sorry and if (1) they make clear changes and assume all responsibility (no attempting to blame you or someone else for their many decisions and deceptions over the 4 months) and no “It just happened” or other non-responsibility-taking “apologies” or justifications (2) they allow you to feel the emotions you feel without minimizing them or saying you should get over it, (3) they don’t say that it wasn’t a big deal or they made “a mistake” (singular), (4) they don’t rush your healing process, and (5) it truly ends and never happens again, then it is different from a serial cheater. But my concern would be that if I didn’t know it was going on during those 4 months, how would I know if it was or wasn’t later?

      Like you point out, I think the families we grow up have a huge impact on how we see relationships and what we view as “normal.” And I think certain people are likely to always believe the best in others and be extremely giving, trusting and forgiving in relationships. I don’t think it’s a bad thing (quite the opposite actually!), but sometimes this can lead to not noticing things that might be concerns. It’s easy to make our needs smaller for someone else and to always put others before ourselves, but it’s okay to have needs and to express them. I think relationships should be reciprocal, with relatively balanced give and take on both sides.

      If I were in your shoes, I would want to find a good counselor to go to together to help you through rebuilding and healing together. And, individually, I would try to think through the worst-case scenario and what I would do if I discovered that it happened again (or didn’t stop). I would want to do a post-nup (or some sort of contract, if not married) with my partner to decide how things will go if it happens again and you divorce/split up because of infidelity. If my partner were hesitant to agree to a reasonable post-nup/contract that would be fair to me in the case of divorce because of infidelity, I would be very concerned. Because with no secrets and a commitment to the relationship, it shouldn’t happen again. It’s simply a reasonable contract given the situation, and it’ll never be enforced if there’s no infidelity.

      It is absolutely terrifying to think about what life would be like without our partners. But I think that having a plan for the worst-cast scenario, once getting past the awfulness of the pain of even considering it, would actually put you in a place of emotional strength. It’s a way to express your needs: what you need to feel safe and protected so you can trust again while also knowing that you’ll be okay whatever the outcome (and I think your partner should totally want to make you feel this way if he is truly remorseful, taking responsibility, and committed to this not happening again). Please take care of yourself! (You got tested for STDs, yes?) I wish you all the best…

  • Rachelle

    I’d just like to offer up my two cents as a “don’t make it my problem” person in a monogamous marriage. Though my husband doesn’t share this viewpoint if the reverse were to happen, I’ve told him that if he has a one-time indiscretion and feels bad enough about it that he’s sure it’s not going to happen again, I’d just rather not know. For me, it’s definitely not saint-like restraint, but more a feeling of if you screwed up, it needs to be your problem not mine. You should be the one feeling guilty and I’m not here to clear your conscience over it because then I have to deal with cleaning up YOUR mess and determining whether my jealously will ever go away. I’ve been cheated on in two previous relationships; both were one time instances and both told me about it. Neither of the relationships were terribly serious, but were monogamous, and I ended it there and then because I had a zero-tolerance policy.

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