In an earlier article, we considered whether a relationship outside marriage can be considered “cheating” if there isn’t any sexual contact. We concluded that emotionally intimate relationships are a betrayal if a non-spousal relationship includes sharing intimacies that a spouse believes are reserved for the couple. So how can having sex with other people not be considered cheating?

“You should behave in such a way that your actions don’t cause harm,” said Dossie Easton, co-author of “The Ethical Slut,” first published more than 20 years ago and recently updated for a third edition. Easton describes what is sometimes called “consensual non-monogamy,” open marriage or polyamory. This can include partners having sexual encounters with people other than their primary partner, together or separately; one or both partners in an on-going loving relationship with more than one person; or some other variation. 

While many people will find this kind of marriage objectionable on personal, religious or moral grounds, some couples find this to be a workable and rewarding lifestyle. It’s important to note that couples who are happy and successfully non-monogamous seldom have free-wheeling, anything-goes kind of arrangements. This kind of relationship requires frank communication and detailed agreements equally acceptable to all participants.

In order to not cause harm to any individual or relationship, honesty, openness and commitment are essential. Bottom line? In life as in card games, it’s not cheating if you and your partner agree on the rules. 

Elaine Wilco is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 20 years of experience. She maintains a private practice in Alpharetta focused on helping those with intimacy issues. Follow her at facebook.com/IntimacyAtlanta.

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