Some people think it's impossible to cheat in a polyamory relationship, but it doesnt work that way. The following are four rules that my boyfriend, The Puppy, and I have:
1) No starting a new relationship without telling your partner.
Deciding to have an open, poly, or otherwise non-monogamous relationship doesn't automatically give you the green light to screw anything that catches your fancy. For one thing, you may be thinking that youre fine with a V (Sally and Susan are dating Timmy, but not each other) or a triad (Susan, Sally, and Timmy date each other) relationship. Your partner may want a closed triad (Susan, Sally, and Timmy date only each other- also a form of poly fidelity). Or maybe you were expecting to have a hierarchical relationship where your starting partner would be your primary, while any new person would be secondary. Little things like this should be talked over before either party brings home someone new. Even if the talk is skipped, your starting partner should be aware that you have added someone new to the relationship. Bottom line: If you're dating someone behind your partner(s)s back, it is cheating. No if, ands, or hoo-haws about it.
2) No dating someone your partner doesn't approve of.
This may sound like a repeat of #1, but stay with me. There was once this guy that I was interested in for curiositys sake. Mr. Chaotic (my former long-distance boyfriend) didn't care if I went for it because he had been dealing with the fact that other men were tapping what he couldnt for a while. But, the Puppy had a problem with it. At first he would only say that he found the idea of me sleeping with the new guy stomach turning. It sounded like a bogus reason and I thought that it was a sign that The Puppy wanted a monogamous relationship. Not so. He truly did find the mental image of me sleeping with the other guy bile inducing. On top of that, he didn't think that the other guy could handle being third fiddle. In addition, I wasn't sure if I was interested in dating this guy or just getting him in bed. The Puppy saw that as a recipe for disaster. He prefers that I keep it to people that I'm at least interested in having dinner with. It's somewhat against my personal views, but I adhere to the rule because I like having The Puppy around.
On the reverse end of that, one of my conditions with The Puppy is that anyone he dates has to understand that I'm part of the deal. They don't have to date me. Hell, they dont even have to like me, but they do have to be civil. If they disrespect me, my relationship with the Puppy, or the boundaries I ask them to follow, I dont want them around.
3) No bare backing or fluid bonding with someone without talking it over with your partner(s).
* STI/STDs are a major concern for any relationship that involves sex. A cold sore, a yeasty, sex that involves going from one orifice to another without cleaning in between all could lead to horrible results. Some couples have rules concerning when, with whom, and under what circumstances sex without protection is allowed. Going against these agreements not only exposes all of ones partners to potential STI transmission, but shows a great lack of respect for the well-being of all parties. Condoms, dental dams, and the like are better than any human wingman in those kinds of circumstances.
Then theres pregnancy. Barring cases of sterilization or biological infertility, unprotected sex ups ones chances of becoming a parent. Assuming you decide to be involved in that childs life (deadbeat parents = fail), your other partner(s) will essentially become step-parent. The Puppy doesn't want children. On a good day, he will bend enough to say that he would rather adopt a 16 or 17 year old because theyre more tolerable and would be leaving for college in a few years. I'm on the fence. Some days I feel that I wouldn't mind being a mother. Then I go to the store and see a parent being tsked for disciplining/not disciplining their demon spawn. On those days I figure Id be better off as the super cool godmother or aunt. Getting pregnant by someone who wants to keep the resulting fetus would cause a serious problem.
4) None of the usual stuff that would count as cheating in a monogamous relationship
* Being in a non-monogamous relationship doesn't mean that rules for monogamous relationships are void. Non-monogamy rises and falls on the back of communication, honesty, and trust. Without those, the network crumbles. For the Puppy and I, this can be tricky because our boundaries go a bit further than others. Our friends like breasts. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head - if its a good- looking breast they'll show appreciation. I have big natural breasts. Some of The Puppy's and my gatherings get rather touchy-feely, so I always check in with The Puppy to make sure Im not crossing any lines. Sometimes he says that I check in for things that he really doesn't mind.
For example: Last summer, I attended a friends party without The Puppy. He was off gaming with his best friends. At one point during the night, an acquaintance that has seen me topless before asked if another friend (also female) and I would take off our tops and let him take a picture of us hugging. There were about five other people in the room. One of them was the host (who has also seen me topless). I text messaged the Puppy.
Puppy to Camile: If you know them and are comfortable with it, then go ahead. Did you really have to ask?
A few hours after the photo-op, I was dancing with a guy who said that The Puppy was an imbecile to let me attend a party alone. Gamer and anime fans are horny beasts-- especially when liquor is involved. I was one of the only females dancing and the other girls were with their boyfriends. He didnt understand why I started laughing until another friend explained it to him.
Those are just four of my, personal, cheating scenarios. What rules does your relationship have?