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May 11, 2018

“In-Between” Relationships & Why You Should Talk About Cheating

Episode 58

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What can we learn from Tristan Thompson & Khloe Kardashian’s cheating challenges? Why do we stay with partners who cheat? And what conversations are ESSENTIAL to a happy, lasting relationship? Jess shares her answers, theories, and strategies on cheating, monogamy and relationship communication.

This podcast is brought to you by Desire Resorts

Podcast Transcript:

Welcome to the @SexWithDrJess Podcast. I’m Jessica O’Reilly, your friendly neighbourhood sexologist and I’m back in Toronto today still recovering from my travels and having lost my voice aboard the Desire Resorts cruise. I had a blast on board and my highlight was definitely Florence. There’s something about that city that always leaves me wanting more and more. And on board, my highlight was just sitting on the top deck watching the shoreline and listening to DJ Willis down below. Let me tell you, life is good. I probably have one of the best jobs in the world, so thank you to Desire Resorts and Cruises for hosting me on board.

Now that I’m home in Toronto…Today on The Global Morning Show, we talked about Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian. Admittedly, I don’t know much at all about these two. And I’ve already had people yell at me online “WHO CARES?”

But here’s the thing. You may not care about K and T. You may not keep up with them – see what I did there? But we do care about these types of stories because when we hear about happy relationships or tumultuous relationships it affects how we see our own relationships. When we hear about Tristan cheating, it can be upsetting because ultimately we never want it to happen to us.

And it’s interesting because celebrity gossip is often seen as trashy or vapid. And I was looking at a post by Dr. Amie Harwick yesterday about the hazard of following celebrity gossip. Amy says “Gossiping, in general, is a rather normative behaviour,” says Dr. Amie Harwick, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Communication about social behaviours goes back to nomadic tribes, regarding finding out who socially was to be avoided or cautious about.” But gossiping, in general, brings negativity into your life and into your relationship.

And Amie adds “Such a public depiction of relationship failure can absolutely instill fear in people, whether single or in a relationship, about the likelihood of relationship failure,” Harwick says. “We take information about the world by what we see.” She goes on to explain that typically our own families and friends would model what we believe to be normal. “But with the addition of social media and tabloids, our behavior modeling now includes an immense quantity of poor, and often untrue, behaviour models,”

So if celebrity gossip is bad for us, why am I talking about it today? Well, I believe that it’s essential to dissect some of this information if we’re going to be consuming it. I think it’s important that we talk about cheating — not gossip about whether Tristan did it or not, but talk about why it happens and what we can do about it.

Today we’re going to do just that. I want to cover a rather controversial topic:

I want to talk about why Khloe might put up with this type of behaviour. AND what it says about the way we approach monogamy and what we can do about it.

To the first point — if Tristan has done this before and you believe he’s going to do it again, why would his partner put up with it? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. I’m not in Khloe’s head, heck I’m not even following her Instagram feed.

BUT I want to suggest a theory. A theory that may or may not apply to them, but certainly applies to other couples.

This isn’t a popular theory. Any time I bring this up, people get pissed, but I know it’s the reality for many couples:

I believe that many people know that their partner’s cheating and privately accept it; They may not like it, but they accept it and they accept that if they want to sustain this relationship for love, for partnership, for their kids, for security, for whatever reason, they simply accept that their partner is going to have extramarital sex. This isn’t the same as a transparent and honest and consensual open relationship. But it’s also not exactly the same as expecting and demanding monogamy. It’s somewhere in between.

They want the relationship; they know their partner doesn’t intend to be fully monogamous – although they may say they’ll try. And they accept that to have the relationship, they may have to put up with this.

They may not discuss this openly with their partner. Again, this isn’t a consensually non-monogamous relationship. But deep down, inside, on their own, they get it. They accept the cheating. They don’t consent to it, but it is what it is to them.

BUT even though they accept this arrangement privately in their own minds, they still feel outraged when others find out. And their outrage is often in response to the public finding out — not to the cheating itself. It’s possible that like Hilary Clinton, Khloe knew this was happening and accepted it, but can’t do so publicly because the shame and judgment she faces for “allowing” it to happen is what makes it unbearable.

And this is really heartbreaking to me — that we’re so judgmental of the person who stays with someone who cheats.

So that’s my theory. And I believe that this in-between relationship — not monogamous and not consensually-monogamous — but resigned to accept cheating in order to make the relationship work – I believe that this exists because we privilege monogamy and accept it as our default setting even though it’s not realistic for many of us – perhaps for Tristan and many others.

And I don’t see this setup as particularly healthy because it’s not open or honest or consensual as far as I know. Again, I see this in many other couples, but certainly, don’t know that this is the case for Khloe and Tristan. I believe, however, that if we started approaching monogamy as though it is a choice — like eating meat or being a vegetarian — we wouldn’t find ourselves with so many supposedly monogamous relationships that end up not being monogamous.

If we stopped with the fairy tales and romcoms and the nonsense around your partner being able to fulfill all of your needs – be your lover, your soulmate, your best friend, your confidante — if we dropped these unrealistic expectations, we’d build happier, healthier, more successful relationships. We’d likely have more people who opt to be consensually monogamous, but we’d also have more couples who success at monogamy because they’ve opted in consciously.

So what can we do with this information?

I think we all need to have some really meaningful conversations.

I think before you commit to a lifetime together, you need to ask yourself some very important questions:

1. What will you do if you want to have sex with someone other than your partner? Because the desire will arise at some point. How will you respond? And how do you hope your partner will respond when they have the desire to have sex with someone else? If you haven’t asked yourself this question, you’re not ready for a lifetime of monogamy. And if you can’t discuss your answers with your partner, you’re not ready for marriage. It may be an intense conversation and you might even argue, but you should do this before you commit to being together and before you find yourself in this scenario if possible.

2. Next, ask yourself why you want to be in a monogamous relationship? Really think about this. Why is it you want to be monogamous? Ask your partner the same? It’s another tough conversation, but if you haven’t had it, you aren’t equipped to commit to monogamy.

3. Another very scary conversation I want all couples to have is how would we respond if one of cheated? How would you feel? What would you do? Could you cope? Could you move on? What a scary conversation and I’ve had it myself with Brandon and facilitated it with other couples and it’s frightening. Because if I say I couldn’t handle it, we’d simply break up, my partner might be afraid to be honest about their desires. And if I say, it would hurt, but we’d work through it, it might feel like I’m giving him permission to cheat. There is no simple path to navigating this conversation because it requires you to be vulnerable. And you need to learn to be vulnerable if you want to stay together for 10-20-20-40 years.

I think if Khloe and Tristan had even scraped the surface of these conversations earlier in their relationship, they might be better off. And again I’m just using their story as a conversation starter, because it’s not about them and I don’t know the specifics of what happened. But we can all learn from the gossip rather than spreading it.

So I challenge you, to address these questions with your partner. What does monogamy mean to you and what does it look like? What do you do when you experience attraction to someone else or a desire to have sex with someone else? How do you want your partner to respond to this? Why do you value and desire monogamy? And how would you handle an affair? The data suggests that a quarter of us admit to having had cheated, but people in the field estimate it at closer to 50% which means this is a conversation you need to have.

Are you willing to have these tough conversations? And this is just the start. We’re really just scratching the surface.

I have a new course coming out I think it’s going to be called — Don’t Get Divorced — and it guides couples through these conversations and adjacent exercises that set up you to have a happier, long lasting, fulfilling relationship. These conversations are tough, some of the exercises are uncomfortable, but they’re not as tough and not as uncomfortable as a breakup or divorce.

So stay tuned for that. For now, I want you to start with one of these questions. If you head to my website, we’ve got a rough transcript of this episode so you can look back at the questions and get started.

Because all we really have in life is relationships – intimate and otherwise — so if you’re going to invest time or money or energy in one thing — make it your most important relationship.

I’ll leave you with that. And wrap it up.

Thanks so much for tuning in. Please subscribe and share this episode if you think it’s worth a listen. And follow along @SexWithDrJess on all social media. I’ll be in Toronto this week and Miami next week, so check InstaStories to follow along and if I should be following you back, let me know. Have a great week and check back next Friday for another episode of the @SexWithDrJess podcast.