Woman looking at the camera with hands outstretched holding a string of lights

What If You Could Have It All?

An excerpt from When You’re the One Who Cheats
© RL Publishing 2019
By Dr Tammy Nelson


“Twenty percent of adults have practiced consensual non-monogamy at some point in their lives”

– Wednesday Martin, Author of Untrue


Marriage is evolving, adapting to our 21st-century sensibilities. You could have your cake and eat it, too. And why shouldn’t you? Most people, if they could arrange it, would want the cake and the marriage, too. But could you have it if you discussed it openly? Instead of non-consensual nonmonogamy, what if you created a consensual monogamy agreement?

Woman looking at the camera with hands outstretched holding a string of lights

Twenty percent of all adults have practiced some form of consensual non-monogamy at some point in their adult lives. More people than ever claim to be in open relationships—partnerships in which each person has the freedom to be with other people, both sexually and emotionally, depending on the agreement of both partners. How they manage their outside relationships and the time they spend together is up to them.

Polyamory (poly meaning many and amory meaning love), is a lifestyle that more and more people are choosing as a result of the many challenges of marriage today. Polyamory is a multi-dimensional, consensually non-monogamous relationship in which each partner has many loving “outside” relationships while still maintaining the commitment and connection of the “inside” primary partnership.

Polyamorous couples (two people) and thruples (three people) and pods (more than three) recognize that they can each love many people, while still honoring the relationship(s). The connecting force is honesty and transparency, and the integrity of their flexible monogamy (or consensual non-monogamy) agreement is what keeps them together. This is a new kind of marriage, one in which couples make their own rules about what monogamy looks like.

A study in 2017, the first large-scale study on the prevalence of consensual non-monogamy, found that more than one in five Americans (about twenty-one percent) have engaged in the practice at some point in their lifetime. These findings suggest that open marriage is much more common than most people think. A study from three years earlier, in 2014, estimated the rate to be at only 5.3 percent.

How would you even begin to have the conversation about opening your relationship?

How to Have a Dialogue to Open Your Relationship

Two men in coats sitting on a park bench and talking

Could you and your partner have an open relationship? Or a polyamorous relationship? Try this dialogue. Remember to take turns being the sender and the receiver. And when you are the receiver, mirror everything that your partner is saying. And then switch.

Open-Relationship Dialogue

  • Here’s what I appreciate about our relationship now.
  • One reason why I might appreciate an open relationship.
  • Can you think of one way that it might work for you?
  • How might it not work?
  • Here’s one thing I could do to make it successful, if we tried.
  • Here’s one fear I have about opening our relationship.
  • Here’s one way I think it may help us.
  • One reason why I appreciate that we’re having this discussion.

When you are each finished listening and mirroring, try empathizing and validating each other. Validating sounds like “knowing you the way I know you, it makes sense that…” Take turns validating each other’s experience.

John and Aaron had a conversation in my office. John told Aaron, “Look, I don’t want you to leave your husband, he loves you. But if you are feeling guilty, ask him to have an open relationship. Just don’t drag me into the conversation. Frankly, if you leave him, I am not really into being your new husband, and I don’t want you to blame me for ruining your marriage. But I understand if you want to change your monogamy agreement with him. That’s between the two of you.”

Aaron thought about it for a while and finally decided to go home and talk to his husband. He used the Open-Relationship Dialogue.

When he came back to therapy with John, he described what happened. “So I asked my husband what was one way an open marriage might work for him and I was surprised that he said it might let him off the hook, sexually, since he knew I wanted more than he could give me. We had a much longer conversation, thank goodness we had the dialogue, to keep going back to those sentence stems, but I really think he could be ok with it.”


When you have gone through the sentence stems of the Dialogue, try empathizing with each other’s feelings. “It makes sense that you feel…” Guess at some feeling words that your partner may be feeling as a result of the things you share.

The Future of Affairs

Right now, in the United States and in the U.K., marriage rates are at their lowest point since 1895. And of those who are married, only 38% describe themselves as happy. What is even more intriguing, or troubling, is that 40%—about one-third—think that the institution of marriage is obsolete and that it simply just doesn’t work. And so what lies ahead for marriage?

A robot leans in toward a woman's face for a kiss

We know that tech companies are now experimenting with robot partners; realistic robots with “brains” that can remember our personal preferences, and memorize our calendars and our email. They can be programmed to have sex with us in the way we like, and then shut-down and be put aside when we’re done with them. Oh, and they’ll never, ever argue or complain.

Is this the perfect spouse, or affair partner? Or, if we have a robot on the side, is having sex with a robot cheating?

What does the future of sex and technology mean for the future of marriage and monogamy? Perhaps every couple, every partner, every person, will have to make their own decision about what affairs, monogamy, marriage and commitment of any kind, will look like as we move into the new realm of technological relationships that grow beyond what we are even able to imagine.

Relationships happen. They can happen between you and a partner, any partner—human or otherwise. And you can be anyone you decide to be in these relationships. Who will you decide to be?

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