Advice – My boyfriend broke the rules of our open relationship.

“My boyfriend and I did long distance for 5 months. Before those 5 months we had been together for a year and it was seriously the best year of my life. We had an amazing relationship. We were honest with each other, he was so incredibly supportive, and we were so in love. Because I was so happy and confident with our relationship I decided to give him 5 passes to have sex while we were apart. He agreed and thanked me and told me the 5 passes applied to me as well. However, I told him there would be some rules. The rules were: no cuddling/sleeping with the other person, can’t sleep with a same person twice and the biggest rule of all was that we must be honest about it. I told him multiple times this rule was extremely important and it goes hand in hand with the pass. No honesty, no free pass.

About a month into the long distance, he told me he doesn’t want to use the passes. I was secretly a bit happy because I thought it was since he was just so in love with me.

Fast forward to Christmas. I went to visit him for three weeks and we had an amazing holiday travelling around his home country. I was always a little shocked that he didn’t use his passes because before me he had slept with quite a few women and was (still is a little bit but I don’t mind) quite flirtatious. So I asked him once or twice to give him the chance to fess up in case he didn’t have the heart to do so before. Both times I asked he said no.

Fast forward to March where we finally close the gap and he moves to Canada (where I live) permanently. The second day he arrives he tells me he used one of his passes while he was away. My initial reaction was surprise but I really wasn’t that shocked because I was more shocked by the fact that he had the opportunity to sleep with other women and didn’t use it. I wasn’t hurt as well because he told me it was very mechanic and he respected the rules (she left right after the act and he never kept contact with her). But then I started wondering…..”if he used 1 of his tickets why wouldn’t he have used more?”. So a few days later I asked him if he was being completely honest and he finally admitted he had used all of his passes. But then he told me that one girl slept over and another girl he saw twice (and on the second time she slept over). I was so saddened by this. He told me he was scared to tell me when we were apart because he wouldn’t be there to comfort me while he was away and he didn’t want to tell me at the Christmas break because he didn’t want to ruin our small amount of time we had together. I trust him on this because he is a really really nice guy and I know he hates the idea of me being hurt. Every time I cry he cries.

He’s apologized and I know he feels sorry for what he did but I just can’t get it out of my head. For the first month he arrived we talked/fought about it a lot and every time he apologizes but I still find myself thinking about it. I feel like the relationship isn’t the same and I don’t feel the same about of security and love that I used to feel.

Does anyone have any advice?”

Canadian Dumpling on /r/nonmonogamy.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

Dear Canadian Dumpling,

I am really sorry to hear that you experienced such a betrayal in trust. It sounds like you’ve done your best and gave him many opportunities to be honest with you about what happened. It is truly heartbreaking to hear how many times he has neglected to be honest with you about what happened.

The “ethics” portion of ethical non-monogamy compels every participant to seek consensual and mindful connection with not just new connections but also to maintain strong connections with our existing relationships. As you have outlined as one of your rules, honesty is absolutely crucial for any relationship – not just ones that are ethically non-monogamous – to be successful.

And let’s talk about honesty. You said that honesty was one of the core rules in which your non-monogamous agreement functioned. And even as you’ve repeated so, it was something that your partner should have understood was important even without the reminder. His failure to disclose his other experience appears to be a firm agreement/boundary violation for you, as would be for many other non-mono folks. His failure to communicate put you at a level of emotional and sexual safety risk that you did not consent to. Even if we give your partner the benefit of the doubt that the timing of his revelation (i.e. waiting until March after he moved in with you) was benevolent, I’m afraid that his behavior would fall under cheating.

What is infidelity but a misguided act of deceit?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

It is important to first acknowledge your pain that stems from these continued acts of betrayal. He failed you in multitude of ways. He failed to communicate with you which put you at a risk of contracting STI from an unknown vector. He also failed to uphold his own agreed boundaries with others by sleeping with a same partner more than once. In addition, he also failed to fully disclose to what extent his violation of your boundaries has been. Instead, he opted to drip and drip little revelation one after another.

It could be possible that his inability -if his failure to communicate is indeed his lack of ability – could stem from a sense of mono-normative guilt. That for him, he could see his sleeping with others felt unethical and wrong, even with your direct consent. Many of us do have to actively deprogram several beliefs hammered into us from early age. But I don’t really know if that is a price of admission that you need to pay for on his behalf. And if he did have such a difficult time revealing to his girlfriend that he slept with other women, it could also be possible that he also struggled or failed to disclose that he had a girlfriend when he slept with these four women. So in essence, he didn’t just cheat on you; he cheated on five total women by failing to disclose his sexual/relational risk profile in a timely manner. No amount of apology is going to be able to bring him back to the first person he slept with post-agreement. The damage is already done.

Photo by cottonbro on

There are several different ways this can play out.

Closing the relationship (if you haven’t already done so) would be the most obvious first step. Trust has eroded to the point of no return. So take this time to get tested for STI risk then assess where your relationship stands.

Dig deep and discuss what led to this constant miscommunication. If it is something internal to himself, you’re going to need to see some indications of progress. Whether that is through self-improvement or therapy to resolve guilt, that improvement will need to be initiated and committed to for and by himself.

Work little bit at a time to re-establish trust. With what has transpired, you and your partner are going to need some time to heal and rebuild something anew. It could be possible that the next phase of your now-local relationship could look a lot like what it was prior to your long distance experience. But it is in no way assumed or guaranteed in the same way that a garden after a replanting consists of wholly different plants. Even if you end up picking out the same plants, it won’t be the same garden. And it won’t be the same relationship.

I’m really sorry that this happened to you. My heart really goes out to you and I sincerely hope that you and your partner can find some healing, either individually or as a couple.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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2 thoughts on “Advice – My boyfriend broke the rules of our open relationship.

  1. WOW what a great read, this breaks my heart because she trusted him enough to open boundaries and he still broke every rule they agreed upon. I don’t know how you could salvage this relationship after all the trust has been broken


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