It's become apparent to me that how one gets into polyamory is equally as important as how they practice it. I say this because I realise that a great many polyamorous people started the arrangement after catching a partner cheating in a monogamous relationship or being caught themselves and this inevitably impacts on all their relationships - both existing and future.
The problem with starting a polyamorous relationship with betrayal is that betrayal has to be forgiven and the betrayer has to compensate for their wrongdoing. Compensating for breaking a fidelity agreement with your partner and then trying to convince that partner that you still love and care about them will probably involve you showing that the person you betrayed them with is not as important as they are. It will probably mean proving that the person you are cheating with is disposable and rebuilding the broken trust with your existing partner will mean expressing their disposability with your actions. That isn't very conducive to having a secure and healthy relationship with your other partner; some might say that perhaps they deserve that lack of stability given that they were complicit in the betrayal to begin with, but polyamory is meant to be about having multiple romantic relationships with the consent of all involved. One partner actively trying to reap revenge against the metamour they have reluctantly accepted doesn't exactly compliment the idea of informed consent, nor does agreeing to be part of a non monogamous relationship through fear of losing your relationship altogether. These issues are relevant in any previously monogamous relationship that has been "opened", but when there was definite discord that negated the trust and respect between a couple, these issues are magnified.
Often, part of the "staying together but being poly" agreement might be that the cheater has to terminate the relationship they had with the person they cheated with, but they are permitted to find new partners. A fresh start, as it were. This still presents problems: trust between the existing couple has still been compromised and that will affect how the betrayed partner perceives potential metamours and that insecurity will make the idea of rules and procedures that seem to protect that existing relationship very attractive. Privileging that existing relationship often doesn't allow other relationships to be as fulfilling as the people involved in them want them to be, especially as it usually means the new person's needs are thought of as secondary to the existing partner. That betrayed partner is still seeking the compensation for their hurt and needs to feel that they are loved as much they used to be. Their partner seeking the affections of someone else is not going to make them feel compensated or consoled in anyway and they will probably change their minds about being in a polyamorous relationship several times. If the betrayer is adamant that this existing relationship must continue, that will mean them stopping and starting other relationships in conjunction with the feelings of their existing partner. This, again, shows the disposability of these other relationships, but will be a necessary evil in order to ensure the survival of that damaged relationship.And perhaps that's what they should do, postpone the polyamory idea until the relationship they so desperately want to maintain is fixed and they are no longer opening their relationship in response to infidelity but because they both enthusiastically consent to the arrangement.
Even dating the betrayed partner has it's risks: for one, you know that non monogamy was not their idea. Secondly, you can't be sure that they are using you as some sort of revenge tool or to provoke jealousy in their partner. The trust issues are still present and any rules they apply to protect their relationship from their metamours will more than likely apply to your relationship with them also. Cheating just doesn't allow for the optimum foundation of trust, respect and honesty necessary to have healthy polyamorous relationships. It becomes heavily focused on the people in the soiled relationship and anyone outside of that bubble is easily dismissed. It's not an intentional thing, but it's the only way to survive such a major hiccup. Unfortunately, it does little to consider the needs of people outside of that bubble and that's why I would never consider being involved with someone from a relationship that has experienced cheating.
I understand that people are going to make mistakes. People who are wired for polyamory will cheat because they are unaware of how to make it a "legit thing" rather than a seedy pastime. But how can they make that transition more ethically? And by this, I mean more ethical for all that are involved opposed to only considering the people from the preexisting relationship. I suggest the following:
- Acknowledge that the betrayer has to compensate the betrayed for their grievances.
- Don't treat others badly in order to treat the betrayed partner well. Not even the person you betrayed them with.
- Let any newcomers know that you (as a couple) are recovering from a betrayal so they can opt out of being part of the rebuilding process.
- Either forgive and really forgive, or don't and move on.
- Remember that newcomers are not responsible for the initial betrayal.
- Don't agree to an open/poly relationship out of fear of losing the broken relationship. It's unfair to everyone involved.
- Don't use people to get revenge or "show them how it feels".
- Be brave and admit if you are incompatible and terminating the relationship would be the healthiest thing for all involved.