By Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil
Chances are at some point during a relationship, you've had a talk known as the “DTR” - defining the relationship – where you and a new partner discuss what type of commitment you can expect from each other. Oftentimes this is the point in the relationship when a couple decides they're going to be exclusive, and talks about what that looks like for them. Will they consider each other boyfriend/girlfriend? Will they cut off any other potentially romantic relationships they've been entangled with? How will they act around members of the opposite sex and used to identify them as single? And so forth.
These conversations are a crucial part of a relationship, of getting on the same page and making sure expectations are dealt with properly. But a new study shows that even when couples have such a discussion and think they're on the same page, they may not actually have the same point of view as to what the relationship is. Public health researchers from Oregon State University found that even among those who agreed they had an explicit agreement to be monogamous, almost 30 percent had broken the agreement, with at least one partner having had sex outside the relationship.”
To be generous, the researchers have looked at this instances as examples of miscommunication and not just blatant disregard by one partner for the conclusion the couple has come to in a relationship. Making the decision to cheat is another topic to be dealt with entirely, but there are ways to avoid an initial miscommunication that would lead to one partner thinking it's ok to date multiple people, and the other partner not holding to that train of thought!
I suggest using something that I teach in my book, Make Up, Don't Break Up, when teaching couples how to fight fair – it can be a good technique here to foster blatant but respectful communication. I call it the bullet-proof vest. I encourage having a heart-to-heart with a figurative emotional "bullet proof vest" to protect from hurt, anger and defensiveness, as you listen and echo back what you heard. In this scenario, each partner agrees to be sensitive but frank and to not take things personally.
In this situation, echoing back what you've head is especially important to make sure both people are committing to the same thing. You don't want to force the issue and, yes, the other person may simply not be ready to make the kind of commitment you want to make, or vice versa. But it's much better to know that up front than to think you've decided to a two-way monogamous relationship and find out the hard way that you didn't.