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Relationships and Community
From time to time I meet people who say they are in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) poly relationships. Their primary partners have supposedly agreed that they may have outside relationships, but they don’t want to know anything about them. They don’t want to know when dates happen, they don’t want to meet their primary partners’ other SOs, they don’t want to know who is having sex with whom, nothing. DADT agreements seem to be most common when a polyamorous person is married to a monogamous person, but they certainly aren’t limited to that situation. I usually hear about DADT from men who I feel are trying to get away with something (that is, they seem to be actually cheating on their wives, rather than polyamorous)—they show all the signs of sneaking around. But sometimes a person will show up at poly events wearing a wedding band, saying that he or she has a DADT arrangement with his or her spouse. If the person keeps coming to events, the ring is usually gone in a few months, and we hear that there’s a divorce in the works.
Whatever the reason, I view DADT as a major warning sign that the primary relationship is not healthy, and that we may well be hearing its death rattle. It is frequently used when the monogamous partner does not, in fact, want his or her partner to have other relationships, but does not feel secure enough to demand monogamy from that partner. It is almost always a compromise arrived at when one partner does want other relationships and one wants a closed relationship.
The main problem that I see with DADT is that it kills intimacy. It prevents full and honest communication between partners. Intimacy can only occur when there is total honesty. When certain topics are off-limits, there are barriers between you. Most people do not live strictly compartmentalized lives.
For instance, Tom is really looking forward to his weekly lunch with his sweetie, Nancy. A crisis comes up, necessitating an urgent meeting. He has to cancel the lunch plans, leaving him out of sorts. When he gets home that night, he can’t explain his mood to his wife Ann. Ann knows that something is bothering him, and she wants to know what it is—but she may be reluctant to ask because she doesn’t want to know about it if it has anything to do with Nancy. There are walls between them, and slowly the withholding spreads to other areas of their lives. DADT is not sustainable in the long run, and can lead to the couple becoming roommates more than partners.
DADT can also present safety issues. If Tom learns that Nancy has decided to stop using condoms with her other sweetie(s), his relationship with Nancy presents a greater health risk to him and to Ann than it did when Nancy was using barriers. He needs to disclose that increased risk to Nancy. If they have a DADT agreement, he’s likely to be reluctant to bring up the issue.
True intimacy requires true honesty. True honesty is complete, without holding anything back. I can’t imagine sacrificing intimacy to avoid discomfort. Why would you do it?
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have the One True Way to Do Poly, so obviously, there may be people for whom DADT works. I just haven’t seen it myself.