DADT Relationships and Their Challenges

DADT relationships are nothing new. Couples who wanted unconventional marriages, or found themselves in unexpected circumstances have often historically chosen a DADT relationship.

What Is a DADT Relationship?

A DADT relationship is an open relationship with a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. A couple agrees that (usually) both parties can seek sexual encounters or romantic relationships outside of their primary relationship, but they don’t ask questions or disclose details with each other.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in Polyamory

People who identify as polyamorous or part of the poly community have chosen consensual, ethical non-monogamy and their relationship styles may or may not include DADT relationships.

The DADT relationship in polyamory has sometimes historically been called, simply, an “open relationship,” although open relationships may have included “telling.”

The DADT relationship can also be part of parallel polyamory, where different relationship arrangements don’t overlap or interact.

Woman and woman in a don't ask don't tell relationship.

Polyamorous people have different views on disclosure, labelling, identity, and discretion, and because of some of the challenges in DADT relationships, there is often a negative outlook.

One reason some view DADT with negativity is because it implies a relationship hierarchy and a primary partnership.

Non-hierarchical polyamory practitioners view all encounters and relationships as equal, so placing emphasis on the primary relationship and having discreet secondary relationships is problematic to this perspective.

DADT relationships definitely have some specific challenges, but they can be as consensual, ethical, and meaningful as any other relationship style.

Problems with DADT Relationships

As with all relationships, DADT relationships have unique sets of challenges. Here are some of the problems with DADT relationships.

DADT Relationships Can Become Compartmentalized

Rather than living holistically and engaging in a kind of big picture life, DADT relationships sometimes mean compartmentalization.

A person in a DADT relationship may have multiple separate existences rather than a full, holistic, complex, interactive one. This can take a toll by dividing the person into fragments or roles rather than a whole.

Other Partners May Be Reduced to Insignificance

One problem in polyamory in general is how we negotiate the priority and balance of various relationships. In polyamory with primary partnerships, other partners can feel like they are less than.

Read: Primary Partner Politics in Non-Monogamy

In non-hierarchical relationships, it can feel as if a sweaty fling holds equal importance to the marriage partner. It is difficult to navigate these waters with balance and fairness, but that is the goal!

In DADT relationships, the human partners who form the “untold” relationships can feel reduced, invisible, unimportant, or unprioritized. They can feel objectified for sex or used.

Read: Is Being a Secondary Partner Right for You?

The Primary Partner Can Become the Object of Resentment

On the other hand, in DADT relationships, sometimes the primary partner becomes resentful or resented, as heady, sexually satisfying relationships occur that can’t be shared or discussed. The arrangement that meant freedom in the first place can become a wedge driving the couple apart.

Read: Why Open Relationships Don’t Work (and Why Some Do)

DADT Can Prevent Intimacy

That’s because DADT relationships can lack intimacy. If sexual disclosure is equated with honesty, or difficult emotional terrain around the sexual encounters remains unnavigated, intimacy can be lost.

Unhappy couple in DADT relationship with backs to each other.

A DADT Relationship Status May Indicate Cheating

A DADT relationship is sometimes a smoke screen for cheating. A person claims they are in a consensual poly relationship, but conveniently want everything kept secret. The DADT has definitely been used as a tactic or excuse for someone who is unfaithful but doesn’t want to own up to their infidelity.

Read: What Cheating Means in Polyamory

Situations Where DADT May Work

Are there benefits to a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell relationship model?

For certain people, and certain personality types, and certain kinds of relationships, DADT relationships are uniquely suitable.

In polyamory, designing our own relationships is really important, rather than following the expectations of our society, culture, religion, and other social influences. There are situations where lovers or partners decide DADT relationships are the best way forward for them.

Read: A Guide to Open Relationship Rules

The Arrangement

Special marital and relationship arrangements have existed since the beginning. Not everyone in a non-monogamous relationship wants to use labels like polyamory or politicize their marriage.

Some enter polyamorous arrangements reluctantly through circumstance, or as an act of love. For example, if one partner has cancer or a serious illness, the partner may grant allowance to the other to seek out sexual partners.

Read: One-Sided Open Relationships: Can it Work?

Sometimes two people love each other but one has a fetish or appetite the other can’t accommodate, and so an arrangement is made. Sometimes a couple values staying together above all else, even if the sexual flame is long gone. They may not find it necessary to disclose every tryst, or they may find it painful emotionally.

An arrangement can be an honest, intimate sacrifice. It can be a gift of love. It can simply be what transpires along the way, and the couple decides it works for them.

Intensely Private Personalities

Not all polyamorous people are extroverted socialites, and not everyone finds it necessary to talk about sex. While I am both social and love discussing every in and out, discretion has its place and some people who are very sexual don’t feel the same need to disclose everything.

Read: 5 Levels of Discretion in Polyamory

DADT Can Be Respect for Other Partners

While we often consider the possibility that DADT relationships may give non-primary sexual partners the short end of the stick, being discreet could be the exact gift that other partners require.

Once I was seeing a prominently known medical specialist. He was both polyamorous and kinky, as was his wife. But he didn’t want his sex life mixing with his important work. DADT can respect both the primary partner in the DADT relationship, and the other partners.

Are you in don’t-ask-don’t-tell relationship? Can you tell us about it?

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