When it comes to married couples or people in a dedicated intimate relationship, there are (essentially) two ways to describe one person in the relationship being intimate with someone other than their spouse/significant other.

If it's without their partner's consent or knowledge, it's Cheating or Infidelity. If it's with their partner's knowledge and consent, that's an open marriage or (in some cases) cuckoldry.

But, is there a word, term or phrase that can be applied to both of these scenarios? Something that describes straying from one's 'commitment', but does not imply unfaithfulness or maliciousness?

EDIT: Finish this sentence-

Michael cheated on his wife. Ben was intimate with another woman because he is in an open marriage with his wife. Both are _________.

  • 2
    I would not say that cuckoldry is an open situation, because the whole idea of the cuckoo's nesting habit is deceit. Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:58
  • @WeatherVane It can be in some cases, but google tells me you're right. Edited the question slightly. Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 22:36
  • 2
    With and or without consent? Is there a word, term or phrase? Doubtful there is such in English.
    – lbf
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 22:41
  • 1
    Explain what you mean by "cheating on somebody with their permission." Either you do or you don't—I don't see there being some kind of hybrid situation. Unless you mean that somebody is allowed to cheat within certain parameters (a list of people, places, circumstances, and so on), and somebody has cheated outside of those? But that would still just be cheating—because the details weren't agreed to. You're going to have to be more specific about your scenario. Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 23:48
  • 1
    Do you mean something along the lines of it being non-exclusive? An example sentence may clear up the confusion, and is required under the rules.
    – jimm101
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 1:45

2 Answers 2


If we assume that the person being described has only one "spouse/significant other", then the word nonmonogamous would fit:

: not of, relating to, or practicing monogamy : not monogamous
//nonmonogamous couples
//a nonmonogamous relationship


Cheating and open relationships can both be categorized as forms of nonmonogamy:

I argue that transparency matters, and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is qualitatively different from non-consensual non-monogamy, or cheating.

("Seven Forms of Non-Monogamy", by Elisabeth A. Sheff, Psychology Today Jul 22, 2014)

This word wouldn't work if you need to distinguish Micheal and Ben from someone who is in a committed polygamous relationship (or relationships) and is not intimate with anyone aside from his or her multiple spouses (or significant others).

  • While that word could complete the example sentence and be correct, I don't think it answers the question: "Something that describes straying from one's 'commitment', but does not imply unfaithfulness or maliciousness?" Someone who is nonmonogamous because they cheated is unfaithful.
    – birch
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 3:56
  • 1
    On the contrart @birch that is very close to what I'm looking for. Calling a cheater nonmonogomous does not inherently imply maliciousness. If you look at an individual who has been intimate with someone other than their spouse, but with no other information, you do not know if they are cheating or if they are in an open relationship, so what I'm looking for is a word/phrase that can describe either/or without casting any blame or guilt upon the subject. Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 4:49
  • After writing a couple responses to @Nightstalker's comment, I now feel nonmonogamous works in this situation and am upvoting the answer. However, if in fact the evaluator knows only that (1) the person is married and (2) the person slept with someone not their spouse, I think even nonmonogamous implies they are in an open relationship. The most neutral way to note they slept with non-spouse is to say, "That person slept with someone who is not their spouse," which is why I think there is no exact word for this in English.
    – birch
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 5:07
  • @Nightstalker In a comment you said you want a word that can encompass both meanings of 1) open relationship or 2) monoamory/monogamy in the same sense that "consume" covers both drinking and eating. I understand if you're non-monogamous you can't be monogamous, so it doesn't cover one of your hypothetical circumstances, it doesn't cover both. Hogamus higamous I'm confused.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 8:49
  • @Zebrafish: A cheater might have promised to be in a monogamous relationship, but cheating is not a monogamous behavior. Nightstalker wanted a word that can encompass both cheating and having sex with someone other than one's spouse/SO in the context of an open relationship. I don't understand what all the controversy or confusion is about ... would you describe a cheater (like Michael) as "monogamous"? Even if the relationship is theoretically monogamous, cheating means that the cheater is not being monogamous in practice (according to a commonly used definition of "monogamous").
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 8:52

No, there is not an English word that completes your example sentence.

  • This is a comment rather than an answer, unless you can provide demonstrable evidence of the impossibility of such a word existing, rather than you being unable to think of one. Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 3:00
  • Thanks @Chappo if that is how the answer rules work here I will follow that in the future
    – birch
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 3:53
  • There may be confusion in understanding the question. If we're talking about a relationship I agree there's probably no word, but sumelic's answer of non-monogamous would fit for both Michael's and Ben's behaviour. The relationship/behaviour confusion was one I had, especially as in the comment the OP tried to clarify by saying they were mutually exclusive and asked for a "vaguer term that can be applied to both cheating and open relationships." And the example sentence was added after that comment.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 9:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.