When you’re in a monogamous relationship, there’s an understanding that you’ll be faithful to one another. You won’t have sex with or even engage in an emotional affair with someone else. When that agreement is broken — when you or your partner cheats — it can be devastating and fatal for your connection. However, some couples choose to sidestep a breakup and instead offer their partner a way out. Giving your partner a hall pass in your relationship may seem like a good idea, but it ultimately does more harm than good. Read on to find out why.
What does it mean to give your partner a hall pass in your relationship?
Generally speaking, a hall pass is simply a free pass to sleep with someone outside of the relationship without it counting as cheating. As certified sex educator and relationship therapist Dainis Graveris of SexualAlpha tells Bolde, the terms of this arrangement differ depending on the couple, but one person tends to want it more than the other.
“This puts the giver in a super awkward position. They might feel like they aren’t enough for their partner, that they aren’t attractive, or that their partner has already cheated. They can feel a lot of pressure to say yes to the hall pass even if they don’t want to,” Graveris explains.
“The one giving the hall pass usually sets the terms. Common examples are that their partner has to use protection, has to sleep with someone out of town, or isn’t allowed to talk about it afterward.”
Why it’s a bad idea
It goes without saying that offering your partner a hall pass puts your relationship in a very awkward spot. After all, if you’ve allowed cheating once, why not again? And if one or both partners has had a taste of sleeping with someone else, what’s to say they won’t want to do it again?
There’s also the fact that the partner suggesting the hall pass tends to want it more than the other, putting the other person in a very unsavory position.
“If you’ve committed to monogamy, then asking for a hall pass means you want to intentionally break the rules of your relationship for pleasure,” Graveris explains. “I’ve only seen this work out a few times. More often than not, it creates more problems. The partner who gave the hall pass may regret it. They may feel jealous or insecure, and the other partner will still want to sleep around. Eventually, they often ask for another hall pass.”
This often leads to a loss of trust and confidence in the relationship. Even if the couple eventually decides against granting a hall pass in the relationship, the mere fact that one person wanted it means the damage is done. That’s true even if one is granted.
More reasons to avoid giving a hall pass
Sex therapist Candice Cooper-Lovett, Ph.D., Transpersonal LMFT-S, adds that the idea of a “hall pass” is often a substitute for what one or both partners really want: an open relationship.
“I would rather the couple decide to become ethically non-monogamous — polygamous, open marriage, or polyamorous — and be honest about where they are and if they want that to be the case,” she explains. “In a monogamous situation that does not work well because of expectations and crossed boundaries, oftentimes couples do not explicitly discuss expectations and boundaries and oftentimes practice non-ethical non-monogamy where they are not being honest or transparent with one another about what’s going on. If they want something open both partners have to be in agreement and on the same page.”
Are there any upsides to offering up a hall pass in your relationship?
While asking for (and giving) a hall pass in a relationship is often a death knell, it doesn’t have to be. As Cooper-Lovett, tells Bolde, this can work out if both parties practice radical honesty and remember to be respectful.
“There can be some upsides when both partners are honest, forthcoming, and transparent with one another. They also know about each other’s expectations and have set adequate boundaries that feel fair and equitable,” she explains “Some people may feel that monogamy at all times is not beneficial to them, their well-being, or their relationship, but once again the key is about being on the same page and making these things known in the beginning and practicing ethical non-monogamy can be beneficial when it’s done in the correct way.”
Licensed clinical social worker Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, adds that a hall pass can also enable couples to try out different sexual experiences and explore fantasies that may not be possible in their main relationship.
“This can help reignite passion between partners, as well as create new and exciting opportunities for sexual exploration. It can also provide a much-needed breather from the day-to-day stresses of a partnership such as jealousy, control issues, and codependency,” Ogle says.