Don't Ask Don't Tell Relationship

Updated: OCTOBER 7, 2021

A don’t ask don’t tell relationship is a non-monogamous relationship between individuals who agree to have intimate relationships with other people that are kept private from their primary partners.

The term references the former military policy "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," where same-sex attracted military personnel served without disclosing their sexual orientations. It is a dark time in queer history, highlighting the fact that LGBTQ people were expected to keep their sexuality secret because it was considered too shameful to be open about. You may want to be mindful of this meaning before referring to a relationship this way.

A don’t ask don’t tell relationship is sometimes abbreviated to the acronym DADT.

More About Don't Ask Don't Tell Relationship

A don’t ask don’t tell relationship differs from many other non-monogamous relationships because the individuals involved don’t share details about their other relationships.

This non-disclosure is very different from the openness seen with relationship triads and quads, sister wives, and even polyamorous couples where primaries and secondaries or metamours happily socialize together.

People in DADT relationships likely won’t know the names of their partner’s other lovers, or even whether they’re seeing anyone else at all. This discretion aims to minimize the jealousy that can come with non-monogamous relationships.

The idea of DADT relationships may be seen as culturally grounded, as having other romantic and sexual partners has been an expectation in many parts of the world throughout history. The secrecy surrounding this particular setup is rooted in monogamy being seen as the only openly acceptable option, or that jealousy is a default emotion in poly life.

People in DADT relationships enjoy the love and security that comes with a committed relationship and the freedom of being single. When a DADT relationship works well, it can be liberating to enjoy yourself in another relationship without needing to update your partner on every detail. A greater sexual freedom can also come with DADT.

To monogamous couples, DADT might seem like cheating. However, there should be no deceit in a DADT relationship as both parties agree that they will not disclose their other sexual encounters.

Within the polyamorous community, DADT relationships are not always regarded positively. The basis of many open relationships (in whatever form that may take) is honesty and transparency, so the idea of neither party asking nor telling can seem antithetical to that principle.

Another criticism of DADT is that its structure make it impossible to verify. If the rules of the primary relationship are that no metamours may contact each other, it is difficult to ascertain if it is in fact a consensually open relationship, or if you are dealing with a cheater who is lying and only saying they are in a DADT relationship.

It is important to remember that a DADT relationship is not one without rules. Just like with other relationships, the members of a DADT relationship negotiate the rules that feel best for them. For example, they might state that their partner cannot form a romantic relationship with another person, but sex is OK, or that friends are off limits.

Some critics wonder whether keeping secrets is compatible with emotional intimacy. Others question whether intimacy is ever achievable outside the confines of a traditional monogamous relationship. While this relationship model aims to eliminate jealousy, jealousy can also still occur. Sometimes the things you don’t know can become much scarier than those you do.

If you are considering opening your relationship in this or another way, you may want to consult a poly counselor or therapist when exploring your options to set up health expectations and boundaries.

As with all non-monogamous relationship models, practicing safe sex is also crucial. Condoms are the best way to prevent sexually-transmitted infections passing from one partner to another.


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