There are a few rare souls who are never plagued by jealous feelings. The rest of us have to find ways to eliminate, mitigate or simply live with them.
Well, you either learn to deal or you risk being miserable, and by extension making your partner(s) miserable too. So it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of jealousy management!
This post is my attempt at summarising the most useful thoughts I have gleaned from my forays into poly country. Some of them are expressly stated in lots of places, some of them are things I personally feel are relevant.
As I discussed in my previous post on the subject, jealousy management isn’t just for polyamorous people or relationship anarchists. Regardless of what sorts of relationships you prefer (and whether you like to label them or not), I hope you find something in here that is useful!
lazy super tired and out of photoshop mojo, this post’s illustrations are brought to you by giphy.]
A Few Caveats
While these ideas can be applied to any relationship, regardless of nature or the number of people involved, my writing is geared towards intimate, romantic relationships. Though they outline some of what I find to be the most essential concepts that help me deal with my own jealousy, they are only the beginning of what can be a very long and complicated process. This post is about how to handle your own emotions, not how to work as a team with your partner(s) to create a sustainable relationship dynamic.
I am also aware that individuals have different needs and may benefit from different models and analyses; I absolutely do not think this is the be-all, end-all of jealousy management. It’s simply my way of looking at things, and I have written it down in the hope that it might be of some service to others.
All of what is written below assumes that there has been no breach of trust or of some explicitly stated contract/agreement, and that your partner is treating you well.
There are obviously perfectly good reasons to feel awful, such as your partner lying to you, ignoring your well-being, gaslighting you when you raise concerns, etc. Believe me, I know. But that is not what is being discussed here.
A Working Definition of Jealousy
It’s hard to effectively deal with something if you don’t know what it is. After spending quite a while thinking about it, I decided on the following working definition of jealousy:
A complex of negative emotions associated with a particular relationship, when it feels as though that relationship may be threatened by an external factor.
This definition may seem vaguely worded, which is because I have tried to cover all eventualities. Jealousy can occur within any kind of relationship, not just a romantic one (parents and their children, between friends, etc), and it may be directed against/triggered by anything, not just people (the person’s hobbies, their work, sex toys, etc). In fact it can even be triggered by things that don’t actually exist; hence the careful wording in the last clause.
Assumptions Are Treacherous
To start out, get rid of all assumptions about your relationship. A lot of people assume that words like “partner” or “boy-/girlfriend” have obvious, set meanings. They don’t.
If you are in a relationship with someone and you haven’t discussed what your relationship actually is, then chances are pretty high you don’t have the same view of it. Similarly, if you haven’t discussed what kind of behaviour might trigger jealousy in yourself or your partner, you can’t assume you’re on the same ground there, either.
You might be super relaxed about physical contact with others, while your partner isn’t. Or you might be completely new to jealousy management, while your partner has been thinking about these things for years. Your frames of reference will not be the same, and this will have to be remedied before you can have a successful communication. And without successful communication, there is no way to help each other to manage jealousy.
It’s Okay to Get Jealous
Jealousy is an emotion, or several emotions (see the next point). Emotions are never wrong. How you decide to deal with it can be wrong or right depending on what your goals are and how it affects your partner, but the emotions themselves are just… emotions. They’re there. Accept them and let yourself feel them so that you know what you are dealing with.
There is no point in shaming yourself. It doesn’t matter if you think your feelings are silly and that whatever it was that triggered them shouldn’t have done so: You reacted the way you did, and now you have to deal with your reaction.
Jealousy Is Not One Emotion
Jealousy is not just one emotion. Well, it can be, but then it is one out of several possible emotions that all go under the same umbrella term.
If you examine your jealousy closely, you will likely find that it’s not some uniform thing with a clearly defined label, but rather a cover-up for a deeper feeling that may have its roots in any of a myriad different worries. Just to name some examples:
- You are afraid of being replaced.
- You are worried about your abilities in bed, and think that someone else might satisfy your partner better.
- You feel as though the worth of the experiences and feelings you share with your partner is lessened if they have similar experiences with others.
- You’re worried about being betrayed, as you have been betrayed before.
- You have an intense desire to control your relationship and your partner, and feel jealous when you’re reminded that you can’t.
You may be feeling afraid, anxious, worried, insecure, depressed or angry, or a cocktail of different emotional responses. Whatever the case, allowing yourself to feel your emotions and examining them for their root causes is vital to the process of dealing with them.
You Own Your Emotions
Jealousy is not something that is done to you. It is your reaction – and it may be a response to real, external stimuli, but it is still your emotion and you have to own it. There are a number of ways your partner could and should help you deal with your emotions, but the ultimate responsibility is still yours.
As bleak as this may sound, this actually implies freedom and power. If you discover that you feel jealous, and are aware enough to realise that it is not through anyone’s malice or stupidity but simply an emotional reaction to something that happened (or that you imagined), this awareness allows you to take charge of it and dealing with it in a way that does not hurt your relationship. Blaming your partner or whatever it was that triggered the feeling is not a constructive response.
Avoidance Is Not Dealing
If you’ve decided that you want to be self-aware and that you want to work actively with trying to free your relationship of the burdens of jealousy, the most important thing to learn about dealing with it is this: You can’t do it by removing everything that triggers jealousy from the relationship.
Borrowing a metaphor from More Than Two, imagine you own a refrigerator and it breaks down. Now, one way to handle this is obviously to stop buying food that needs to be refrigerated. You could even put a big blanket over the fridge and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does exist, and it’s still broken, and you’re missing out on a lot of good food. A better way of dealing is to fix the refrigerator.
Similarly, if some action on the part of your partner triggers feelings of jealousy in you, the obvious solution should not be to tell your partner not to do that anymore, but rather to look inside, figure out why it feels bad, and find a way to eliminate or mitigate this feeling. In terms of relationship contracts, avoidance would be to add a new clause to your contract every time you encounter something uncomfortable, rather than accepting the terms as they are.
Accept Your Limits … But Not Right Away
Everyone has limits. If you can’t function in an open relationship, if the thought of your partner being with someone else makes you break apart every time, then maybe that’s a kind of jealousy you are not capable of dealing with. That’s okay. But if you feel like that about your partner watching porn, or smiling at someone other than you, perhaps you need to examine the feeling more closely.
Feelings aren’t rational and don’t have to be justified, but some are more likely to destroy or put a damper on relationships than others. While it’s relatively easy to find partners who will agree not to have sex with others, finding someone who’ll agree not to have friends is rather more difficult, and also very unhealthy (for them).
However, even if you decide to accept your own limits, you have to recognise that your partner might not. If you truly think that your partner hanging out with someone they may be attracted to is the highest form of betrayal, it is entirely possible that you will find yourself without partner soon enough. And if your partner would be miserable in a monogamous relationship while you are miserable if they see other people, it’s time to renegotiate.
Trust Your Partner’s Feelings
Trust that your partner is with you because they want to be. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. The point is that your jealousy does not protect your relationship.
If you ask your partner not to, say, hang out with a particular person because you’re jealous of them, and your partner agrees, you have not protected your relationship from an external threat. All you have done is restrict your partner and potentially made them unhappy. If they are actually attracted enough to that other person for this to be a threat to you, then it will be a threat no matter what restrictions you place, as your partner will either be miserable or go against the restrictions. And if they’re not that attracted to that other person, them hanging out shouldn’t hurt you anyway.
The bottom line is this: If your partner wants to have a relationship with you, they will. If they want to prioritise that relationship above others, they will. If they don’t want to be with you, or want to be with someone else more (and you can’t negotiate a polyamorous relationship), then your relationship will end, either by a clean break or by the situation becoming unbearable for one or both of you as a result of their actions and your jealousy.
In a way, this is the flip-side of owning your emotions – your emotions are yours to deal with, and that goes the same for your partner. You cannot control how they feel about you or anyone else. All you can do is try to make your relationship the best relationship it could be.
In no way do I claim to be original in this text, as I am sure that there are plenty of people who have trodden this path before me. But an idea doesn’t have to be original to be good.
If you know of any good resources for these topics, or have tips I forgot to mention here, please leave a comment!