Jealousy in Open Relationships

Whether you are in a swinging, open, poly, or “vanilla” relationship, jealousy is a topic familiar to us all. But where does this plethora of emotions we call jealousy stem from? How do we handle these emotions and what can we gain from experiencing them? John and I gave an Openlove101 seminar recently and it resonated so strongly with those in attendance, we decided the topic was important enough to share with all our followers. We have touched on the jealousy issue before in some of our blogs and videos, but because jealousy covers such a wide range of emotions and situations we felt it a meaningful subject to review.

Most of us understand that jealousy is a combination of feelings, sensations, experiences and reactions triggered by some fear of loss or some change in a valued relationship, job position, resource or status. But what purpose does jealousy serve other than to make us feel horrible?! Well, if we really want to take a holistic approach, jealousy is actually your ally. Kathy Labriola of kathylabriola.com said in her video, “Unmasking the Green Eyed Monster: Managing Jealousy in Open Relationships” that “jealousy is like a smoke detector.” This mix of emotions is there to alert you to potential danger to your relationship, sort of like how a smoke detector works in our home. When our home catches fire we are so relieved the detector was working and alerted us to the danger. When the smoke detector goes off when we burn the toast, it can be annoying, but we realize the importance of having one in our home. Sometimes the danger is real and sometimes the danger is exaggerated. Jealousy can be like your own personal smoke detector, sounding its alarm whenever a fear surfaces. The problem most of us have is we view jealousy as an enemy, so we come out of the gate already a mess and paralyzed with fear. We take the “potential” danger and simply convert it into a full on frontal attack, ignoring the possibility that the feelings we are experiencing could be anything other than real or negative. How can we slow down enough to recognize whether the fear is a true danger or whether we are having a “false alarm”?

Example: Watching John’s sex video he made w/another woman

Shocked black haired woman in white clothes watching tv while eating popcorn in a living roomJohn sent this video to me when we were still living apart. Somehow the topic came up in a conversation and curiosity got the better of me and so it was agreed that he would send it to me. I remember well the first time I watched it. I had never experienced anything like this before, and as I watched my partner having a sexual experience with someone else, I was almost embarrassed, like I was doing something wrong. Yet, somehow I found it exciting and unnerving all at the same time. Parts of the video I realized were creating a burning in my chest, and even though I knew the video was years old, it was new to me and it began to create a fear of her being better in bed than I was… I mean John seemed to be having such a great time with her. So my comparison radar went off, and just like any type of energy, it will feed off what you give it, that is why our fears can become so out of control. The more I focused on my alleged inadequacy the more the video bothered me. I turned it off. When I talked to John later in the day and he asked if I had watched the video and what I thought, I revealed the parts of the video that had created the exciting emotions instead of focusing on the negative feelings. I was able to see through the conversation how much John loved me and how wonderful he thought it was that I was not only interested in who he was past and current but that I wasn’t threatened by his past. Oh, and how much he adored and loved me. Well, it didn’t take long after hanging up the phone that I watched the video again…this time instead of letting my exaggerated fears take over I watched from the angle of confidence in our relationship. Instead of being nervous and afraid, I was able to see John as a loving, tender, sexy, beautiful being and to know I now had the incredible opportunity to share in this expansion of ourselves.

Example: John and a woman friend, he had gone out with in his past staying at our home

relax

Here is an example of being in agreement to try something new, based on how you think you will handle it. I had never really experienced being jealous in my past relationships, the jealousy was more projected towards me, so I was pretty schooled being on the receiving end of jealousy but not so much on the one experiencing it. So when I agreed to have this woman stay at our home, I was excited to take this next step in our relationship. We had talked at length about the comparison (which means finding joy in your partner’s other sexual experiences…some like to say it is the opposite of jealousy) and trust and love and our views on opening up our relationship, so even though we had not tried this I was confident I would not be jealous or have any issues with jealousy. You can imagine my surprise when I began to have pangs of uneasiness and fears of loss.

Since I was unfamiliar with this new aspect and not sure what my role was, I felt it was important for John and this woman to spend time reconnecting and doing things without me. I did not realize that separating myself from John and this woman was bringing my fears to the surface…the more I pulled back, the worse I felt, which made me pull back even more, which made it appear the two of them were a unit and I was alone. To make matters worse, because I had told John I was completely okay with the visit and now I wasn’t, I felt like a failure. I felt like a liar, because of this I didn’t feel like I could speak to John about how I was feeling. So, I said nothing.

Instead, I tried to push them together even more, in a feeble attempt to be super woman. Well, I made it through the day and evening, but by the second day, I was a pathetic mass of tears on the bathroom floor. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. What I did know was my fears were pulling me away from the love and comfort I so desperately wanted from John. My ego, of course, wanted this to be John’s fault somehow. That if he would change what he was doing with this other woman that I would be okay…that I wouldn’t have these feelings.

When I finally shared my pain through tears and hyperventilating, John’s first response was to solve the uncomfortable experience by not ever doing it again. My problem was I didn’t want to hurt, but I also didn’t want to be so insecure that I took away my husbands freedom and joy in all life has to offer, plus I didn’t want to take that same freedom away from me. I knew my fears would continue to rear their head as long as I refused to face them…so even though my initial approach was messy and it took some time to maneuver around the defense mechanism to get to the fear of what was happening, John and I were able to get to the root of my fear and begin to be more rational about the situation.

I learned that I didn’t need to be a fly on the wall whenever he had a sexual experience, I could join in for any or all if I so desired. I also realized not to be so hard on myself, I didn’t have anything to base this new experience off of so it was impossible for me to know ahead of time how I would feel. John learned my trigger and so he was conscious of making sure I felt secure before continuing with a partner. It is so vital to allow ourselves time to grow into a new experience. I also realized how important it is to own our feelings, to take responsibility for how we feel. It is only through owning something that we can change it.

My point in all this is each time I stretched myself ever so slightly the more I grew. The more times I came up against my fears the more opportunity I had to work on them. I was able to get to the point in my uncomfortable feelings where I could pinpoint the issue and talk my way through it. “What is bothering me?” “Am I upset he is on a date?” “Do I have cause for concern with the time John is spending with so and so?” “What is a typical evening like with John once he comes home?” I spent quite a bit of time talking to myself and realizing that my fears were unfounded. John and I have a fabulous relationship, he loves me unconditionally, we spend quality time together, and really work at making sure our love cups are full. It is only through this loving effort and desire to have a solid base with each other that this relationship works.

The other thing that helped me through my jealous moments was focusing on how I felt about John whenever I was on a date or trying something new with a play partner. The fact that John was so loving and secure in our relationship really helped me to see the security as well. His joy in seeing and listening to my excitement as I relived the evening through our conversations, was also a way to see how I would want to be when he came home from an experience as well. Each time I had been with someone other than John I was reminded how much I love John and how much I appreciate those special things he does for me. I love how familiar he is, to me, how comfortable I am with him. I never want John to “worry” about my love for him or my commitment to what we have. I love that we both want our love to be, something that expands…I make sure to remind him of these thoughts, plus it helps to know he feels the same way. We can get so caught up in our own insecurities that we forget to (1) trust our partner (2) that our partner loves us (3) trust and believe in the assets we bring to the relationship.

jealousy workbookSo what is a way we can alter our view in regards to jealousy? In “The Jealousy Workbook” by Kathy Labriola she talks about viewing our relationship from the standpoint of the connection instead of attaching. How can this concept of “non-attachment” help you? “We have been taught by our culture that our partner belongs to us, and that we are entitled to their love as if it is an object to be possessed. While most of us do not want to keep our partners in “love jail” some people think that non-attachment sounds like we don’t care about the relationship. It is healthy to develop attachments to people we love and who are important in our lives, our partner as well as family members and friends. However, our compulsive need to control our partner can become excessive. I prefer to re-frame this concept as shifting away from a clinging and possessive mode of attachment and instead moving towards connection. This process can help you feel very connected with your partner and aware of how precious your relationship is to you, while not holding your partner hostage with your fear of loss.”

So as you can see, I have touched on just a few of the issues and possible solutions when dealing with jealousy. Our site has a plethora of books available which deal with this very issue, each offering their own unique style in working through your jealous feelings. I am a firm believer in “the more you know, the less afraid you are” train of thought. As I said earlier those complex combinations of feelings we group under the jealous umbrella is our smoke detector so to speak, our own personal alarm system put in place to alert us to possible danger. These fears are worthy of action, but are not always an emergency, so I encourage everyone to take the time to listen to those detector feelings instead of getting frustrated and removing the batteries.

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