I’m an openly polyamorous woman, and whenever I talk about my way of conducting romantic and sexual relationships with people who are used to monogamy, one of the most common arguments I get goes something like this: “But I’m a jealous person! I could never do what you do. Jealousy would totally ruin it. How do you get past that? Do you just never get jealous???”
Of course I get jealous. It’s natural to feel jealousy at times. I mean, shit, I remember making my father take me home in the middle of a performance of Annie that I had auditioned for and not gotten a role in…when I was FOUR years old. So yeah, jealousy? Happens to me all the time. Practically since birth.
It’s the way I frame jealousy that makes the difference. See, after years of going the other way, I now view jealousy as information to process, as merely an indicator of an underlying problem, either within the relationship or within myself. This also reduces the weight of jealousy – instead of a huge, awful emotion that’s impossible to get over it’s just information to process. It’s not such a big deal at all. In essence, figuring out the jealousy is my problem and no one else’s. My issue to work out. It’s my emotion, and I own it. Within that framing, I am empowered to dig through the jealousy to find out what is triggering it. If it’s a problem in the relationship, I can then tackle that with calm and clarity. If it’s a deep insecurity that has been triggered by whatever situation I’m in, I can work to build my own self-image up in that area. Boom, personal and relationship growth! Thanks, jealousy!
It works like this. Something happens that makes you feel super jealous. You feel the feeling, and it fucking sucks. Your immediate desire is to lash out at your partner or maybe at the person or people you’re jealous of – but here’s the trick. Don’t do a thing. Stop. Breathe. Stretch out the time between the feeling and your outward reaction as much as you can, so that you can figure out what is actually going on.
Are you jealous because your partner is mistreating you? That’s really great information to have. No one deserves to be treated badly by the person they are closest to. Are you enduring the mistreatment because you believe you don’t deserve any better? Also great information to have in your pocket. In this case, you now have what you need to address the problems in the relationship, and improve upon them or get the hell out.
Or maybe you already have an open relationship, or you’re trying it out for the first time, and your jealousy is being triggered because of your own insecurities, and not because of anything your partner is doing “wrong.” That’s also essential information. If it’s just an insecurity rearing its ugly head, you can work that out on your own, and if you ask for it, your partner can give you loving reassurance to help the process along.
By handling jealousy in this way, you can avoid it contaminating your relationships unnecessarily. If it’s merely an indicator of an insecurity, it makes no sense to lash out at your partner. And again, if it is an indicator of mistreatment in the relationship, then perhaps this relationship isn’t healthy for you in the long run, and you deserve better. We all do.
When you see jealousy as something that is being inflicted upon you by someone else – your partner or your partner’s other love interests – then it becomes the green-eyed monster of legend come to life. You place the blame for your own emotions on someone else, and avoid any responsibility for them, thereby disempowering yourself from finding solutions to the underlying problems. It can literally ruin every relationship you attempt to have, even if that relationship is pure gold. Instead of engaging in productive introspection, you end up lashing out at your love, usually in inappropriate ways, and the relationship can suffer tremendous damage and break down entirely when this pattern is repeated, as it often is.
Let’s see how this plays out with some real life examples from Samia’s Love Logs.
The last monogamous relationship I was in was with this guy Chris. Chris was your classic “gentleman.” He liked to pay all the bills, open all the doors, and shower me with gifts and grand gestures. When we first started dating, I had just broken up with someone I’d been living with for the better part of two years, and I wasn’t ready for another serious relationship. I loved the way he treated me, but I told him I wasn’t ready for anything exclusive at the moment. He didn’t take that well. He insisted we be exclusive or he would stop seeing me.
I was vulnerable, still heartbroken, and couldn’t stand up to the ultimatum. (I would have saved so much time and heartache if I had held my ground! Ahh, hindsight…) I agreed to the exclusive arrangement, and before I knew it, he was talking about our future kids (I don’t want kids) and a house on Long Island (I hate Long Island), and I was moving into his apartment in Astoria, Queens (a place I swore I’d never live again).
Chris was so possessive that it pained him when I maintained even platonic friendships with my exes, so I cut nearly all of them out of my life to make him more comfortable. He also had an issue with friends who I’d once slept with, or made out with in college, or who he perceived to have romantic or sexual feelings for me, so I ended up distancing myself from all of those people, too, just to avoid conflict with him. I grew increasingly isolated…and then the resentment started to build.
At the same time, he was obsessed with my bisexuality and lack of sexual inhibitions, and he had a fantasy centered around us having a threesome with a large-chested woman. Every time we fucked, he’d start talking about this fantasy. And the more he did that, the more my resentment grew. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my bestie from college because we made out a few times while on ecstasy over a decade ago, but he was allowed to drool over random women he saw on the subway and then bring the memory of them into our sex life? It felt so twisted and unfair. I felt caged.
Since jealousy was the norm in this particular toxic relationship, I started to follow his lead. I had never been particularly jealous in the past, but suddenly, I found myself getting really jealous of the armies of perfect, large-chested women he was so obsessed with (oh, by the way, I do NOT have an ample chest) and I constantly felt inadequate. I lashed out at him repeatedly, and I started carrying resentment for almost every woman I saw that I thought he might find attractive. It was wildly unhealthy. The last nine months of that fifteen-month relationship were hell, with both of us being so ruled by our own insecurities and the jealousy that sprung from them that we ended up hating each other.
In that situation, the jealousy I felt was a red flag of a problem within the relationship – mainly, the fact that my partner was possessive and controlling, and that we ultimately wanted very different things from life and love. If I could have examined my jealousy in the moment and traced it back to its roots, I could have handled it so much better. Instead, I succumbed to the ugly feeling of constant, raging jealousy, and engaged in numerous traumatic arguments, until the relationship ended in tears and harsh abandonment.
Now, another example. My next relationship was with a beautiful soul named Dylan. We started out open, went monogamous for nine months because he got depressed and was feeling deeply insecure, and opened up again when he recovered. Once we re-opened the relationship, Dylan’s other partners were almost all about a decade younger than me and extremely petite. I’m curvy and athletic, and have struggled with body image issues in the past.
So, naturally, I got mad jealous. Maaaaad jealous. But this time, I looked at it as my problem to work through, not his. I worked through the feeling until I realized that the jealousy was centered around my insecurities about aging and not being thin enough for the world of entertainment.
That was it; it was so simple! It was clear that Dylan still loved me, and nothing about our relationship was suffering because of his other partners. He was still my sweet man and our sex was still baller. I kept the toxicity of my jealousy away from him, except to discuss with him how I was feeling in a calm way that made it clear this wasn’t his problem or his fault. Because I came to him with my feelings in a calm, vulnerable way, he was able to respond with love. He understood and reassured me, which made the jealousy fade and eventually disappear. I then spent some time working through my insecurities.
There was no building resentment, no screaming fights. No one’s relationship was destroyed. And when Dylan and I eventually parted ways, it was loving and amicable. We’re still good friends.
Jealousy is natural, but you have the power to see it as your problem and no one else’s. Deal with it that way, get to the roots of why you are feeling it, and you will be free of its power to destroy your greatest loves.
This essay contains the basic building blocks of how to start handling jealousy in healthier ways, but there are also more advanced strategies that involve fostering the feeling of compersion – or being happy for your partner when they experience another lover – within yourself. I’ll write on that more in another essay, and I can’t wait to share those ideas with you.
If you have specific questions about how to handle jealousy and would like more tailored advice, I’m happy to help. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s get personal.