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How to Deal With Jealousy in Polyamorous Relationships

By July 30, 2019 September 21st, 2019 Swing Lifestyle Articles

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 samiamounts@gmail.com, and let’s get personal.


  • Lynn says:

    I love reading your stories and your documented solutions to those stories/adventures. I wish this sort of open and honest sort of information had been more readily available 35 years or so ago. I believe my wife and I would still have married and still be married (as we are), but I think it would be a far more fulfilling relationship than it has devolved into.

    We dated exclusively through her four years of High School (I’m two years older than her), and we met when I was 16 and she was 14, and have been exclusively together ever since that fateful 4th of July in 1980, and married in 1984 after she graduated.

    We have had our ups and downs like most marriages, managed to have two sons, who are both grown adults now, each with a child of their own… but my own feelings and emotions around our relationship model have evolved considerably since we first met, while I feel like hers have unfortunately devolved. I would never end our relationship, but I’m not certain it can truly be revitalized this late in life, as we see things so much differently than I thought we did. In all fairness, she was the victim of multiple familial sexual abuse situations, and she is finally comfortable enough with who we are as a couple to simply state she doesn’t really desire a sexual relationship, and frankly doesn’t really want one. This is the complete opposite of what I would like from the relationship, and though we had actually had conversations about an open relationship, it turns out she was only having those conversations to try and avoid the REAL conversation about the fact that she really doesn’t want a sexual relationship.

    You seem to have been able to move on, and move through tough relationships, but I cannot imagine my life without my wife, after nearly 40 years together, but it is also difficult to imagine a sexless life for the rest of my life as well… which has already been several years on that particular path. I can’t imagine a solution that resolves this to a satisfactory ending for both of us. I should mention, that whatever sexual attraction she might feel, it is ONLY toward women, but yet she is jealous if I find the same women attractive (or other women), so my logical mind struggles with trying to make sense of the fact that she doesn’t want me sexually, but she doesn’t want me to want sex either. To me, that equation doesn’t balance. LOL!

    Anyway, I know communication is the key to resolving these types of issues, and we have had many conversations over the years, but there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight… even if we were fortunate enough to find an open and understanding elusive “Unicorn” that could somehow bridge the gap we seem to have developed. HA!

    Regardless, I look forward to reading your next essay, and I would welcome any sort of insight you might have for our crazy and complex relationship, knowing that I have no desire to end the actual relationship.


    • Samia Mounts says:

      Hi Lynn,

      Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your relationship with us. It really does sound like you have your work cut out for you. Here’s what I got from what you wrote:

      1. Your wife is probably gay.

      2. Your wife perhaps doesn’t want to admit that to herself, and stops herself from exploring those desires. Who knows why? There are a million messages we receive growing up that tell us it’s shameful and wrong to want such things, especially for people in your age bracket. This is stuff she needs to take a good hard look at and work through.

      3. She hasn’t crossed the empathy barrier in order to see that it’s unfair to ask you to remain sexless just because she only wants women. She is stuck in the mindset that everyone should think and feel like her; hence, since she doesn’t want a sexual relationship with you, you shouldn’t want one with her. She is unable to see things from your side. How much have you communicated your side to her in a clear, compassionate, calm way? How direct have you been?

      Questions for you:

      1. Have you suggested to her that she explore a side relationship with a woman, while you remain monogamous? This will suck for a minute, but it may open up options in the future, when she sees how much she can trust you to do whatever it takes to find a solution for your problem, and when she sees how fulfilling it is to have a sexual relationship in her own life. She might realize that she wants that for you, too.j Do you think she’d be receptive to such a suggestion?

      2. Have you ever stated plainly that your quality of life and happiness are suffering because of this? You may have to have a conversation where you set some new boundaries for yourself. You are absolutely correct when you say it’s unfair for her to reject you sexually and then expect you to just not have sex at all. But the way to express that is gentle…”My love, I completely understand that a sexual relationship between us isn’t for you, and that’s okay. I love you just as much as ever and can’t imagine my life without you. But for me, I feel like I’m missing out on a part of life that is very important to me, and I don’t want my life to end without exploring the sexual side of myself. Is it possible that we could work through jealousy issues together so that we can both be happy? I want you to be happy more than anything in the world, and I want to be happy, too.” Very gentle. Very loving. No victim complex, no blaming, and no “That’s not fair!”s. 🙂

      There is definitely a solution, but it will take more time and a lot more conversations. At some point, you might have to be a little firmer in stating your desires. This is your LIFE. Why would the person who loves you most want to deprive you of one life’s most beautiful experiences? Deep down inside, she wants you to be happy and fulfilled. There are just insecurities and cultural programming that need to be undone, and personal discoveries she needs to make on her own, with your encouragement.

      Best of luck to you, Lynn. Please keep us posted on this. You can email me directly at samiamounts@gmail.com.

  • John says:

    OK — The important thing is to let go of exclusivity. But you do need to put something else where the exclusivity was. Let go of getting everything and just make sure you’re getting enough. Words like adequacy or sufficiency don’t sound all that passionate or romantic, but they work a lot better than exclusivity….

    — J.S.

  • Tim says:

    Thanks for so many useful insights. We use a slightly different framework for thinking about toxic emotions in the LS, understanding them, and dealing with them. We do not assert that our framework is right and others are wrong, but rather invite others to test our framework against their own experiences.

    The first toxic emotion is envy. In vanilla life, it is often experienced in terms of possessions, experiences, and similar. We drive ten year old cars that run fine, and yet we might find ourselves envious of someone who just drove off the lot with a brand-new, sparkling clean, 2019 model with all of the trimmings. In the LS, it is often experienced following some comparison of “looks” or “sexuality”. That other couple is “hotter” than we are, she has perkier nipples, he has a bigger…you get the idea. What matters is recognizing both the emotion and the underlying cause–which is fear of inadequacy. Once that fear is exposed, it becomes easier to deal with–yes, they have the new car, but they also have the car payments. Yes, he has a six pack and I have a muffin top–but he spends 15 hours a week in the gym and takes steroids. The antidote to envy is to find contentment in what you have not what other people have.

    The catalyst for this note is consideration of the other toxic emotion, jealousy, which is altogether different. In vanilla life, it comes up in predictable settings–being passed over for promotion, not being selected for a team or a college, being “dumped” for another partner. In this setting, views of the world are easily distorted and irrational actions taken–how often do we hear of crimes committed in the setting of “jealous rage”? In the LS, the first expression of jealousy is often “drama” , and it can become far worse. Again, it is key to recognize jealousy and the underlying fear, which is fear of abandonment. The unfortunate truth is that most of us have experienced abandonment at some point in our lives and are terrified of experiencing it again. Many men aver that they would die before appearing vulnerable because their partner might leave them. Women play the internal “not good enough” tape to exhaustion, and often live in fear of being “replaced” by someone younger and prettier and so on. So many live with the “impostor syndrome”, wondering when we will be exposed as being unworthy of whatever praise might have come our way. Those early days in the LS almost always are accompanied by a little voice, “What if s/he likes sex with him/her more than with me?” That fear is frequently compounded by the excitement of “new relationship energy”, and further by finding that one’s partner really is attractive to–and attracted by–others. The antidote is compersion–finding joy in one’s partner’s pleasure. That’s often easier said than done because talking about fears is uncommon about couples–we want so much to seem–and be–wonderful to and for our partners that the idea of getting fears out into the open is, well, scary.

    It is well and good to talk about “what will make you happy”. And yet it is even more important to talk about the fears of inadequacy and of abandonment.

    If you are looking for a conversation starter, recall the line that songwriter Jimmy Webb penned for Glen Campbell in Wichita Lineman: “…and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time…” and ask yourselves (the plural is intentional!) how that line does–or does not–capture your feelings about your partner.

    “I love you” is foundational to “I will always love you and I will never abandon you.”

  • Beth says:

    Great article! Very important points were made about taking a deep breath and trying to understand what is causing the jealousy. Lashing out in the moment never has a good outcome for anyone!

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