About Serolynne | Article Directory  | Ask Serolynne
All articles written by Serolynne

Poly and Jealousy

The issue of jealousy is probably the second most commonly asked question I get about polyamory. (The first is 'How did you discover polyamory?')  It seems that society has us conditioned to accept jealousy as a natural part of being human, and something we're incapable of overcoming. For example, it's successfully used regularly as a defense argument in murder cases. 

Jealousy IS a basic human emotion that is engrained in us from an early age. It's rooted in fear of abandonment, and it's what drives us as an infant and young child to seek out our parent's support and attention for our basic needs. Through our development into adults, jealousy becomes fueled by internal insecurities, and holds a power over us.  However, we do not have to be powerless to jealousy.. it is something that can strive to overcome. And you can overcome it.. if you are willing to do the work. 

Jealousy or Envy?

There are actually two different 'negative' emotions that we can feel when we see a loved one with a different person. Jealousy and Envy.  A lot of time, the two emotions get confused. 

Jealousy - A fear of loosing something you already have. 

Envy - Wishing you had what someone else has. 

The first step when you're having a negative reaction is to step back and ask yourself what you're really feeling. Do you actually fear that your partner is going to leave you for this person?  Or are you perhaps envious that your partner has a new partner and is getting to experience some excitement, or envious about the things they're doing?

Envy is usually a passing emotion that goes away with calming the child within. Envy is that inner child within us that wants it all, it's not based in fear of loss. The best way to get past envy, if that's what you're really feeling, is find new and interesting things that you enjoy. Maybe use the time your sweetie is with his/her new sweetie to take up a new hobby, date on your own, or write that book you've always wanted to write. Distracting yourself from what you don't have can go a long way, and in the process - you get to explore something new. 

But if it's jealousy that is really bugging you, read on. 

Components of Jealousy

Let's first take a look at what jealousy is, as most folks tend to view it as a single entity.  Jealousy actually  has three components to it, that all interact together to make up the experience that we refer to as jealousy. They are:

  1. A triggering event (such as seeing your lover flirt with someone else, or perhaps a kiss.. or using your pet name with them.)

  2. Your internal expectations, stated or unstated (such as, you expecting your lover will not flirt with others) combined with our own insecurities. 

  3. Your reaction to the trigger filtered through your expectations

How 'normal' society deals with jealousy

In our monogamously based society, we're encouraged to only look at the trigger of jealousy, and a lot of folks find it completely acceptable to try to control jealousy by controlling the trigger. This is done by placing limitations on the types of interactions your partner can have with others as to not trigger a jealous reaction - such as 'don't kiss another man' or 'don't have lunch with members of the opposite gender'.  

We're not encouraged to even consider that we can focus on overcoming jealousy, and the only control we have is over our partner's actions.  As a result, by taking away the triggers, we never get the opportunity to explore our inner insecurities and experience the wonderful growth that it can provide.  A lot of couples experiencing a jealous reaction actually don't break up because one left for another, but because insecurity is really not an admirable trait in a partner, and it can wear a relationship thin to always have to be tip-toeing around it. 

A better way to confront jealousy 

People who are polyamorous are not necessarily naturally less jealous - as all humans have a tendency to be jealous given the correct triggers. Instead, polyamorous people tend to prefer to approach jealousy head on, instead of avoiding it all together. There are certainly some people who have more unexplored internal issues to work on, that make jealousy more of a problem. In polyamory the emphasis is on dealing more with the other two components of jealousy - our internal expectations and insecurities, and our reaction to jealousy when it is triggered.

Controlling the Triggers - not a permanent measure

While controlling the triggers may be a way of dealing with jealousy, it should be viewed more as temporary means to help work through an issue, rather than as the treatment itself.  

Polyamory requires using the tools of negotiation and communication to talk about things that we are comfortable and not comfortable with. This process alone allows us to look within to find just what triggers a negative reaction in us. And this is certainly a good start. However, if you only seek to find what triggers your jealousy and then stop at setting limits on the triggers for it, you're missing a huge opportunity to overcome jealousy itself, and even greater blessing to work through some of your insecurities that may be holding you back in other areas of your life.

If you negotiate with your partners to control the triggers of jealousy, I highly recommend putting time limits on those agreements. Such as "don't kiss your new girlfriend in front of me for the next 2 months.".  This allows the jealous partner to work through some of the issues, but also puts a deadline that encourages the issues to actually be worked through. Otherwise, without the trigger around anymore, it can be very easy to forget that there are insecurities to work on as humans don't tend to naturally want to deal with negative emotions if they don't have to.

Working on Yourself

You can work to explore your internal insecurities, build up your self-esteem (with your partner's help, but honestly, it has to come from within ultimately) and learn to value yourself as a worthwhile partner.

Make a list of all of the unique things that you feel you bring to your partner's life. When you start to feel jealous, re-read that list to remind yourself that you are a unique part of your partner's life. Don't be afraid to ask for your partner's reassurance on these things, but these really do need to be things that YOU see as a value you bring. If you're on the receiving end of jealousy, you can pro-actively re-assure your partner of the unique things they bring to your life. But don't be surprised if that alone does the trick, as your partner needs to believe it for themselves.

Another very effective way of dealing with the fear of abandonment is to come to terms with being an individual and not taking personal identity with your relationships. If a lot of your personal identity is wrapped up in your relationship with another person (couplehood), then it's a lot more scary prospect of being abandoned if your partner should leave you. Ask yourself, is being alone really all that bad? Are you really so undesirable a person that you will never have a partner again if you loose the one you're with?  

Work to give yourself the security to face the reality that you could indeed be alone at some point. Whether your partner leaves you for another, dies in an untimely manner or your paths just take you in different routes... odds are, you will not be with your current partner for life anyway.  Building your individuality will go along way in giving you the tools to be self-sufficient, emotionally and financially, should that ever occur. And as a bonus, in that process you become a much more desirable and attractive person to be around because you're not clinging on to a partner out of insecurity and desperation. And that desperation alone is more likely to cause your partner to not want to be around you than anything else.

It's not an easy process if you've had negative past experiences with relationships, but it is possible with work and the effort to look within. You may find you need the help of an therapist or counselor to help with this part. But it is worth it.  Because when you view yourself as a viable individual, you can stop defaulting to 'why am I not good enough' and appreciate the differences that a new love brings to your partner's life. Your perception of the world, and your place in it, will change. For the better.

Reacting to Jealousy

Oftentimes in polyamory, you'll also find that things will happen that you didn't expect to trigger a jealous reaction. Perhaps it's hearing your partner call his or her new sweetie by your pet name, or you didn't realize how important it was that a certain holiday is spent together. These are unknown and unstated expectations. And once you realize that if you weren't aware of them, then how could your partner have known? It's a lot easier to cut your partner some slack, forgive both of yourselves and move on.

And that's where you have another power, and that's in how you react to jealousy. If you've never really looked the green-eyed monster in the face before, you may not even know how you react to jealousy.  Do you get angry and stomp off? Do you clam up and quit communicating? Do you get violent?   

There are certainly better ways to handle jealousy than others. If you tend to react violently or close up on communication, these can be negative ways of dealing with it.  When you realize that you do have a CHOICE in how you respond, you can slowly change the way you respond and turn jealousy into a positive emotion. For instance, you can view jealousy as an opportunity to explore an insecurity within yourself  that you've not gotten worked out yet, or find an internal expectation you didn't know about. I actually look forward to a jealous reactions, so that I can do more work on myself.  I've learned to calm the impulse to rage, catch myself, calm down and explore the internal expectations and my own insecurities. 

When Jealousy is a Legitimate Red-flag

Another benefit of working through your insecurities, is that at this point, if you have a jealous reaction it can be a real red-flag that something is wrong. Perhaps it's a warning that something isn't being communicated directly, or there are unaware things happening. Perhaps you have a partner trying to convince you that their new monogamously minded partner won't try to cut you out of the picture, and then that exact thing happens. 

Jealousy is something you can work on and don't have to accept as being a part of your experience, or something that controls you or your partners. Jealousy holds us back and holds our loved ones back. Be willing to work with your partner to let them help you overcome your jealousy, and help them overcome theirs. Be compassionate, but also be vigilant that your partner actually does the work to get through it. 

Polys have a word for the opposite of jealousy, it's called compersion - and that's the happiness at seeing your lover in a new relationship. And yes, it's real and it can happen. But I personally don't find that jealousy and compersion are exact opposites or mutually exclusive, and have found I can be both jealous and compersive at the same time. 

The bottom line. Don't be afraid to confront jealousy head on. 

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License