Cheers, Sexy People!
So you want to embark on creating the possibility of having an open, ethically non-monogamous relationship, but you are concerned about the elephant in the consensual non-monogamy living room — jealousy. How will you cope?
Jealousy happens. Simply experiencing jealousy is not the problem. The real problem is that our society teaches us to express jealousy in destructive ways. You can learn to express jealousy in constructive ways instead, just like any other skill.
Let’s face it, feeling challenging emotions like jealousy and dealing with them in destructive ways can potentially damage our relationships and connections with those that we love, even if we are living a monogamous life or a polyamorous / consensually non-monogamous life.
The Bad News
Jealousy can hijack your brain, make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, and leave you questioning yourself and your relationships. It is an emotion that we will all feel from time to time in our lives. We can’t escape it. Sure, some feel jealousy or other emotions more intensely than others. Emotions are a fundamental part of our basic humanity, so we must learn to swim through and navigate them, whether they are enjoyable emotions or not.
The Good News
You can learn to not only manage this emotion, but even to use it to your advantage to build emotional intimacy with your partners, learn and grow, and rock your relationships in the process! This article serves as a Quick-Start Guide to help you on this endeavor (for more detailed information, keep your eye out for the upcoming book: Jealousy Survival Guide).
What is Jealousy Really?
An incredibly complex emotion, in this article we look at exactly what we mean by jealousy, how it is different from envy, five triggers for jealousy, and three ways people express it.
The Emotion of Jealousy
As human beings, we all experience emotions. Even though it can feel incredibly uncomfortable, jealousy can be a wonderful resource for you — if you are able to re-frame how you view it. Think of the feeling of jealousy as your friend that alerts you to trouble or something in your life that needs your attention. Just as the “check engine” light on your car points out to you that you need to pay attention because something could be wrong, jealousy can let you know that either you, or your relationship, needs some attention. It is a call for you to take a flashlight and look “under the hood” to investigate where those feelings are coming from. Remember, it is your responsibility to look within and take responsibility for your own happiness — not your partner(s) or something outside of yourself, but YOU! That means that it is also your responsibility to find out what the problem is and fix it with whatever tools are at your disposal.
Envy vs Jealousy
Jealousy is a complex emotion, often a combination of fear, anger, sadness, and doubt. Unpacking all that interlocking stuff can take attention, care, and understanding. Let’s start with the difference between envy and jealousy.
Envy – WANTING what someone else has.
Jealousy – Upset about potentially LOSING what you have.
These are different, and related, emotions. Sometimes you feel them both at the same time, and sometimes you feel one or the other.
Why Do People Get Jealous?
Envy, jealousy, and downright insecurity can rear their frightening heads unpredictably and at inopportune moments. To help us get to the heart of the issue, it is helpful to take a deeper look at WHY we get jealous to help us better manage the situation – in part so that we don’t damage our relationships, and thus our connections with those we love. Dealing with jealousy is part of self-care too, because being really jealous can feel just awful! Moving through it can help you feel a lot better!
The reasons for jealousy’s appearance can fall into (at least) five basic categories.
Five Jealousy Triggers
1) Possessiveness: You really want that thing, person, event, feeling, fill in the blank — for yourself and you just don’t want to share it with anyone else. In fact, the idea of sharing can feel incredibly threatening.
2) Low Self-Esteem: You are afraid that you are not really good enough, and that if your partner sees how wonderful someone else is then they will leave you for that other person who is cooler, better-looking, better in bed, just better.
3) Control: You want your partner to do what you want them to do, in a way you want them to do it, when it works for you. In the more extreme cases, using jealousy as a way to manipulate and control your partner can become abusive.
The above three are related to feelings of insecurity that we all often feel from to time.
These feelings are completely normal and can be improved over time by the individual. Fostering self-care and positive, empowering and loving feelings towards oneself is a great place to start.
4) Rational Fear: If you are spending less time with your partner, doing more solo child care, or many other practical and emotional consequences of open relationships, it can be a challenge to work out the details. Sometimes things are lopsided and need to be rebalanced. Other times “cowboys” or “cowgirls” really are trying to steal your partner – someone who tries to rope your partner away from the rest of the herd/you and ride off just the two of them.
5) Vulnerability: Truth is, relationships in general are vulnerable, and people who love deeply are vulnerable to being hurt.
a) It’s a Big Deal
Losing a close relationship is huge, because you have bonded with this person emotionally, developed some degree of practical interdependence, and might have made commitments to each other. You may own cars, houses, and gaming systems together, and you might have kids. Upending all of that has significant implications for people’s lives. Furthermore, for some people commitment is important and they want to follow through with being there through good times and bad.
b) Threats are Real
In a survey of people in 53 nations, 63% of men and 52% of women admit to trying to take someone else’s partner, and 52% of men and 48% of women reported that someone took them away from a relationship. Open relationships are no guarantee either. Cheaters or cowgirls aren’t necessarily all mean-spirited or intending to ruin your life. Most of the time, they think your partner rocks and want them all to themselves.
Not only is jealousy triggered by a variety of things in our social environments, it also comes out in a variety of ways. Jealousy can be disruptive or constructive, or some mix of those. Sometimes people don’t get jealous at all but instead react with compersion – happiness that their partner(s) are happy with someone else.
Sometimes jealousy can be disruptive. When someone in an established relationship encounters another person as an unwanted rival, they can experience disruptive jealousy. This can express as a desire to punish the partner for interacting with the external person, or even active disruption of the relationship using tactics such as by calling the new person and telling them to bugger off, using “veto power” to try to remove them, or calling one’s partner during dates to intentionally interrupt.
So in short, examples of this type of behavior are:
1) View new person as an unwanted rival, thus taking action to remove them.
2) Punish partner for interacting with the new love interest.
Sometimes when you are feeling jealous, you just need to ride it and let it happen. In such cases, try to express jealousy in a way that does not punish your partner or interfere with your partner’s relationship with other people. Learning to feel the jealousy and allow it to pass can be a challenge, but challenges are just opportunities for personal growth! For right now, please know that learning how to calm yourself down and feel better is a great overall life skill, and tolerating jealousy can help you flex emotional muscles that you didn’t know you had.
In a culture based on monogamy, we are conditioned to react with jealousy because we are supposed to have the one, the only, the true and sole soul-mate. Anything outside of that is unsettling and even threatening, so the idea of being happy seeing your partner being happy with someone else can take some getting used to. The opposite of jealousy, compersion is a feeling of happiness that your partner has found joy with someone else. You may or may not have experienced compersion. Good on you if you do. Don’t worry if you don’t (as long as you stay constructive). It is something you can cultivate over time, if you choose.
For more detailed information, keep your eye out for the upcoming book: “Jealousy Survival Guide.”
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)
Creator of the Loving Without Boundaries Mission
Acknowledgments: Many of the concepts of Constructive Jealousy versus Disruptive Jealousy related and shared here are generously being donated by Kelly Cookson (kellycookson.info).
Want to learn more? Read Professor Sex Presents: But What About Jealousy, Though?