Jealousy is not a real emotion. It is a mask, an expression of something we don’t typically bring to light. It is a judgement, a fear, and a denial of responsibility of our feelings. It is over-emphesizing someone else’s role in those feelings, and has the sole purpose of incentivizing judging and controlling behavior.
I’ll say this right here: jealous is not healthy, and it is not normal. It is however common because of cultural conditioning and entrenched values that get hidden in our language. My hope is that by deconstructing these jealous feelings, we can understand and overcome them. This of course is a process, and it IS normal to continue to struggle with this process. But I stand by my claim that the ultimate goal is to rid yourself of jealousy completely; it serves no true value to your life.
These are the common manifestations of jealousy, and what to do about them. Many of these behaviors are interrelated and are most definitely not mutually exclusive. But by isolating them we can understand why they exist, and why they always feel jealous. The best way to defeat the monster is to look it straight in the mirror.
As jealousy is not itself a real feeling, I will characterize how each form feels like.
Jealousy as Insecurity
You’ll probably hear this as the most common form of jealousy in polyamory. It’s when you idealize open relationships, but something is just too triggering. It pops up unexpectedly all the time. Jealousy of insecurity feels like fear: you want to feel happy, but you’re scared that you’ll be left because you’re not good enough.
Body image issues, sexual adequacy, fears of abandonment, fear of worthiness, insecurities about intelligence, income, and any of the other plethora of things humans have decided to hate themselves about will be triggered when your partner dates someone prettier than you, buffer than you, smarter than you, richer than you, more compassionate than you, more secure than you…better than you.
I won’t be broaching the subject of universal human value. I don’t have time to tell you that we all deserve love, no matter what painful things have happened to us, nor what pain we have caused others. I really can’t take the space to reassure you that although looks matter, attractiveness is a lifestyle choice more than it is genetic. And I certainly can’t delve into the fact no, there is no better or worse; that you belong, as much as anyone, in the fabric of humanity and it’s up to you to confidently find your place.
A special note on jealosusy from possessiveness. Some insecurities are so entrenched that people feel jealousy because they simply “don’t like to share.” It could be an extreme fear of abandonment, a life of withheld love, or fear of loneliness. But this form of jealousy is unwilling to confront that insecurities exist in the first place. If you think you don’t have insecurities, you just don’t like to share then I have news for you. You DO have insecurities, they are so terrifying you won’t admit them. People aren’t possessions: it’s not up to you to decide to share them or not, and relationships don’t exist to protect you from your feelings. The more you substitute a human for your own feelings, the more painful it will be when you finally realize them.
Furthermore, your insecurities are yours, not your partners’. And they can love you and help you work through them, but ultimately, this is your job to do. And it’ll make you better. Jealousy from insecurity is invaluable for any individuals interested self-improvement. Take the time to work on yourself. You deserve to be the most confident version of yourself possible, and I guarantee you underestimate how attractive that person is.
Jealousy as Guilt
Nothing quite loses you the upper hand like fucking up in a relationship. Most common in monogamous relationships, this feeling can exist especially when one partner is resisting to opening up. Jealousy from guilt arises after you cheat on your partner, mistreat them, maintain some form of control, or just generally disempower them. In these instances, a new partner represents their freedom–from you. Why would they put up with you when someone else treats them better? And we both know that no one treats someone better than in the beginning of a relationship.
Jealousy as guilt most likely will be felt as anger and bitterness. A good sign your jealousy is coming from guilt is you are triggered when your partner is happy about the nice things their partners are doing, new boundaries with you, and perhaps even pleasure when they are hurt by their partner in some way.
As toxic as all this sounds, it can be very subtle and seem benign to you. You may feel like your role is being compromised, that your partner was happier the way things were no matter how they are acting now, and that you truly have their best interest in mind. Maybe you’re disconnected and justify your behavior (especially when double standards are applied), but ultimately I can only say this: you exist in someone else’s life solely to make theirs better. The best advice I can give if you are feeling jealousy as guilt is to empathetically connect with your partner, empower them rather than control them, and if they leave you or set boundaries, consider some introspection on why.
Jealousy from Betrayal
Many times people explore polyamory after cheating. You open your heart when it is most vulnerable to try to make your partner happy. Your spirit is willing, but you just can’t get over what happened. Jealousy from betrayal feels like sadness, and anger if that sadness is unaddressed.
Polyamory is much easier to start fresh with a new relationship. Opening existing relationships is hard because of changing roles and behavior, and even harder when recovering from betrayal. Even in instances of established open relationships, betrayal can certainly happen. And this means things you once were okay with now trigger jealousy.
No matter how hard you try, you just can’t feel safe. It hurt so much the first time, and you think your permission and blessing will make it easier. But then it just isn’t, and you yearn to protect what is yours. This form of jealousy will require empathy for the person who broke trust. Remember, they have needs and they didn’t change just because of a rule out agreement. It was the communication, not the action itself, that causes the hurt. But it will require forgiveness. Recovering from lack of trust is very difficult to do. It is instinctual to hold tighter something that has hurt us; I’ve said before that polyamory doesn’t lend well to attachment.
Jealousy from betrayal can be very unhealthy for both partners and used as a justification to get what you want over the other person. In these instances it can be best to let go of attachment and see how the relationship can repair itself after both you and your partner take space and perhaps pursue what you want in other people. The desire for freedom or exploration is why a betrayal may have happened in the first place. That doesn’t mean breaking up, but if you truly can’t forgive it may be best to scale the relationship back while everyone can heal.
Jealousy as Envy
This form of jealousy is probably the most common in healthier open relationships, but it can just as easily have a dark side. On the lighter side, it is can be silly and easy to joke that you’re not jealous that your gf/bf has a hot date, you just wish that someone would hit on you too! It’s very common to feel envious when a lot of personal jealousy issues are overcome.
On the flip side, feeling left out can eventually weigh on someone and even start triggering insecurities. Imbalance of opportunity is a given in any relationship, and it may not have anything to do with dating. It could be friendships, job opportunities, etc, and when not transformed as pure envy this jealousy feels like loneliness.
It is easy to rely on a partner for all kinds of things: a lover, a job reference, a solid friend, a roommate, a wingman, a babysitter, or someone to just sit and love on when there’s nothing else to do. And when they suddenly don’t need you anymore you may find yourself envious of their opportunity or the people they spend time with.
This one is cut and dry. You can’t and shouldn’t rely on people to fill personal voids. Synergy is fantastic and a cornerstone of any relationship, but good communication will enable expectations to be set out. And people will change. And they will find new people. Branch yourself out! And make sure your relationships are their best because of mutual compatibility. Building a network of friends and lovers is one of the best advantages of polyamory, so enjoy it!
Jealousy as Prejudice
This can exist with any form of prejudice, including race and religion, but I’m speaking here on orientation prejudice and sexism. This is gender-based jealousy. I’ve seen it happen so many times:
“If you are going to cheat on me, cheat on me with another man. Another girl would just make me feel so much less manly.”
“You want to fuck a guy? Are you even a lesbian?”
And of course the One Penis Policy falls under this category.
This form of jealousy feels like hate.
So much of jealousy, in both closed and open relationships, is gendered. Whether you feel more or less comfortable with your partner having sex with a certain gender, or person with a certain sexuality is more than just a prejudice when it causes jealousy. Bisexuals infamously face this form of jealousy from their partners of any gender.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve felt a bit more jealous of men than women in my relationships and struggled with jealousy from prejudice. Why? Because even though I celebrated the bisexuality of many of my partners, I was worried men would be more competitive. I was confident than even a competitive woman wouldn’t be a threat, but another person with a penis could replace me. This was because of a perceived gendered role I thought I had in someone’s life and perhaps larger cultural implications This insecurity unfortunately manifested itself as a prejudice I wasn’t even aware of.
In a multicultural world with disproportionate oppression of groups, the nature of conditioning, and myriad stereotypes with lack of exposure to people of different groups it is virtually impossible for anyone to not carry prejudices. Overcoming mine was simply bringing it to light. I was in denial for a long time about it, and I tried to justify it by pointing to behavior of individuals rather than identifying my prejudice of groups.
A special note on sexism. There is a sexual double standard for women throughout the entire planet and most of recorded human history. This particular form of female oppression manifests as sex negativity for women, and the jealousy of sexism exists as slut shaming, control, and sexual double standards. Such a prejudice can cause an extreme form of jealousy and is never ever okay.
There is simply no room for such jealousy in a progressive and egalitarian world. But rather than shaming yourself, be open to your prejudice. Admit them, and confront them by talking to people that you have been prejudiced against. You’ll find these irrational fears are not because you actually hate people, but because the world has told you that you have to protect yourself. You don’t. Healthy polyamory can show you that
Jealousy as Protectiveness
The final form of jealousy I’ll talk about feels like indignation, and it is triggered when your partner is dating someone you don’t find attractive in one form or another. You find your partner a reflection of you, and you find their partner a reflection of them.
In a lot of ways, this is the opposite of jealousy of insecurity (although ironically they are not mutually exclusive). You’re more jealous when you think your partners’ new boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t very pretty, or has a dead end job, or isn’t very smart, or isn’t good for them. You want them to date UP, not down.
There are two origins of this: You are either trying to protect someone, or you are trying to protect yourself by proxy. If you are trying to protect the other person, the first question you need to ask to overcome this jealousy is: do they need it? Are you just being judgmental of their partner? As with every form of jealousy, empathy is a good answer, especially if something superficial like looks is triggering your jealousy. And if they are truly with someone that is bad for them, you can attempt to empower them as a friend, but ultimately it might mean holding your boundaries with your partner if that starts to affect you. Remember, pressuring or controlling someone is never okay, even if it is in their best interest.
But mostly likely if it is jealousy rather than concern you are feeling, you are attempting to protect yourself, your image, or your social capital by proxy. If the other partner is healthy, if unattractive to you, it is important to separate your feelings from those of your partner and examine exactly why you are in a relationship in the first place. Does your partner know how you feel about them boosting your perceived social capital? Are they okay with it?
The best advice in these situations is examine your judgements, and why you are less free and pickier with your love, and why you want your values to translate to your partners as well. Perhaps open your heart a bit, or step back from someone until you can.
Changing our mindsets about jealousy and overcoming it
First and foremost, you have to want to not be jealous. Accept that it isn’t only unhealthy, but it isn’t even a real feeling. Our language has conflated it with so many other complex emotions. You need a strategy. You need to understand your capacity in confronting it. And you will need to do a lot of self-work. It’s always worth doing because Jealousy as an emotion doesn’t pay off to hold on to.
Outside of self-work, I won’t be going over a lot of exercises on how to do this. I think understanding how you feel is half the battle. Taking responsibility is a big step forward, and the final aspect is simply reconditioning. This can be done by mere exposure. Although it may be painful, if done in good faith and in combination with self-work you too can be jealousy free.
Jealousy will still exist, but now the feelings will transform. These are some of the feelings my jealousy has been transformed into:
Positive jealousy as motivation: When I pinpointed my body image issues, I went to the gym. When I was triggered by someone sexier than me that my partner liked, I was all the more motivated to be better myself. If I was insecure about sexual prowess, I just worked on effort in sex and foreplay. Jealousy hasn’t been my only reason for self-work, but damn is it a great motivator. My insecurities diminished one by one. Jealousy became a great tool to identify what was hidden to me. I was going to be better than my fears, and became a better person for it.
Positive jealousy as New Relationship Energy: Nothing makes your partner more attractive than them being wanted by someone else. That little spark of jealousy gave me new relationship energy as it was channeled into appreciation and attraction to my partner. Monogamous people have been triggering each other’s jealousy to spur chemistry for decades, no reason why we can’t do it too.
Positive jealousy as kinkiness: A recent partner of mine would overcome her jealousy by playing out sexual fantasies involving the person they were jealous of during sex. I tried it too, and wow, it was empowering. It’s along the same vein as NRE; the greater the stakes are (from innocent flirting to actual sex), the kinkier it is. Shrugs. Try it maybe?
Positive Jealousy as Compassion: Jealousy has been a red flag for me than I am lacking empathy. I’m judging someone, I’m pigeon holing them in some way. My default mindset is if I’m jealous, I’m wrong. It spurs me to reflect empathetically towards the person I am jealous of. I want their happiness as much as I want mine, and my partners’. I want world peace, and they are part of it. We can’t go on without them. I will show them love, and jealousy helped me to that place.
Positive vs Negative Requests
Finally, a note on how to treat your partner when you are jealous. It’s a rare silver bullet solution. Monogamy exists so often to sidestep our insecurities; it protects our feelings. Most of the scenarios described above aren’t relevant in a closed relationship, but almost every one will exist in one form or another in an open relationship, especially for the uninitiated. But no one is responsible, under any circumstances, to protect us from our own feelings or triggers. It is up to us to confront our feelings, understand our capacity, and communicate well in our relationship.
So what do we do when we feel jealous? Rather than attempting to limit the behavior of our partner through a negative request to close off their options, veto a person, or make a rule limiting behavior, make a positive request: ask them to do something extra for you that will help you through your jealousy rather than do something less for themselves. Live by that credo, and you’ll develop a healthy mindset quicker than you may anticipate.
Thanks for reading this lengthy post, and may self love and empathy replace all your jealous feelings.