This page is part 2 of a series on Polyamory. You might want to start with part 1: Why Polyamory?
What has been most interesting to me is that without exception, the single most common question I get about polyamory is about jealousy. Much like anger, jealousy is almost always the face of a more deeply-rooted issue, so in that way it should come as no surprise that yes, jealousy can be a concern in poly relationships. But the fact of the matter is, jealousy has nothing whatsoever to do with your relationship; if you’re dealing with jealousy, that’s on you.
How do you deal with jealousy in a polyamorous relationship?
If we start from a foundation of understanding that jealousy has nothing to do with the relationship, then we have to understand that dealing with it is our responsibility as individuals. The only way to build strong relationships is to build strong individuals.
Dig into your jealousy. Ask it questions. Shine the light on it and interrogate the hell out of it and you will find that it has plenty to tell you. Beware though, because you’re going to uncover things about yourself that don’t feel great. Trauma is a beast that likes to stay hidden, especially when its at risk of being extracted.
Possible causes of jealous feelings include:
- fear of missing out (FOMO)
- seeing an interaction between your partner and their partner(s)
- imagining interactions between your partner and their partner(s)
- comparing yourself to others / competition
- feeling neglected
- fear of loss
Is fear at the root of your jealousy? If so, what are you afraid of? In my own experience, my jealousy has been deeply entrenched in a fear of not being enough. I feared that if I wasn’t enough for my partner, then I would be replaced by someone who was. But the beauty of polyamory is that it tosses that idea out on its ear. No one has to be everything to someone they love. We just have to exist, show up authentically and honestly, and love each other. Showing up with authenticity and honesty means owning and expressing our feelings, and making our partners feel comfortable in doing so as well. It could be as simple as saying:
“I’m feeling jealous about [insert situation here] at the moment. I’m not ready to talk about it, but I didn’t want to keep it from you.”
This sort of expression of vulnerability may take some practice, but it will go a long way toward building stronger relationships. When you do express your feeling of jealousy to a partner – especially if you do so as in the example above without further conversation – make a point of following up with more information/discussion at a future time so everyone remains on the same page. That will bring a sense of conclusion to the issue for all partners.
The Three Steps
I tend to think about the process of escaping jealousy as being three steps, because it’s more logical and realistic to make steps toward improvement rather than expect complete acceptance in a single leap. In our minds, we might think “I don’t want to feel jealous of my partner’s other relationship(s), I want to feel happy for them,” but the reality is that there is work involved to get from one to the other, and you need to allow yourself the space and time to get there.
Step 1: Acknowledgement
The first step is acknowledging and owning up to the jealousy itself: i.e., feeling jealous. That may seem like something that you would just know, but you would be surprised how often jealousy hides in plain sight. To get away from it, you have to acknowledge that the green-eyed monster is in the room and call it by name.
“I feel jealous of [person] for [act or situation].”
Step 2: Okayness
Once we have acknowledged and accepted that jealousy is present, the next step is to work toward being okay with the issue about which we are jealous. I say okayness for a reason, because nothing is ever truly black or white when it comes to feelings and relationships. We are complicated beings who all exist in the grey area.
Instead of trying to jump from sad/hurt/angry to happy, slow your roll and break the feelings apart. Isolate your feelings and inspect each of them individually. When you get one down to the root cause, work on that one on its own, giving it care and attention as though it is a wound that needs healing. Because that is exactly what it is.
When you have processed your negative feelings, you will naturally gravitate toward a state of okayness, wherein you don’t feel the pain of jealousy about the situation anymore.
Step 3: Compersion
Compersion is the opposite of jealousy. Jealousy is celebrated and even revered in the most bizarre of ways, as though they are exactly what we want. Of all the steps, compersion is the one that I earns me the most expressions of shock and skepticism because it is such a foreign concept to everything we ever learned about love and relationships. Compersion is literally a feeling of happiness and joy over knowing that a partner is experiencing a positive relationship with someone else, be it intimate or physical. Whoa, right? Who the hell could be happy about their partner being happy with someone else?
In Why Polyamory?, I quoted Thomas Merton when he said, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
Compersion is a state of enlightenment with regard to our partner(s), in which their happiness makes us happy. If the love I have for my partner revolves around them being what I want them to be, then I don’t love them, I love the part of them that I control. That ain’t the move, fam. Love is ultimately about wanting the best and the most for our partner(s). The purest love is realized when the most important thing in your relationship is seeing your partner(s) happy.
Does all this happen overnight? Hell no. It takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. I’ve experienced polyamory since my early 20s, and I still deal with jealousy myself. My partners deal with jealousy. We get hurt, we get angry, we let those feelings get in the way of communication. But we work through them, and we keep working because that’s how we grow as individuals and as partners.