Working Positively with Jealousy
By Clair Lewis
I am sure I am not alone here, when I say I have answered this question many times over the 17 or so years I have been polyamorous:
“Don’t you or your partners get jealous?”
The answer is yes and no. Some polyamorous people feel jealousy very rarely or never and this is natural for us, some feel it more often and have learned to work with jealousy because we have chosen a polyamorous lifestyle. All of us are happy knowing we can all be in more than one loving relationship, whether or not we experience difficult feelings at times.
The key to successful polyamoury is not being immune to difficult emotions, or ignoring them, but in how we understand emotions and deal with them and it can take effort, consideration, a lot of talking and some level of maturity where loving relationships are concerned. Much of the jealousy people experience can still be to do with fear of losing a partner, and yet our situation is the opposite – we know we are in relationships in which our partner can love more than one person without feeling a need to end our relationship.
Most of us in the UK learned young from the world around us that non-monogamy is one of the greater offences a partner can commit, that we should feel jealous, that our jealousy is justified and that this jealousy will cause problems, which may be insurmountable. We are unlikely to have been taught skills in dealing with relationship jealousy positively, or learning to share partners lovingly. As polyamorous people we have to find our way around this, often unguided and with no role models.
In life generally, a skill worth its weight in gold is the ability to stop our feelings from dictating our behaviour, most of us exercise this skill regularly. It’s common sense that, in the face of problems, causing a new problem is not going to help the situation. Jealousy in itself is not destructive, it is just feelings. We have a choice about how we deal with those feelings and whether we allow them to lead to destructive behaviours.
I think part of the trick of having successful alternative relationships is creating relationship methods and building unique structures that work for us individually. I am sure we’ll see this topic come up again here and I look forward to hearing other people’s experiences and ideas in the future. For now, here’s some ideas based on how I have dealt with my own, or other people’s jealous feelings - this is by no means a definitive ‘how to’ guide, just some things I have learned or found helpful along the way.
If you feel jealous..
Analyse your feelings.
Jealousy is not one emotion, it’s a bundle of them.. what are you feeling? Insecurity? Anxiety or fear? Envy? Protectiveness? Possessiveness? Competitiveness? Delve in there and identify the individual emotions, so you know what you are working with. Then take each one and ask yourself why you are feeling it.
Challenge your unfounded concerns.
Sometimes the reasons behind the feelings are obviously wrong. Seek any out and actively put them straight, almost as if you are having a conversation with yourself. For example: “Ohh, but what if they leave me for this new partner?” (yes even I have thought that now and again!) it is easy enough to answer “For goodness sake, we’re polyamorous, this is the opposite of what we are doing… we end our relationships when they are not viable, not because of other relationships”. Answer each of your unfounded fears and put them to rest, if there’s no concerns left after that you can skip the next step.
Note what needs attention.
Sometimes real problems come up which need to be dealt with and they are causing or contributing to jealousy. If any of those are coming up, put them in the pending tray. For example: “I have hardly seen my partner recently, they seem to be spending all their time with someone else”. Arrange time to talk with your partner so you can discuss anything which if bothering either of you. If you are feeling upset, then before you talk, refocus.
Refocus on why this matters so much.
We love our partners, it’s the reason we can experience such strong concerns and fears. Imagine what that hot sting of jealousy’s equivalent in intense love looks like, be wowed by it and acknowledge that love can be the root of the fears. Isn’t it great that you love your partner! Allow that love to control your behaviour, not jealousy. If you behave badly because you are experiencing difficult feelings, you are far more likely to bring about further problems and loss. However, if you can behave in a caring way, especially in the face of difficult feelings, you can be proud of yourself and your partner/s will value and appreciate it. Sometimes I find focussing on this love and doing something loving is a great cure for a sudden jealous feeling.
Talk lovingly when you need to.
If something is not right in your relationship, then you need to deal with that with the partner/s in question. It can help jealousy a lot to keep our eye on the fact that it is not the fault of another person they are seeing if something is not right in your relationship. Try to make it your intention at times when you are talking though problems, or about difficult feelings, to always talk as lovingly as you can, whatever the circumstance - it makes hard conversations far easier for everyone concerned.
Do what you can.
Fix anything that needs fixing, renegotiate or clear up any misunderstandings, or even just allow yourself to share your feelings with your partner, without expectation, so they can support you. Difficult feelings are an occasional part of normal relationships for almost everyone, it’s how we deal with them that affects our relationships long term, for better or worse.
If your partner feels jealous..
Are you fulfilling their expectations?
It is your job to adhere to the negotiated and agreed expectations your partner has of your relationship. It is also a good idea to check your partner does not have unrealistic expectations of your relationship that need addressing. The key to poly, for me is 'different strokes for different folks' and I find that all my relationships are unique and my partners have very individual needs and expectations.
Work on what you need to
If you are allowing a new or changing relationship to interfere with the normal processes of another relationship, you may have some work to do on clarifying and renegotiating boundaries, or making sure you are fulfilling any obligations you have agreed. You need to make sure your relationships fail or succeed based on their own merits, not because of other relationships. If you are making mistakes or behaving badly, you need to do your best to take responsibility and address it, without blaming anyone else, especially not your partner/s.
Have your partner’s needs changed?
If you are meeting the agreed parameters of your relationship, sometimes it’s the case that our partner/s are experiencing difficulty because their needs or desires have changed – look for signs of this. Does the partner now need more time with you, or a different style of relationship than they used to? Can this be delivered, or do you need to compromise and negotiate? If you are not all living together, you may need to be creative - one of the ways I have maximised time with my partners is having three of them for dinner every week, together.
Assure, then reassure.
It matters when a partner is struggling to deal with anything, especially if they need more time you can't give although you might like to. Assure them of your love and that despite constraints of physical together time, your emotional commitment to them is full time and unchanged. Assure them about the commitment you are making to them (whatever it is - this can be done at any stage of a relationship as long as you are honest). Reassure them when they need it, it’s a chance to show your love. Console them when they feel they miss you. Just because you cannot spend more time together, doesn't mean it’s not a shame.
If you are doing everything right by your partner and they are feeling jealous, and it is being raised in a sensible manner of just sharing their feeling, you don’t need to treat it as a problem. Instead you can treat it as an opportunity to listen to them and support them and remind your partner/s how important they are to you by showing them your love. Hold onto their heart and treasure it every day – loving is an active ongoing process, not something you achieve once.
Know what's not possible.
Just because the mind wants to be poly, does not mean the feelings can follow. Sadly, sometimes, people have ongoing jealousy issues that cause problems when their own needs are being met, when relationship boundaries are being adhered to and with all the love and reassurance in the world. It may be that they are just not suited to polyamoury, no matter how much they'd like to be so they can stay with you. Sometimes it is a more loving act to let someone go than try to keep them, so they can continue their journey toward their best life.
Negotiate how to approach problems.
Approach can cause new problems in situations where someone is jealous, or missing a partner and things gets worse. It helps to have a strategy around how to raise problems to minimalise them growing. When time is limited, you certainly don't have time to waste dealing with the (sometimes bigger) problems caused by bad approach/arguments.
Every moment is precious
Make extra effort to ensure your time together is always special. Polyamorous people know well that although love is unlimited, time poses constraints. When time is limited, every moment together is precious – it’s quality that counts.
Clair Lewis is National Convenor for CAAN, the Consenting Adult Action Network as well as being involved in the Disabled people’s Direct Action Network (DAN). You can find Clair on the internet in various places, via her Livejournal.