Recently a friend of mine tweeted: I remember now why polyamory is not for me: Oh, the jealousy!
I had to smile when I read it. In case you’ve missed the many articles and shows on TV, polyamory is a relationship model which is often held up as the opposite of monogamy. Like monogamy, there are many different forms of polyamory, but my favorite definition is “The capacity for multiple romantic relationships with the full knowledge and support of everyone involved.”
I smiled at the tweet because it is a common misconception that anyone who is polyamorous is not jealous, and conversely, if you do get jealous easily, you shouldn’t be poly. I know that I felt that way, years ago – I had never felt jealous in my relationships, falling into a very simple and logical If she wants to be with me, she will be, and if she doesn’t, I wouldn’t want her to model of relationships both monogamous and poly. I prided myself on not getting jealous, on the fact that it just seemed to be missing from my emotional makeup.
That is until my girlfriend met him.
It’s ironic, because I was the one who introduced the two of them, and encouraged them to date. When they did, it went very well, and I got to hear all kinds of things about how dashing he was, how erudite, how gentlemanly, how – let me put it this way, she and I talked about everything, and there were some things that positively made me feel inadequate in some very personal ways.
Enter jealousy. The “green-eyed monster”. And there I was, totally unprepared to handle it.
Don’t Blame Poly
Now, before you go nodding and saying “See, polyamory doesn’t really work!” let’s be fair: there’s a whole lot of jealousy in monogamy. In fact, I would posit that in polyamory there’s only more jealousy because there are more partners. If my girlfriend and I had been monogamous, it’s equally likely that I would have been jealous of this man as her friend. Either way, the jealousy is going to be there. About the only “advantage” poly people have is that because they are exposed to more of it, they are possibly more able to deal with it.
Let’s be clear: jealousy is an emotion. It is a reaction of fear based on a perception of scarcity: they have something that I want, and that means I won’t have it. It is based on a narrative that we tell ourselves, but it is always based on fear.
There are a lot of people who have written great and long articles and books on jealousy. One of the best (whatever kind of relationship you have) is Franklin Veaux. The Evolution of Jealousy is also an interesting read, especially for people who think that the solution to jealousy is highly structured societal partnering (marriage, betrothal, etc.). Spoiler alert: that kind of thing apparently increases jealousy, according to research.
I’m not going to go into that high theoretical area for this post. No, instead I’m going to stick to the whole “practical tools to make hard times happier” motto and just tell you some of the ways that I have dealt with jealousy. Because like anger, while it is a common emotion and cannot be avoided, you do have control of the actions resulting from it. These are three things that have worked for me on more than one occasion.
Three Techniques to Fight Jealousy
- Identify What It Is: Did you know there’s a difference between jealousy and envy? The first is “You have something I want so I don’t want you to have it” and the second is “You have something I want and I want it too.” See the difference? Recognizing the emotion gives you a better handle, especially if the “something” is going to be yours sometime in the near future (such as time with a partner).There’s also a similar technique of asking yourself multiple “And then what” questions: “What am I scared of?” “He’ll like him better than me.” “And then what?” “And then he’ll leave me.” “And then what?” “I’ll die alone!” The theory is that eventually the answers get so ludicrous that the jealousy loses its power. I’ve found this to be a hit-and-miss technique; asking so many questions tends to give energy to the feeling that can sustain rather than counter it.
- Do It For You: This is by far the best and most effective technique I know of. Your partner is off having fun? Then do something fun for you! Go to that Indian restaurant they hate. Watch a Keanu Reeves marathon with unashamed abandon. Blast your favorite tunes, gleefully skipping all the ones you normally listen to because they like to. Make your favorite dessert mindfully and deliberately, chanting “It’s mine, all mine, mine mine mine.” Or just get a bag of Oreos.The biggest mistake I have ever made about being jealous was sitting there waiting for it to get better. It doesn’t! You need to distract yourself from the narrative in your head. Finding an engaging game can also help, as the change in your cognition will often counter the emotional roller coaster.
- Face Your Fear: While all of these things helped me counter the immediate effects of jealousy, there was one thing that actually eliminated it almost completely. It was a double date, when my wife and I and my girlfriend and her boyfriend all went out to see a play together. The two of them sat in front of the two of us, and I got to see them interact.They were happy – very happy. But it was a different kind of happy than what my girlfriend and I had, and seeing that she + he was different than she + me made a huge difference. I loved her, so I liked seeing her happy, and seeing the reality as opposed to the story in my head made all the difference.
Lastly, remember that this is an emotion. You don’t stop getting jealous any more than you stop getting angry or sad or happy. It ebbs and flows – but you are not helpless before it. Proverbs 27:4 asks “…who can stand before jealousy?” to which I say: anyone who chooses to.
What’s your experience with jealousy? How have you dealt with it? Let us know in the comments – and if you’ve found this article useful, please re-post it wherever you’d like!