I started writing this post as a response to a meme on Facebook, but it got long, so I am putting it here. 🙂
The meme in question:
Allow me to talk about jealousy for a bit. It is a hotly debated topic in polyam circles, but a lot of what I have learned over the years is relevant to monogamous relationships as well.
Let me start by saying, I am not a very jealous person. I don’t expect to control my partners and I get testy when they try and control me. Usually, when someone I am involved with does sexual/romantic things with someone else, the thing that upsets me is them hiding it or keeping it a secret much more than the actual details of what happened. This has been true for me long before I even knew that polyamory was a thing.
That being said, I have felt something resembling jealousy, and what I have learned is that it almost always is a sign of something else.
Jealousy is a symptom. The trick is working out the cause. In recent years, mostly when I feel something like this it is because I have reservations about the person in question (by which I mean the person my partner is interested in). When we work on identifying and resolving those reservations, the feeling goes away. This is definitely helped by the fact that he has learned to trust my gut, so if I have strong “NOPE” feelings about a person, he will proceed with caution. We don’t do veto (because I have no interest in controlling him and vice versa), but he does take my instincts into account. This is something that has been built though, based on my gut having a pretty good track record. 🙂
In previous years, it has usually been a symptom of insecurity, or concern that the “new shiny person” will be more interesting than me and ultimately push me out of the picture. This is a direct result of this actually happening to me in a past relationship. My current relationship, however, is solid, so as time has passed and I have moved further away from the event that resulted in this insecurity, it has become less of an issue.
In mono relationships, I think it is amplified by the exclusivity narrative. I tend to think that if you or your partner is ‘straying’, then there is a conversation that needs to happen about why, what needs are not being met, what is driving this behaviour. My experience has been that OFTEN it is not actually anything to do with the existing partner, and frequently there is something else going on there. However, this often doesn’t even get looked at in mono relationships because it gets buried under a mountain of blame and betrayal and the over-simplified idea that the cheater is ALWAYS the villain of the piece no matter what the circumstances. Spoiler: humans are a lot more complicated than that. 😉
Don’t get me wrong, it’s never a good thing to break whatever commitments you have made in relationships, and there are definitely some people are not good at healthy relationships. I have been that person. I have cheated, been cheated on, and been cheated with, so I am fairly well versed in all sides of this story. But I think because we have oversimplified the ‘exclusivity’ narrative to something like “If you would even LOOK at someone else, you obviously don’t love me”, a lot of nuance gets lost. For me, it had absolutely nothing to do with the person I was with, and everything to do with the way my brain was connecting (or not) at the time.
Sometimes, though, jealousy is straight up a symptom of controlling, narcissistic abuse. If your partner won’t let you go out wearing makeup, or won’t let you go out with your friends without them, or gets upset literally any time you talk to another human of whom they have not approved, insists on having access to your personal messages, phone, emails, then you need to GET THE FUCK OUT. This level of jealousy is a big ol’ red flag no matter what your relationship structure. It’s not cute, it’s definitely not proof of love, it’s a problem that is only going to get worse. It is, in many ways, a violence, and is often a precursor to actual physical violence. People don’t and should not OWN or BELONG to each other in the sense of property.
Also, totally anecdotally, but it has been my experience that people who behave in these ways do so often because they are expecting you to behave the way they do. So there’s a good chance that if they accuse you of cheating every time you leave the house without them, it is because they are. That’s not the point though – if someone is displaying this level of controlling behaviour, the best thing you can do for yourself is leave as soon as possible.
The thing is, jealousy is an emotion, and like so many emotions, is a valid thing which there is no point repressing or denying. However, if you want to handle it healthily, the trick is to drill down and try and find the source of it. Is it insecurity? Why do you feel insecure? Is it concern? What’s concerning you? Your emotions are valid and real, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to act like an asscactus. It certainly doesn’t give you a free pass to try and control and manipulate your partner(s).
If you treat it like physical pain – as an early warning system for something being wrong – then it can be a very powerful tool. “Oh, I am feeling jealousy. What is going on here? Where is this coming from?”
I’m a big advocate for the idea that if you’re in a relationship, you’re a team. If you treat this sort of thing as “Us vs the problem” instead of “You vs me”, then it is much more likely to be resolved. That doesn’t mean every conversation is easy. Sometimes these conversation are really hard, especially if your ways of processing things are different. But if you want a healthy relationship, regardless of what structure you choose, then these things are worth talking about.
As always, my advice comes down to TALK TO EACH OTHER. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship, always, no matter the circumstances. Jealousy can be fraught with peril, but if you address it healthily it can uncover some much deeper things that, once addressed, will make you stronger (or let you know you need to get out).