Much of the advice I have seen about dealing with jealousy in polyamorous relationships involves telling your partner so that you can communicate about it.
When I tell my long term partner I am jealous of him and his girlfriend it makes him very sad, and he begins to avoid me. We have had an open relationship for many years, but only late last year decided to try being poly[am] (he met another women he developed romantic feelings for).
How can I communicate to him that I am jealous and sometimes ask for his reassurance without making him feel bad? If this can’t be done, how else can I seek reassurance and/or learn to deal with my jealousy on my own? I don’t want my jealousy to be the cause of the end of our relationship.
I suppose it comes down to the reasons you’re feeling jealous and what in particular is sparking it. Obviously your partner is going to feel sad that you feel unhappy and feel pressure to end the other relationship to save you from pain, but a lot of times when people say they feel “jealous” this ends up covering a whole range of things that, in my opinion, aren’t actually jealousy.
You can address this by trying to break it down. What is it that you are actually feeling?
Wanting what you don’t have
To me, jealousy would be specifically that you want what he has — meaning that you want to have another relationship but don’t have one. If that is the case, I don’t know as that going to him for reassurance would actually be helpful. It’s sort of like if your partner had a stable, high paying job and you didn’t and you felt jealous of that. You’re allowed to feel things and may very well feel frustrated by that kind of thing, but going to them and saying, “I feel jealous of your luck or ability” might actually not help anything because there is nothing concrete they can really do.
If you wanted a relationship and were jealous of your partner having one in that sense, I would say that you should explore some of the reasons why you feel like you have to be in one, whether there are avenues in your life you may be able to receive more love and attention (even if it’s not romantic) and if you could see a therapist on your own to speak about some of what may be a justified unfairness. Especially if you have a partner who socially may find it easier to fit into many communities where you may be disadvantaged. Those are all things that would probably be more helpful than going to your partner and asking for reassurance.
Fear of being replaced
However, when most people say they “feel jealous” when they are trying polyamory, more often not, they are feeling a fear that their partner will leave them and they are seeking reassurance from their partner. I feel like, if your partner pulling away is exacerbating these feelings, then that might be what you’re actually feeling. Splitting hairs on the definition of “jealousy” aside, if this is what you’re feeling, assurance from your partner can help, but it may also help to identify and face your worst fears.
Unless you grew up in a different society, you were likely given very mono-centric messages growing up that endorse the concept of “the one”. We’re encouraged to see relationships, love and sex as a competitive sport we can only succeed at if we look a certain way or buy certain products. The style of monogamy that society wants us to live that puts romantic love above all else compounds the importance of this competition.
Even when we move away from monogamy, we can still feel like we can be “replaced” by a better model. And sometimes, in an effort to comfort us, people trying out polyamory can reflect these concepts through rules like, “I’ll only ever love anyone but you” or trying to reinforce the value of one relationship by devaluing others.
Recognising you grew up in a society that encourages you to compete with others and that it’s just not as simple as that is part of exposing that fear for what it is. Because, especially if you have gone through any kind trauma in your life, your brain will be wired for survival in such a way where it will encourage you to believe that if you behave in x, y, z ways, your partner will stay with you.
Facing what you can control
Mostly when people are jealous and scared in or out of polyamory, they’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone “better”. Polyamory makes this fear more pronounced because, well, your partner actually sleeping with or developing feelings for other people makes this look like a more likely scenario. But in reality, people fall in and out of love all of the time, regardless of whether they are polyam or not. People dump and leave people they have been with for decades, married to or had children with. There is very little you can do as an individual to completely prevent this.
It seems contradictory to throw your hands up and “give up” in a way and a lot of polyamory advice would encourage you to look inward and see your own inner value and recognise that you are unique and your partner has a good reason to be with you — and while I think there’s no harm in building your self esteem, the fact of the matter is this advice reinforces the idea that someone is with you because of an innate value you have and that, regardless of what it is, must be maintained to keep that person around.
It abates the fear you have that someone will leave you because you aren’t good enough. But instead of saying you’re good enough and great and why would anyone ever leave, maybe flip it on it’s head and ask yourself if you can really control whether or not someone leaves you? Obviously, you could choose to be a mean, cruel or just neglectful partner and someone will leave you — you can control your actions. But your actions aren’t always going to control other people’s emotions. Especially when they cannot always control their emotions.
Your partner can and should generally offer you reassurance that they love you especially on days when you’re feeling down, but also it helps to remind yourself that the responsibility to keep someone around doesn’t depend on what you have to offer them. You’re not a product for sale. You’re a person and you’re complex. And the last thing you want in your life if someone who refuses to see your complexity. When you remove the responsibility to entertain and keep someone around with your value from your shoulders, the anxiety you experience when you fear they may leave lessens.
So, to sum up, addressing jealousy greatly depends on what it is that you’re feeling. If you are actually craving another relationship and you’re frustrated your partner has one, finding a place to vent that frustration, focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, and seeking some attention and love in other forms may help address that.
But if you’re feeling something else — such as the fear you will be replaced or your partner may stop loving you — realising what little control you have over that situation will probably help you stop fretting over how you can or can’t stop it. Even when it comes to coming to your partner for reassurance. While you need to be able to give your partner space and also not solely rely on him for all of your emotional reassurance, if he is the kind of person that wants someone who he doesn’t have to give any emotional reassurance to (which is really unrealistic) then you’re not going to be able to change that through your actions.
Figure out what specific things you’re afraid of and ask him to give reassurance based on that. Find other sources of comfort in your life where you can. Absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep people around. Accept that also he may feel sad about you being sad — and unless he’s threatened to leave you for that (in which case… not sure if you’d want to stay with someone who threatens that anyway), feeling sad may just be how he copes and it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to leave you because of it.
If therapy is accessible for you, seek out a polyamory friendly therapist to work on some of the emotional things you go through when you’re feeling at your lowest. Research a bit about nervous system regulation and attachment theory so you can identify things in your past that may be ringing alarm bells now. And last, but definitely not least, being okay with not being okay.
I wrote a bit more about this in detail when I wrote my polyamory introduction article and that might help, but overall it’s okay for you to feel anxious and scared. That doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.
I hope this helps and good luck.
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