Jealousy Part 1: Opening Up Your Relationship
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve either tried some form of non-monogamy, you’re currently non-monogamous, or you’re thinking about opening up your relationship. Polyamory and non-monogamy have seen a rise in popularity and de-stigmatization in recent years, which has allowed more people to feel comfortable confiding in their partners that they’ve been thinking about exploring the wide world of multiple partners within an ethical and communicative platform.
Whether your idea of “opening up” falls along the monogamish lines of agreeing on a cam girl budget, or a hook-ups only arrangement, or a fully immersed domestic triad, you will at some point come face to face with the green-eyed monster known as jealousy.
Jealousy is one of those feelings that none of us like to feel. It’s uncomfortable and scary, and can shake our sense of security and trust. But jealousy is an emotion like any other, in that it’s not bad or good. It just is. When we look at jealousy objectively, we can treat it as a signal that there’s a deeper issue going on within ourselves that could use a closer look.
Jealousy, as explained in The Ethical Slut, “is often the mask worn by the most difficult inner conflict you have going on right now, a conflict that’s crying out to be resolved and you don’t even know it.” Consider it a blessing in disguise when this emotion comes up—an opportunity for growth, healing, and better communication.
Sante Suffoletta, co-founder of Playlove, shares an experience with jealousy while in a polyamorous arrangment with his partner:
“My partner Vera and I dated for about 4 years then took a year break in 2019. During that time she dated a couple of well hung men she met on Fetlife. At first I didn’t say anything. I tried playing it cool saying, ‘I’m just happy if you’re happy.’ I didn’t want her thinking I was worried about it and encouraged her to be herself around me. So she started sharing about it more, which triggered me more. Eventually, I let her know I was worried that I didn’t really satisfy her. It was silly because, at that point, we had been dating off and on for 5 years, were incredibly in love and talking about engagement. I knew we had really amazing sex, but because we hadn’t seen each other for a while and still had a few things we weren’t totally aligned on, I somehow wondered if I was really enough for her. I even had performance issues in the bedroom imagining her with other guys and going limp. She always reassured me I was enough, but it took me a couple of months to truly believe it again. While we were on a romantic road trip and I was whining about it, she broke down and told me it was very frustrating for her to keep hearing me say she wasn’t satisfied with me. She said she felt like there was nothing she could do to have me believe her and how much it sucks to feel like the man she loves more than anything in the world doesn’t trust her. She said she needed me to deal with this if we were going to be together. So I did. In exploring it, I realized what scared me most was having a partner who was compromising their needs for me. I was also very afraid of losing her again someday because she wasn’t satisfied. And, since we were discussing engagement and had chosen to be monogamous for a while, I was worried she would be stuck with mediocre sex and miss all the big cock she’d been having. And I realized none of it was true. It was all just my fears.
“So, I shared all that with her, and I promised to trust her again. I apologized for not doing that before and for making this such a big deal. It brought us a lot closer. The sex started being amazing again as soon as we renewed our trust. Shortly after, there was a time when she got triggered and wouldn’t trust me no matter what I did, and because we had already both experienced what it was like to be in each other’s shoes, we were able to be compassionate, to really understand each other, renew our trust and work things out. Now when we have a jealous feeling, we just share it and reassure each other that whatever the fear is, isn’t really an issue. We’ve been monogamous since reconnecting but have already started talking about what it might be like to play again. And, there’s no hurry and no fear that we aren’t enough for each other. There’s a deep love and trust, which is pretty awesome. Before, when we were fully open (non-monogamous), we were trying so hard to be accepting and not be jealous that we weren’t really dealing with our feelings. I feel like if and when we choose to play again, we would have a much better foundation of communication and trust. And, if neither of us ever plays again, I don’t feel like we would be missing out on anything. We are so close and connected right now. Trust is an amazing thing.”
As clarified on the More Than Two website, “Jealousy is not the problem; jealousy is the SYMPTOM of the problem.
Address the insecurity or the things underlying the feelings of vulnerability, and you address the jealousy. So the trick to making a poly relationship work is to make everyone involved feel secure, valued, and loved.”
Maybe jealousy comes up for you when you fear that something that happened in the past will repeat itself (like being cheated on or abandoned), or when you’re afraid that something will happen that you don’t think you can emotionally handle (such as seeing your partner kiss somebody else). Jealousy may also come up when we fear something is missing in ourselves, that we aren’t good enough, or interesting enough. Instead of looking inward when these feelings arise, we often project them onto our partner. “Projection is a psychological defense that involves trying to move a painful feeling outside yourself by running your emotional movie on someone else, as if that person were a screen for your fears and fantasies. It may be that this is the only real definition of jealousy: it’s the experience of projecting one’s uncomfortable feelings onto one’s partner.” (The Ethical Slut)
Jealousy is almost always based in fear. And fear is an antithesis of love, which is often why our jealousy comes up less in casual relationships and so much more when we are deeply in love. A great test to give us power over our jealousy is to ask ourselves if our feelings are coming from fear or love. If the answer is fear, there is probably something internal for you to deal with. Note: this works well anytime you get triggered in life. When you can recognize the trigger and learn to work through it, you can learn to harness compersion: the feeling of joy for a partner when they experience pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship.