“But… don’t you feel jealous?”
“Do you resent your partner’s partner?”
“Don’t you feel insecure if your partner is with another partner or lover?”
When I tell monogamous people that I’m polyamorous, one of the first questions they ask is – unsurprisingly – about jealousy.
Do I feel jealous? How do I deal? What if my partner feels jealous?
I understand their concerns. If I’m honest with myself, my concern about jealousy was something that prevented me from acknowledging that I was polyamorous for a long time. While I knew I could love many people at once, I was worried that I would feel too jealous and too insecure if my partner did the same.
Society promotes a number of harmful myths about love, sex,and relationships. In many ways, society glorifies jealousy: It’s assumed that if you love someone, you’ll be jealous if they’re with anyone else.
In this sense, jealousy is seen as an indicator of true love.
At the same time, society makes us feel ashamed if we feel insecure or envious in a relationship, because it’s often seen as a sign of neediness, a lack of confidence, and unrequited love. It’s a really confusing contradiction!
Because of this, jealousy is a tough thing to navigate for anyone.
Polyamorous people are in a particularly tricky situation because we experience relationships in a different way to the status quo.
Contrary to what many people think, polyamorous people can definitely get jealous. I’ve met plenty of polyamorous people who characterize themselves as jealous people.
On the other hand, I’ve met monogamous people who seldom feel jealous.
Whether you’re polyamorous or not doesn’t determine whether you feel jealousy – however, it does change the way you manage jealousy within your relationships.
This is because, in many non-monogamous situations, you’ll be forced to deal with what most monogamous people dread – your partner dating, loving, and/or sleeping with other people.
If you’re a polyamorous person who feels jealousy often, you probably want to figure out how to deal with the jealousy in the healthiest way possible. It’s a difficult thing to deal with.
Here are a few tips for dealing with jealousy while you’re in a polyamorous relationship:
1. Acknowledge – And Don’t Vilify – The Jealousy
Often, polyamorous people who experience jealousy feel particularly ashamed about it. A lot of us feel like being jealous means that we aren’t truly polyamorous.
Many polyamorous people tend to vilify or deny their feelings of jealousy because it makes us feel confused and uncomfortable.
The truth is, experiencing jealousy does not negate the fact that you’re polyamorous. Jealousy is a feeling that naturally occurs to many people, especially when we grow up in a society that tells us that monogamy is the only option.
It’s also a very natural reaction to feeling insecure, upset, or lonely.
I’ve learned first-hand that denying your envy or berating yourself for being jealous won’t make you feel any better. Instead, it will leave you feeling awful and guilty.
So acknowledge your jealousy without shaming yourself for it.
If you’re struggling with this, you might consider offering yourself the following reminder: “This is one of many normal, natural reactions. It’s okay that I’m feeling it, but it could be the symptom of another problem – and it’s important that I deal with it.”
It’s impossible to fix a situation if you deny the symptoms of the situation. Acknowledging the issue is the first step in making it better.
2. Look at Where It Stems From
Jealousy can be overwhelming – and therefore disorienting. It can be hard to figure out the cause of your envy.
But in order to deal with the jealousy, you have to figure out where it comes from.
- Are you threatened by your metamour (your partner’s partner) because you’re insecure about something?
- Are you feeling envious because your partner isn’t giving you enough time and attention?
- Do you feel like their relationship with their partner will ruin your relationship?
- Does it worry you when your partner has casual sex with others?
Think deeply about what could cause your jealousy. From there, you’ll be better equipped to deal with whatever is making you feel insecure.
Of course, sometimes it’s going to be really tricky to figure out why you’re jealous. If this is the case, don’t worry – take your time to think about it.
When you feel jealous, think deeply about the feelings and actions you associate with it. Does jealousy cause you to feel angry, miserable, teary, or insecure? Maybe jealousy causes you to feel vengeful or irritable.
Take note of when you feel these feelings. From there, you can consider what triggers those feelings. This will help you realize where it stems from.
Personally, jealousy makes me feel angry, and I become very passive-aggressive. I noted that when I was jealous, it felt like I had a lump in my throat and like I was on the verge of tears.
I had these exact same sensations when I felt like I had failed, especially in terms of my academics or career.
Realizing this helped me acknowledge that I’m particularly jealous when my partner is interested in someone who’s more successful than I am, because I equate my success to my worth.
3. Address Heteronormative Ideas Around Jealousy
We internalize so many harmful, heteronormative messages around jealousy. Those ideas can prevent us from dealing with our jealousy in a constructive and healthy way.
Heteronormativity is the society-wide notion that some kinds of love, sex and relationships are better, healthier, and more “normal” than others. It includes the idea that heterosexual, married, monogamous relationships are desirable, and that transactional, non-traditional, queer, unmarried, non-monogamous relationships are unhealthy and abnormal.
Heteronormativity also tells us how our relationships should work. This includes telling us how we should think and feel about jealousy.
Often, envying your partner’s partners is a knee-jerk reaction we have after years of being socialized to feel jealous.
When we think critically about societal ideas around jealousy, we are more capable of unlearning them. Society tells us that if someone really loves you, they’ll want to be with you and only you.
We’re taught that should be jealous if your partner is with someone else – because it means your partner doesn’t desire you.
But this isn’t true. We know that it’s entirely possible to love more than one person at once.
Ultimately, the presence of a metamour doesn’t necessarily threaten your relationship with your partner – it’s possible for your partner to desire, value, and care for multiple people at once.
It’s definitely easier to understand in theory than it is to practice, but reminding yourselves of these truths makes it easier to control your jealousy.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Tackling the cause of your jealousy will probably require you and your partner to work together. For this, you’ll need to practice healthy and honest communication!
Communication is vital in any type of relationship – whether it’s a monogamous romantic relationship, a friendship, a relationship with a family member, or even a relationship with a co-worker.
Polyamorous relationships are definitely no exception, and when you’re feeling jealous, communication is of paramount importance.
Negative feelings usually arise from a need. When we’re jealous, we usually need attention and affirmation.
Figure out what you need from your partner and ask for it.
If you struggle to bring up the topic of jealousy in your relationship, a few things you might say to get the dialogue rolling is:
- “I’ve been feeling jealous about all the time you spend with your other partner. Is it possible for us to schedule more time together? Maybe the three of us can hang out sometime?”
- “I feel jealous, and I’m not sure why. Give me some time to figure it out.”
- “I’m feeling insecure, and I’d appreciate it if you could give me some more time and attention.”
- “I get jealous when you have one-night stands with others. Can you stop doing that for a little while until I figure out why?”
Having an open and honest discussion about jealousy is incredibly important. Discussing jealousy will probably make you feel more secure and in control.
It’s also the first step in making a concrete plan to challenge the cause of your jealousy.
5. Remind Yourself That You’re Fantastic
Envy and insecurity are usually closely linked.
When I feel particularly jealous of someone my partner’s attracted to, it’s usually because I feel like they’re better than me in some way.
I ask myself whether they have all the things I don’t have. Are they sporty? Do they have musical talent? Can they cook? Are they prettier, smarter, or more emotionally stable than what I am? Are they less needy and dependent than me?
Deep down, I feel insecure about the fact that I’m from a working-class family, so I often feel jealous if my partner is interested in someone from an upper-middle-class environment. Yup – internalized classism is very real.
These things which I sometimes perceive to be failures make me feel pretty useless and undesirable. So if someone comes along and they don’t have those “failures,” I feel more jealous of them.
In times like these, it’s important to remember what makes you great. Sure, that other person might be a better cook or more sociable – but that doesn’t make them a better person. You can both be just as awesome as one another.
It may seem like a really basic step, but it’s so important to remind yourself that you’re fantastic. Give yourself plenty of healing and kind affirmations.
Think about why your partner started dating you. Did they think you were thoughtful and sweet? Did they love how motivated you were? Were they attracted to your passion for your career? Start recognizing those beautiful characteristics within yourself.
If you need to ask them to remind you why you’re important to them, go ahead and do it!
It’s incredibly tough to deal with jealousy – particularly when you’re polyamorous.
But it definitely is possible to deal with the feeling in a constructive and healthy way if you put in effort and try to be thoughtful and introspective.
After all, dealing with this difficult issue is imperative to having a healthy, happy relationship – with your partner(s) as well as with yourself.
Sian Ferguson is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism and a queer, polyamorous, South African feminist who is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Anthropology. Originally from Cape Town, she now studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where she works as vice-chair of the Gender Action Project. She has been featured as a guest writer on websites such as Women24 and Foxy Box, while also writing for her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter @sianfergs. Read her articles here.