I have been in a relationship with my girl for half a year, and recently we discussed opening up our relationship. She has always been interested in polyamory and made it clear to me from the beginning that this was something that she would want to act on. I am intrigued by the idea, but I am also concerned about jealousy. Is this something I will be able to get over? How do people keep their jealousy in check? Any advice for a successful, healthy open relationship?
First of all, everyone experiences jealousy. Some people experience it less frequently or less intensely than others, but it’s an emotion just like any other, like being tired or frustrated or scared. That said, it’s not something that you can “get over,” per se. But it’s definitely something you can confront, and if you do so in a direct, unabashedly honest manner, then it is something you can learn to make manageable, even if doing so scares the crap out of you. You seem to be pretty self-aware already about what your potential triggers might be, so you’re one step ahead of the game.
Jealousy is often the manifestation of other types of awful feelings, including, but not limited to possessiveness, insecurity, fear that our partners will leave us, lack of confidence, vulnerability, etc. The first step in dealing with these unpleasant feelings is to admit when you have them. (Ah look, another AA tie-in. Go theme!) It’s not helpful for you to lie about jealous feelings or to suppress them. Seen from slightly different angle, if you were feeling hungry, but repressed the urge to communicate that for whatever reason, you’d wind up erupting later. Bottling up unpleasant feelings leads to worse fights later on, and is, incidentally, how one (hypothetically) ends up consuming a whole plate of chocolate chip mini muffins in one sitting. Communicating your fears, even if they are irrational, is a really important way of helping to curb those fears. It takes the oomph out of them, that sucker punch to the gut feeling. It also allows you some distance from the fear when you can verbalize it. “Yes, I am jealous of that girl you are flirting with on Twitter. I know she lives 8,000 miles away and is straight, but that is how I feel.”
Another key aspect of all this great communicating you’re about to embark on is setting boundaries. This doesn’t just involve sex, but everything that could cause a potential snag. Do you care if someone spends the night? Are certain people off limits? How frequently will other dates occur? Etc. If you live together, there’s a whole ‘nother set of questions you should be prepared to ask yourself. In my column about threesomes, I talked more about this, and setting up a spreadsheet that entails what is/might be/and is not OK. I suggest you take a look at that.
My friend and poly veteran Dan suggested meeting your partner’s partners to keep jealousy in check. “This should ideally happen early and, if you get along reasonably well, often. Not only is this a way to defuse your imagination running wild on you, it could also lead to you finding out that you want this new person to be your partner as well.”
DeeDee added, “Realizing that the situation is not an invalidation to your current relationship is helpful. It’s actually a bonus! That bond with the other person makes your partner happy and, in return, aren’t you happy seeing them happy? That’s got to count for something.” And Andrea suggested that, “As long as you keep the lines of communication open and go at a pace both of you feel comfortable with, it’s entirely possible that — by dealing with stuff as it happens, in small chunks instead of in one big glurt — you’ll find out you’re not as jealous as you thought, or that your jealousy is more localized around certain actions than you expected.”
If you want more in-depth takes on jealousy from people who are much smarter and more experienced in the ways of polyamory than me, I’d suggest you read Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt. Both are excellent primers filled with stories and practical tidbits for dealing with jealousy.
And what about you all? How do you overcome jealousy in your relationships, poly or otherwise?
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a professional tweeter/blogger for Mother Jones and a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.