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The interconnection of poly and jealousy

Well as you all know, Cern and I are now primary partners. Which, logically, should mean that I’m secure enough in us that everyone else doesn’t matter…

But sometimes that’s just not true.

Which leads me into a discussion I was having with a lovely lassy today about mono vs poly.

It shouldn’t be an us and them mentality, I really really hate that mentality and will avoid it at all costs. I think, like many things, there’s a spectrum of where we all sit in regards to being monogamous versus being poly. There are relationships that will start monogamous and open up at a later date when both parties are secure in what they’ve built. There are others that hit the ground running in an open relationship without being mono at all. There’s greys m’dears. So many bloody grey areas.

I think as soon as emotional attachment comes into the picture the ease of sharing someone gets one degree harder. Not because of anything but our own perceptions. But that doesn’t make it any easier to work through now, does it? No.

But after talking today about the issues surrounding mono, poly and jealousy I thought I’d do some digging to see if I could help find her something to refer to. And I found a wealth of knowledge.

Jealousy is most common when somebody feels insecure, mistreated, threatened, or vulnerable in a relationship. If you feel secure in a relationship, you don’t get jealous. 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.

A poly relationship depends much more than a traditional relationship on mutual security and trust. Even the smallest amount of insecurity in a poly relationship can quickly be magnified to the point where it can be lethal to the relationship. – Theory of Jealousy

Ding ding ding! It’s as I thought, there’s always underlying issues that make us feel or react in a way to something that’s said or done which can cause hurt and the feeling of inadequacy in our partners. That may not be the intention but sometimes it’s the outcome even so. So then the discussion becomes how do we try to stop that from happening?

One of the central fixtures in most polyamorous relationships, especially polyamorous relationships between an existing couple who begin with a monogamous relationship and then expand the relationship to include polyamory, is a set of rules or covenants designed to protect the existing relationship and to make the people in the relationship feel secure—in other words, to deal with issues like jealousy, insecurity, and threat. I’m going to use the metaphor of the refrigerator and bend it to my own ends. – Dealing with Jealousy

I had a conversation with Cern the other day as we were driving to our 2nd date about what expectations I had of him. For me jealousy falls under the umbrella of when I’m feeling really insecure about myself, about him and about our relationship because of X, Y or Z. It could be a throw away comment that gives me pause and makes me feel that sinking feeling inside or it’s that I’ve felt that I was not being told the truth or there was omission of some kind. I told him that for the most part I don’t really give a shit about the bits on the side that he’s fucking. Because I don’t. I’m not competing with them for his time or his attention when we’re together and that gives me a sense of security in our relationship that they won’t be affecting us in any way shape or form. But sometimes this security wavers.

And I think it wavers because we’re both so new to each other still. I just don’t have the grounded history with him. Sure, that will happen in time, but now – sometimes I just find it really bloody hard and sometimes I think I can’t be bothered with this whole open thing any more and want to retreat into my cave and buy another cat. But these feelings, they don’t boil down to anything he’s done. Quite the opposite, they boil down to the fact that I have my own issues which being open is making me deal with – my own issues of self-worth, self-confidence and self-awareness. Past relationships wear us down and break us sometimes, rebuilding and re-bettering is hard work, no?

So. The question is, why are you jealous? Jealousy is an unusual emotion, in that it’s a feeling that’s often built out of other feelings, such as fear or anger or insecurity. What is it that triggers the jealousy, and more important,why? When you think about the things that cause you to feel jealous, what’s the first emotional reaction that flashes through your head—fear? Anger? Sadness? Rejection? Loss? What underlies those feelings—fear of loss her? Fear of being insufficient? Anger at someone else moving in on your territory? All of these? None of these? – Theory of Jealousy

Plus… Nothing is guaranteed in this life. I learnt that the hard way.

But Cern pushes so many of my buttons that even if we were mono he’d scare the bejesus out of me – he doesn’t scare me in a bad way, it’s all good. The man has prime real estate stakes in my brain – not an hour goes past without me thinking of him. Not a minute goes past that I’m not aware that he’s chatting up others, most days these things don’t matter, some days they do so I guess that we’re open just makes that fear amplified in a myriad of ways. He’s the first person I’ve met that I haven’t mentally given a shelf life to. He’s different. I don’t know how else to explain it. That he makes me feel so much is different. I feel everything a bit more and I don’t know if that’s because I’ve let him past all defences and now I’m dealing with the fall out of him being inside before I was ready for him to be or if this is just some irrational crazy moment I’m having in my head.

He knows of my fears, he knows that he causes me some fears himself. He’s aware of my insecurities, my stupid brain farts and general non-sense. I have rational moments. I have irrational moments. I get emotional and logically talk myself back from the emotional ledge I’ve walked off to.

Many years ago, I was dating a woman I’d met at college, who I’ll call R. During the course of our relationship, R started dating another close friend of mine, T. And for the first time in my life, for the first time in my history (at the time) of a half-dozen successful long-term poly relationships, I was jealous.

I don’t mean “you know, this makes me uncomfortable” jealous. I mean “completely overwhelmed, smashed to pieces beneath a tidal wave of feelings I could not anticipate or predict or control; gut-wrenching, wanting-to-puke” jealous. I mean the kind of jealous that consumes every other feeling and leaves nothing but ashes behind. I’d never felt those things before, and when I was in the middle of those feelings the only thing—the only thing—I could think about was making the feelings stop, however I could.

Because it happened when she was with T, and didn’t happen at other times, I made the logical, reasonable, and totally stupid assumption that the cause of the feelings was her relationship with T. From there, I reached the equally stupid conclusion that the thing that would make the jealousy go away was if she changed something about her behaviour or her relationship with T. (I also didn’t really recognize the jealousy for what it was, powerful as it was, because I’d never felt it before, which only reinforced the notion that it was “caused by” her relationship with him.)

I behaved pretty reprehensibly, playing passive-aggressive games and just generally acting like…well, like a lot of people dealing with their first crisis in a poly relationship act. Predictably, it destroyed my relationship with her. She went on to marry T and cut me out of her life completely; the very thing I was afraid of came to pass because of my jealousy. Had I not behaved the way I did, we’d probably still be close, almost 15 years later.


In hindsight, now that I have a lot more experience and a bit more emotional wisdom under my belt, I can see where I went wrong. When a person feels jealous, and attributes the jealousy to the things that trigger the jealousy, he doesn’t actually understand the jealousy. It’s a bit like a person who has never seen a rabbit except when it’s being pursued by a dog believing that the dog is the cause of the rabbit. In reality, jealousy is built of other emotions; jealousy is not “caused” in any direct sense by the action that triggers it, but rather by a different emotional response to the act that triggers it.

In my case, R and I had never really discussed her relationship with T; nor had we talked about, in any capacity at all, what her intentions with T were or what effect, if any, that would have on her intentions with and her relationship with me. Put most simply, I saw her and T together, I had no idea what that meant for her and me, so I became afraid of being replaced. The fear of being replaced, in turn, led to the jealousy.

Now, had I actually taken the time to examine the jealousy and really try to understand it, I probably would’ve figured that out. And, once I understood that the jealousy was caused by a fear of being replaced…well, a fear of being replaced is a fear that you can work with. A fear of being replaced, all things considered, is really not that difficult to address. All it requires is conversation about intentions, perhaps a bit of reassurance, and time enough to demonstrate that the conversations and reassurance are genuine, and hey, there you go. – Dealing with Jealousy

And that’s all we all want at the end of the day.

To know that we mean something to someone. To be wanted. Desired. To be dear to someone.

That we all feel insecure, afraid, unsure, unloved, unwanted… it’s all emotions that can be assisted by just opening up that person. So sometimes when I feel that I need extra attention I’ll ask Cern for hugs. Or a kiss.

So then how does one try to get past the jealousy?

It means saying, “I know that I am feeling jealous. I know that the jealousy is brought about by some other emotion—some emotion that is triggered by the action that makes me jealous. I need to figure out what that other emotion is, and I need to figure out why that action triggers that emotion.”

Until you do that, you are helpless in the face of the jealousy. If you don’t understand it, there is nothing you can do to address it. Trying to understand it isn’t easy; when you’re ass-deep in alligators, it’s easy to forget that the initial goal was to drain the swamp, and when you’re entirely overwhelmed by gut-wrenching emotions that are tearing you to pieces, it’s easy to forget that these emotions are grounded in some other emotions. In the middle of jealousy, all you want is for the jealousy to stop, and you don’t care how.

So, you confuse the trigger with the cause. You believe, erroneously, that the source of the jealousy is the action that triggers it. You see your partner kiss someone, you feel jealous, you want the jealousy to stop, you pass a rule: “No more kissing.”

I don’t have any problem with my partner having a relationship with another man, but I’ll continue using that as an example. If I did have a problem with that, the conversation between my partner and I might go something like this:

“I am uncomfortable with this, and for some reason the idea of you playing alone with a person of the same sex as you are is OK with me but the idea of you playing alone with the person of the same sex as I am is not OK with me.

I do not understand these feelings yet, but they seem like they are rooted in some kind of fear (such as the fear that I cannot compete with someone of the same sex as me), or possibly some jealousy. I need to work on this, because I recognize that it is irrational and unjustified. Therefore, it is OK with me if you play with someone of either sex, but I will want to talk to you about it afterward, and analyze my feelings and reactions, and try to understand them so that I can address whatever is causing these reactions. After you are done, I will need some time with you so that we can work together at identifying what is causing this irrational emotional response on my part.” – Dealing with Jealousy

What I love about these articles are that they don’t just tell you how jealousy is bad for you and your relationship.

They give you a sense of understanding of why you feel the way you do, how that feeling is coming about, what are the things you can do to address these feelings and how to communicate with your partner so that you aren’t blaming them or making them feel bad about what they are doing yet at the same time conveying what you need to convey so that you get the reassurances that you need in order to feel secure and safe in your primary relationship.

Things can get a little trickier still (this business of romantic relationship is messy, isn’t it?) when your partner has done something, intentionally or unintentionally, to damage your trust or to mistreat you in some way. When this happens, it takes time to rebuild trust and to repair the damage, and it’s reasonable to expect not to keep doing things which are threatening until you get enough time and distance to separate the damage from mere discomfort.

Of course, I say “mere discomfort” even though I know full well that that “mere discomfort” can be an overwhelming tidal wave of jealousy that so completely washes over you that it leaves you shaking and twisted up in agony and unable to do or say or think about anything save for making the feeling go away. Hey, I never said it was easy—only that it’s possible, and necessary. – Dealing with Jealousy

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So yes, you aren’t alone. Everyone feels insecure at some point, but don’t forget that working through your own emotions and having the communication lines open with your partner will mean that instead of the negative emotions destroying what you have, they will make it stronger for how you both work through them together.

Sure I find it all really hard sometimes, but then I’m sure he does too. Maybe I’m too empathetic in that I hate the mono vs poly debate and how everyone should be kept separate in their boxes. Nothing is ever that easy. And not all mono relationships are purely closed either, sometimes they share people but keep it closed all other times. Sometimes poly isn’t always about shagging or having relationships with whatever you want either. We all have our own spectrum of what we’re comfortable with and I dare say, the goal posts will move as a relationship progresses anyway. So how you start out will change as we change. There is no black and white cut out of a perfect relationship. There’s just what we build.

Not all jealousy is bad. Sometimes it leads to wonderful personal and relationship growth.

9 Comments

  1. Well At-least you know what you are feeling.Even if that’s jealousy , People spend a lifetime doing something and not knowing.

  2. That’s why I couldn’t be in a poly relationship NEVER. I am a jealous person. Not jealous, that I can’t sleep, and cause an argument whenever my partner looks or talks with another women, no. I just can’t imagine my partner being with someone else. I think poly relationship would kill me…literally.

    • I think there’s always a reason we feel jealous. Working on those issues means that I can work past my insecurities.

      Whether that’s sharing my partner or self growth. I think we all learn a lot about ourselves through this kind of thing. And who knows where Cern and I will end up?

      Either way I think I’m already learning a great deal 🙂

  3. Excellent post! In the end, we humans just want to feel desired and respected. Poly relationships really require a very high level of communication about topics that mono and vanilla folks more usually sidestep. I am not intending to be critical of these folks since I fall into that category. But poly relationships show me and teach me so much about mature, open communication. I really loved this post. Thanks!

    • Thanks so much for the great feedback Maggie.

      I find it highly challenging but it makes me feel closer to Cern than anything else. I think it’s because I know he wants to be with me as much as I want to be with him and this is our choice. Everything else we can face together. Even in an open setting 🙂

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