How to Respond When Your Partner Discloses Jealousy or Insecurity [Polyamory Conversation Cards #12]

There’s a vast amount of information out there about how to deal with your own jealousy or insecurity in a polyamorous relationship (I’ve even added to it myself!) What we see much less of, though, is information on how to handle it when a partner discloses feelings of jealousy, envy, insecurity, or other difficult emotions.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“How would you like your partner(s) to respond when you’re voicing a fear, insecurity or concern?”

Everyone’s answer to this will be slightly different. As always, the best way to learn about how to support your partner(s) specifically is to ask them. With that said, I have identified some common themes that usually help when someone is feeling jealousy, insecurity, envy, or similar emotions.

Be Kind

If you take nothing else away from this piece, I hope you’ll remember this. It’s difficult to express vulnerable feelings such as jealousy or insecurity to a partner and, if you meet your partner’s vulnerability with hostility, impatience or derision, they will likely never open up to you in this way again.

Try to meet them with gentleness, compassion, and grace. How would you want someone to respond to you when you were at your most raw? Do that.

Validate Their Feelings and Resist the Temptation to Downplay Them

When a partner is feeling jealous, envious, or insecure, the first instinct for many people is to try to make that feeling go away as quickly as possible. This can often look like downplaying, invalidating, or rationalising away very real emotions. Despite good intentions, this can come across as dismissive and leave a person feeling unseen, unheard, and misunderstood.

Never tell a person they “shouldn’t” be feeling a particular way, and do not try to logic them out of their emotions. Feelings are not rational, and causing someone to feel bad or guilty for their emotional response is never productive. Resist the urge to jump into “fix it” mode, too. That’s often not what a person feeling jealousy or insecurity needs, at least not right away.

Instead, listen and validate. Paraphrase your partner’s words back to them: “what I’m hearing you say is that you’re feeling…[fill in the blank].” Tell them that you understand, that you’re listening, and that their feelings are real and matter to you.

Not sure how to respond? “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. That sounds painful. I’m here for you” is rarely a bad place to start.

Offer Verbal Reassurance

Most of us want to hear that our partners love us, value us, find us desirable, and so on. Though the “love languages” system is deeply flawed, I’ve also found it a useful starting point in talking about how we give and receive love in relationships. I’m very much a words of affirmation person, for example, so verbal reassurance matters to me a lot when I’m feeling insecure.

It’s important to understand what your partner is feeling insecure about so that you can offer them appropriate reassurance accordingly. They might need to hear that you love them, that you still find them sexy, that you’re committed to your relationship and not going anywhere, or even that you’re not upset with them for some real or imagined infraction. (Things can get a bit meta at this stage. I often find I end up needing a second layer of reassurance: that my partner isn’t mad at me for feeling insecure or asking for reassurance in the first place!)

What’s even more important, though, is that your words of reassurance are backed up by actions. It’s no use saying all the right things if your actions say something else entirely. Never say things you don’t wholeheartedly mean, and never make promises you can’t or won’t keep.

Offer Touch and Comfort, If Possible

This may not be possible if you’re long distance or not physically together. But if possible, most people find a hug, a cuddle, or some other kind of physical contact from a partner to be comforting in times of emotional pain or distress.

This isn’t universal, of course. Some people don’t like being touched when they’re processing difficult feelings. Always ask your partner first and respect their answer. “Would you like a hug?” or “I’d like to hold your hand, would that be okay?” are useful phrases.

If they’re not up for being touched, other physically comforting or grounding things – getting under a blanket, holding and sipping a warm drink, stroking a pet, playing with a fidget toy – can be helpful for some people.

Process with Them… or Just Sit with the Feelings

Some people like to process their feelings of jealousy or insecurity out loud, talking through what they are thinking and feeling and why. For others, it’s more productive to simply sit in the uncomfortable feeling until it passes through and over them. Your partner will know best which is true for them. (And it might be a bit of both, or contextual depending on other factors.)

Either way, you can support them. If they need to process out loud, you can have a conversation or just listen to them talk. If they prefer to sit with the feelings instead, you can offer to be with them in that space or give them some alone time to work it through.

Change Your Behaviour if Appropriate

There will be many circumstances where you haven’t done anything wrong and your partner is simply having an emotional reaction to something that’s well within the parameters of your relationship. In these cases, comfort, support, and time to process may be all that’s needed.

In other circumstances, though, you may find it’s actually appropriate to change your behaviour in some way.

Huge, enormous, giant caveat here: changing your behaviour should not negatively impact a third party or another relationship. Cutting off, curtailing, restricting, or backburnering another relationship is deeply cruel to the other person/people involved and never a good response to jealousy or insecurity.

So what can changing your behaviour in response to jealousy or insecurity look like in a polyamorous dynamic? Here are a few examples:

  • Setting aside intentional, quality time to spend with a partner who is feeling neglected or sidelined
  • Agreeing to put your phone away so you’re not distracted when you are spending time with your partner
  • Offering more of something your partner feels is missing in your connection (physical touch, verbal expressions of love, sweet gestures, etc.)
  • Stepping up more with regard to shared responsibilities (children, housework, etc.)
  • Limiting the amount that you share/gush about your other sweetie(s) in the presence of a partner who is feeling insecure
  • Shifting to a more parallel style of polyamory, at least temporarily
  • Being more forthcoming in sharing important information with your partner
  • Taking more time to check in emotionally with your partner before or after potentially jealousy-inducing events (e.g. dates with new people)

Offer Only Things You Are Happy to Give

I have adopted this as a personal policy in relationships and it’s served me very well: I only make offers I’m wholeheartedly happy to carry out if the person takes me up on it. To offer things you don’t actually want to give is a trap and will only lead to hurt and resentment down the line. (Low-stakes but real example: If I offer you a ride home, I’m not going to feel annoyed about having to go half an hour out of my way if you accept. I only offered the ride because I was genuinely happy to give it.)

When we love someone and that person is feeling pain or distress, it is natural that we want to stop that pain. However, this can sometimes lead to making offers or promises that are not genuine. This might look like “I’ll cancel my date tomorrow night” or “I’ll always be home by 10pm so you don’t have to be alone at night.”

As I’ve mentioned above, curtailing other relationships is never a wise thing to offer or do in response to jealousy or insecurity in a polyamorous dynamic. Neither is heavily restricting your own freedom or other aspects of your life. However, it’s totally possible to make changes or implement strategies to help your partner feel better without doing these things. I outlined some options for this in the last section, but you should feel entirely free to get creative with it and strategise together. As with all things in relationships, it’s deeply personal.

Ask your partner what they would like from you, with the understanding that you’re not obligated to give it if you don’t feel able to do so with a full heart. Make offers and suggestions, too, but make sure they come from a genuine place.

Check Back In Later

When a partner has expressed difficult feelings, it’s a good idea to check back in later and see how they are doing. This might mean asking them how they’re feeling a few days after the initial conversation or reaction and asking if there is anything else they need from you.

It might also mean checking in the next time an event happens that’s similar to the one that triggered the jealousy or insecurity. For example, if your partner felt jealous when you went out on a date with a new person, you might do an emotional check-in or provide some additional reassurance before the next time you go on a first date. You might also plan a way to reconnect and decompress together after the date.

How do you like your partners to respond when you express feelings like jealousy or insecurity? Have you found any amazing strategies that help you to overcome or manage it together?

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