Something I feel very strongly about non-monogamy, and relationships in general, is that jealousy is normal. It’s a human emotion and something that the overwhelming majority of us will feel from time to time. It is not the devil. And with a little knowledge, practice, and self-compassion, it’s actually not that hard to deal with jealousy without allowing it to run roughshod over your emotions and relationships.
When people claim to be immune to jealousy, I suspect that they are either suppressing their feelings to an unhealthy degree or that they simply have not encountered a jealousy-inducing situation yet. You can no more be immune to jealousy than you can be immune to happiness, sadness, grief, anger, or any of the rest of the vast array of feelings that make up the human experience.
So when I say that I’m polyamorous and people ask “but don’t you get jealous?”, my answer is “sure, sometimes.” That tends to throw people off, as they seemingly expected me to say “nope, never!” The key to a healthy polyamorous relationship, though, isn’t to never feel jealousy. It’s to deal with jealousy (again: a normal human emotion) in constructive rather than destructive ways.
To that end, here are five tools I use to help me deal with jealousy on those occasions that it does arise. If any of them resonate with you, as always, take what works and leave what doesn’t.
Fake It ‘Til I Make It
Sometimes, I like to ask myself “what would the best possible version of Amy do in this situation?” Then I simply do that thing! It might feel a little forced at first, but it usually ends up feeling natural quicker than you might expect.
What would the best version of you do? Perhaps they would be super kind and welcoming to their new metamour, even if they were feeling a little threatened by them deep down. Or perhaps they’d tell their partner they were happy for them after an amazing date, even if they were also feeling really wobbly about it. The point isn’t to lie or to hide your emotions, it’s just to lead with your best foot forward.
This strategy won’t be right for everyone. Some people will end up feeling angry, resentful, or even gaslit if they take this route (this is especially true if their jealousy is actually trying to tell them something important – see the next section for more on that.) But if you’re in the place where you know rationally that things are actually safe and okay, and you’re just waiting for your heart (and nervous system) to catch up to your head, this trick works surprisingly well.
Put simply, sometimes I deal with jealousy by simply choosing to act in the way a not-jealous person would act in that moment.
Ask What It’s Telling Me
Jealousy is a complex emotion, and often a composite one. This means it is made up of numerous other different emotions. However, I have learned that when I feel jealous, there’s usually a fear at the root of it. This means that one of the best ways to deal with jealousy is to identify that fear and face it head-on.
Am I afraid my partner likes this other person more than me? If they did, what would that mean for our relationship? Do I see any actual evidence that that’s what is happening? Or perhaps I am afraid that this person is “better” than me in some way (smarter, prettier, kinkier, whatever.) Again, what would it mean if this was true? Even if it was, I’m not in competition with my metamour… so what’s awesome and loveable about me?
Cunning Minx from Polyamory Weekly uses a version of this that she calls the “and then what?” exercise (learn more about it in this episode). It’s all about exposing what lies at the heart of those probably-irrational fears.
Occasionally, your jealousy will have something productive to tell you. It might indicate, for example, that you don’t feel like you’re getting enough of your partner’s attention or that you’d like more one-to-one special time with them. By taking a step back from the immediacy of the emotion, I can assess whether or not it’s telling me anything useful. If it is, I can address that issue by communicating with my partner, finding other ways to meet the need, or – if necessary – remove myself from the upsetting situation. If it’s not, it makes it easier to put the bad feeling to bed.
Talk About It (If Necessary)
The polyamory community preaches “communication, communication, communication”, and this is good advice in so far as it goes. However, something immensely valuable I’ve learned in the years I’ve been doing this is that not every single fleeting emotion needs to be communicated about.
Sometimes, in service of feeling like I had to communicate every feeling no matter how small, I’ve ended up having an hour long conversation with my partner over a tiny emotion that lasted no more than a minute. Nowadays that feels like an enormous waste of everyone’s time and energy. If I feel jealous for ten seconds or ten minutes or even an hour or two, I’m unlikely to communicate it to my partner unless I’ve determined that the feeling is trying to tell me something important (see above section).
However, if the jealousy lasts longer, is more intense or pressing, or is communicating something important, then talking to the partner(s) in question about it is the next step. This doesn’t always need to happen immediately, and often shouldn’t. I’m not going to pull my partner away from a nice date to discuss it, for example. It also doesn’t necessarily need to be a long discussion. Sometimes just a disclosure, a request for reassurance, and a hug is all that’s needed.
When communicating jealousy, it is best to speak as calmly as possible, approach the subject without blame, be vulnerable, and ask clearly for the support you need.
Many times, I’ve used sentences like “I just wanted to let you know that I felt a little jealous when I saw you kissing X yesterday. Obviously you didn’t do anything wrong but I’d love it if you could reassure me that your feelings for me haven’t changed.”
After many years of doing this, I’ve gained a pretty good handle on what helps me in the moment when I’m feeling jealous. Fortunately, many of the things that help are things I’m able to give to myself without anyone else’s input.
I tend to save particularly loving or affectionate messages from my partners so that if I’m feeling low and they’re not around to offer reassurance, I can give it to myself by rereading some of the things they’ve said about me. Getting some love from elsewhere, such as by calling a friend or another partner, can also help to soothe the part of my brain that’s telling me I’m not loveable or not good enough.
Other things that can help include something that takes me out of my head and grounds me in my body, (masturbation is particularly helpful for me but sometimes exercise and yoga also work), warmth and cosiness (a bath, snuggling under a blanket, cuddling my cat), distraction (reading a book, watching TV, playing a game, doing a task), doing something creative, or just taking a goddamn nap.
Release the feelings
I very rarely feel intense jealousy these days. In the past, though, I’ve felt it powerfully enough for it to be overwhelming. In these instances, some kind of physical and/or emotional release can help to let the feelings out and, ultimately, lessen them or at least make them feel more manageable.
Of course, it’s important to choose a safe outlet or target. Yelling at your partner is not an acceptable emotional release for your jealousy! Some strategies I’ve either tried or heard others recommend include screaming into a pillow, venting to a consenting friend, doing some kind of intense physical pursuit such as running, dancing or weightlifting, hitting a pillow or punching bag, drawing or writing how you feel (which you can then share, keep, or tear up as you choose), laughing, playing loud music and singing along… whatever helps you to feel more relaxed, less tense, and to let out some of what you’re feeling is a great option.
You might find afterwards that you no longer have the difficult feelings any more… or that if you do, you feel more centered and ready to deal with them in a productive way.