Sunday, May 9, 2010

What about Jealousy?

Q:  Don't you get jealous?  If you really loved your partner, you wouldn't want them being with someone else?

A:  Of course polyamourous people get jealous.  The notion that they don't really does a lot of damage, I think.  They will feel as if they aren't "poly enough" if they say anything or even acknowledge those feelings to themselves.  Very unhealthy.   Some people say that they are just not "wired" for jealousy.  That may well be true but most likely they've just learned how to identify it and resolve it.

Jealousy comes from one of two things: a sense of being left out or insecurity.  The first is easily dealt with by having something addressing your needs happening when your partner is with someone else.  Go out yourself, spend time with a family member or hole up with a good book or movie.  We are our own primary partner first and foremost.  Have a "me" date.   The issue of insecurity is more complex to resolve.  If you are insecure in the relationship you will worry that the new love is better for your partner in some way and that you could be replaced.  Polyamory will shine a big bright light on the cracks in the foundation of a primary relationship.  Jealousy is a cue that there are issues the primary couple needs to face and resolve before any further intimacy is pursued with other people.  Do not drag innocent people into your nightmare.  It is your relationship and ignoring these cues will hurt a whole bunch of people.  Take responsibility and deal with your own issues.
Frequently the issue is insecurity in one of the individuals involved and not always the person expressing jealousy.  We have to look in the mirror , clearly see what are our own issues and be willing to work on resolving them.

Responses to jealousy can be anything from messy upsets to consent but not really approval to the wonderful state of compersion.  Messy upsets generally happen when someone doesn't own up to their feelings and gives lip service to acceptance or change when in fact they are not being respectful of the others or themselves.  Consent but not approval is fairly common.  We think that if we say  we're poly we have to agree or jeopardize the primary relationship.  I read a quote in Brian Johnson's Philosopher's Notes newsletter recently that describes this mind set well for me.  "There’s a HUGE difference between playing a game trying not to lose and playing the game to WIN."  Telling your partner to do what they want but don't tell me about it and I don't want to know the other woman/man - giving consent but not approval - is playing not to lose.  That's a very negative approach and sets you up to withdraw, be overtly jealous, and/or cause continuing damage to the trust level in your primary relationship.  The best response to jealousy is to identify what the trigger is, address it  and be the dear friend that your partner can gush to as he/she experiences New Relationship Energy (NRE).  NRE is the result of positive feedback that your partner gets from the other love as he/she falls into a new relationship.  You know that he/she is wonderful and sexy and so on  - what a high to find out that someone else agrees with your excellent taste!!  Compersion is when you can enjoy your partner's growth and happiness in another relationship.  When you can be truly pleased that someone else has the good sense to love someone that you love.   

No matter how long you've been in a particular relationship, you are vulnerable to random moments of jealousy.  I recall one such moment when my primary partner was dating a mutual friend of ours.  She was telling me about them walking around downtown holding hands.  I was immediately really pissed which is very silly because they'd been sexually intimate and THAT didn't bother me.   I realized that holding hands was something that he and I did which communicated to me that I was special and loved.  I talked to him about how I felt knowing that he had done that with someone else.  He said that he held hands with women in his company so that he knew where they were in a crowd and so that they didn't dawdle.  Oh.  We laughed and that was resolved.  I recall feeling jealous and confused because the mixed messages coming from another partner and his wife were making me feel superfluous.  Consent without approval was at play and that has happened to me twice.  The first time ended very nastily with hurtful words and broken hearts.  The second time I was able to develop a friendship with my metamour (his wife) and gain the approval as well as a great new friend.  Communication was more open in the second example.  

I also experience jealousy as a long distance partner when my love has local loves and they seem to get all the good stuff.  I find being left out of the information loop feeds my jealousy and I'm much more content if I know what's going on with the other women in his life.  Long distance relationships are really susceptible to jealousy and require much more work to maintain open communication levels.  That partner struggles with feeling left out of my life as well.

For all of that, I find that the men in my life are very fond of each other and experience compersion as I interact with the others.  I have found in my primary relationship many instances of compersion and more so as I grew secure in that relationship.  I find the moments of jealousy that arise in my other local relationship have been around defining who we are to each other in the hierarchy of  our family and have dispelled as we have grown secure in our love for each other and learned to live together with my primary partner as a triad. 

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