At a non-monogamy conference I attended recently a speaker asked, “How many of you can relate to the question, ‘But don’t you get jealous?” the room filled with raised hands. Then she asked, “and how many of you get jealous?” Most of the hands remained. None-the-less, I frequently have clients tell me they think they’re “bad at poly” because they feel this normal human emotion. Lately I’ve found myself pondering where that myth comes from that non-monogamous people shouldn’t feel jealousy?
My take is that it’s largely due to our frames of reference being so heavily influenced by our experiences of monogamy. In monogamy people tend to follow spoken and unspoken rules to maintain harmony and avoid difficult feelings we call jealousy (example: not talking to partners about crushes on other people). There’s an underlying assumption in that way of relating that jealousy is bad and should be avoided. Then that mindset carries over when people explore non-monogamy even though they’re no longer employing the same protective measures to steer clear of jealous feelings. It’s a catch 22 that doesn’t set people up for success.
“If you imagine jealousy as a barrier along a path the aforementioned rules serve to help people navigate around the barrier without coming into close contact with it. Non-monogamy, however, is a choice to climb it.”
If you imagine jealousy as a barrier along a path the aforementioned rules serve to help people navigate around the barrier without coming into close contact with it. Non-monogamy, however, is a choice to climb it. When people choose to no longer circumvent things that trigger feelings of jealous it’s very likely that they’ll have to feel out ways to best navigate those feelings in their relationships…and that they’ll have to be patient with other people as they do the same. Getting up close and personal with jealousy is perhaps the greatest con of non-monogamy. The good new is that it’s also one of the greatest pros, depending on perspective.
What we call “jealousy” tends to be anger, sadness, fear, or frustration in disguise. It’s often fueled by our own insecurities or ways that our desires aren’t being met in our relationships. Learning to assess and journey through those feelings can increase our self awareness in transformative ways that can ultimately lead to strengthened feelings of self worth and fulfillment. If we welcome the challenge it often shines light to guide us in creating healthier boundaries, shifting our self talk in positive ways, advocating for our unmet needs, and inspiring us in creating the lives and loves we most truly desire. It’s not always easy, but as an outdoor adventure lover I often remind myself that the most beautiful places I’ve ever been were also the most difficult to get to.
“As an outdoor adventure lover I often remind myself that the most beautiful places I’ve ever been were also the most difficult to get to.”
The truth is that the emotion of jealousy is one that most of us humans experience no matter what relationship structures we engage in. The choice to be in non-monogamous relationships is not a choice to forego those fears and insecurities of the human experience. It’s simply a choice to conceptualize them and interact with them differently. When we stigmatize jealousy we empower shame and evoke a wide range of defense mechanisms that are harmful to our relationships. Jealousy in and of itself is not bad. If we own it in a mindful way we can choose to transform how it impacts our beings and our lives. With shifted perspective it can become a force of growth and good that can take us to higher ground.
The climb to get there, however, isn’t always easy. The challenging emotions that non-monogamy tends to inspire in people often lead to increased emotional processing and communication in relationships. It’s important that people have a realistic expectation about that if they choose to take the non-monogamous adventure route. If you want to steer clear of difficult emotions within yourself and in your relationships to focus on other priorities monogamy may be a better option for you. And if you see value in journeying through difficult emotional terrain in tandem with others you may be well suited for the landscape of non-monogamy. But don’t expect that you can go in for the climb and stay on level ground at the same time. Non-monogamy says, “Bring it!” And you shouldn’t say “bring it” if you’re not ready to rise to a challenge.
“You shouldn’t say ‘bring it’ if you aren’t ready to rise to a challenge.”