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 the myth comes from that non-monogamous people should somehow magically not feel jealousy?
My take is that it’s largely due to our frames of reference being so heavily influenced by a culture that applauds numbing difficult emotions. We’re taught to minimize “negative” emotions through consumerist distractions and substances, as well as through society’s predominant relationship expectations. In the context of mainstream monogamous dating we’re taught that we should largely follow spoken and unspoken rules to help us all avoid the 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’s bad and should be avoided. Then that mindset carries over when people explore non-monogamy even though they’re no longer following those rules that help them 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 situations that trigger jealousy as barriers along a path the aforementioned rules serve to help people navigate around the barriers without having to come into close contact with them. To explore non-monogamy, however, one has to climb them. If you decide to no longer circumvent jealousy triggers you’ll have to put some time into learning how to best navigate those feelings within your relationships. A result of our jealousy avoidant culture is that we’re largely ill equipped for tackling the challenge when needed. The choice to go in for the climb or not isn’t about how many people one has sex with. There are many monogamous people who face jealousy directly and many non-monogamous folks who do everything they can to avoid it. The truth is, however, that the obstacle of avoiding it is much more difficult (potentially impossible) in the context of non-monogamy. Many would say that’s the greatest challenge of the lifestyle. The good new is that it’s also one of the greatest benefits, 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. When we take the the focus away from how others can ease our jealousy externally to how we can heal it within ourselves it’s deeply empowering. Tuning into our feelings often shines light that can 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 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 - no matter what relationship structure(s) we each choose.
The climb to get to that higher ground, however, isn’t always easy. When people decide not to take preventative measures to avoid jealousy it tends to 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 see value in journeying through difficult emotional terrain to get to beautiful places you may be well suited for the landscape of non-monogamy. Just don’t expect that you can go in for the climb and stay on level ground at the same time because non-monogamy tends to look at big emotional boulders and say, “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.”