One minute, you’re on a date with your partner. You’re laughing over drinks and a delicious meal. The night is perfect, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
Until… their eyes wander over to the cute person at the next table. Your partner says a flirty comment, and suddenly… your guts are on fire. You’re warm, and your heart is beating too fast. Oh shit, did it skip a beat? Now blood is starting to drain away from your face, and oh no… is it the alcohol that’s making you feel so dizzy?
Congratulations! You’re in the middle of a jealousy attack, and unfortunately, the storm is beginning to pick up speed.
So… what can you do?
There’s good news! As crummy as you feel right now, you can grow from this experience. You can pick yourself up, and learn to overcome jealousy and insecurity in relationships.
It starts by getting ludicrously honest with yourself and learning how to communicate those feelings to others. You need to ask yourself hard questions to help you get your footing while the waves of a jealousy hurricane are beating against your windows.
Personally, I didn’t consider myself a “jealous person”. For years, I assumed that jealousy was something exclusive to “angry cis het folks”. When I felt bad about myself in a relationship, I never demanded that my partners stop hanging out with their friends. I never asked them to stop wearing clothes that made them incredibly attractive, so I’ve never been jealous, right?
Wrong. Clearly now, I know that’s not the case. My definition of jealousy was very limited to say the least. As a polyamorous person, jealousy was a thing other people experienced.
It was as if someone else claimed dominance over that feeling entirely. To me, jealous people were those types who felt jealousy and acted on it. I didn’t recognize my feelings of insecurity as being related to jealousy, even though they clearly were.
I might not ever felt possessive in the traditional sense, but I’ve definitely felt entitled to a partner’s time or emotional comfort. More times than I can count, I’ve felt insecure and would begin to talk down to myself. I’d start emotionally ripping myself for not measuring up to what I thought they “wanted” from a partner. I’d pull away from relationships in order to both punish myself and my partner. I’d become broody.
By being so clearly affected by jealousy and not recognizing that fact, I was wearing the “emperor’s emotional new clothes”. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that insecurity pushed me to feel garbage about myself, and then behave towards others in a way no one enjoyed.
Here are my questions to getting out of jealousy alive, especially formulated for polyamorous and nonmonogamous people:
What makes you feel jealous, insecure, or fearful?
All of us feel the same tough emotions but from a variety of different reasons.
Some people worry that their partners are going to find someone “better” than them, and end things. Others are angry that they won’t be entitled to all of their partner’s free time and energy if they’re forced to share with another lover.
Those emotions are all valid to feel. They usually come out of a good place, where your mind is trying to preserve an adequate level of comfort and homeostasis. The issue is with your reaction to the jealousy. We’re not trying to obliterate the feeling of jealousy as a whole, we’re just trying to work with it rather than against it.
Recognizing the triggers to your jealousy or insecurity is the first step in knowing how to continue working with it.
Oh no! My partner was flirty with a friend, and now I’m stuck in an insecurity spiral! What can I do?
Emergency procedure, activate! You’ve got this, but if you need a little help, here’s some suggestions!
Remove yourself from the immediate “ouch”.
You know that feeling when you get a bruise, and it really hurts but you keep poking it? It’s like you’re shocked at how much it hurts, right?
Do not do that with your reactions to jealousy. If your partner is flirting with the server, don’t sit there and let yourself get anxious over their cute banter! Remove yourself from the immediate incident of jealousy, and calm down in a quiet spot. Go to the washrooms, lock yourself in a stall and breathe. You will feel discomfort, but that pain will not last forever. Every emotion is like a wave. Right now, you’re at the highest point but give it time and distance, it will slowly diminish in power.
When you feel more emotionally present, communicate with yourself.
What hurt you the most about the incident? Did your partner break any explicit emotional rules? If not, do you feel entitled to only being flirted with on a date night? Do you feel disconnected from your partner, and therefore feel threatened?
Become a researcher.
Look at your reactions from a very neutral quasi-scientific way. If you’re feeling anxious, and your body is going into overdrive, recognize that. “Oh, huh, my heart is beating very fast… that’s interesting.” Note those experiences without becoming those experiences.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in any deceptive self-talk.
You will not die, you will not rage quit the relationship. You’re going to be okay, and while you’re experiencing these symptoms of jealousy… take note of your emotional surroundings. When you’re jealous, do you immediately want to insult your partner? Is it because you feel like they’re betraying you?
The better you familiarize yourself with the negative feelings, the less control they have over you.
When you’re ready… talk to your partner.
Ideally, this conversation should happen sooner than later. Your partner will notice that you were upset by something, so letting them stew in anxiety isn’t fair. They love you, and you’re important to them. The important prerequisite for this conversation to happen is for you to be able to calmly address the issue. If you get emotional, that’s okay! You can cry, and feel angry… but it shouldn’t be something you harness at the detriment of yourself or others.
If you’re still angry to the point where you don’t feel like you have any control over your reactions… maybe take a little more time to cool off.
Okay, I’ve done these things. I’m still getting upset! Why don’t I feel secure?
Let’s get down to a painful truth: if you feel jealousy, you’ll likely never be “rid” of it.
Our predominantly monogamous culture has a skewed view of jealousy. In 99% of our relationships, we understand that jealousy is a workable emotional state. As a kid, if you’re jealous of a friend’s “other best friend” you’re expected to grow and get over that negative reaction. We understand that it’s largely rooted in untruths like if they have another close friend, then I’m not important! Or they’re bored of me!
Both those things are false. Jealousy is an emotional state, just like happiness or anger. You’ll never be rid of those feelings, so instead you’ve got to learn how to live with them. In the words of Steven Universe, “happily ever after never ends”.
We’ve learned that friendships go through ebbs and flows that aren’t negative reactions to either friend in the relationship. We have to continually show up emotionally for each other, and continue to work to keep feeling happiness.
Romantic relationships are like that too! Sometimes you’ll feel deeply connected to your partner, and they feel deeply connected to you. You’ll both feel an exhilarating amount of delight at being with each other, like your heart is filled with Mentos and soda! Those moments are wonderful, but they’re not forever. It isn’t a judgement against either of you, it’s just the reality.
When you feel jealous or insecure, ask yourself: will I ever have enough reassurance? Is there anything my partner can intuitively know to do in order for my insecurity not to be triggered?
The answer is likely no. Anxiety and jealousy will always raise the bar higher.
How can I avoid such strong reactions to jealousy?
You’ve done the first step! By beginning to ask yourself what makes me feel insecure, you’re training your mind to spot the triggers before they evolve into full-blown jealous rages. You’ve distanced yourself from the reactions!
Attachment theory is based around how secure you felt growing up with your parents, or in past relationships.
There’s roughly 3 categories that can overlap, but they are secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment styles.
The healthy spot is to be someone who is securely attached; you desire emotional intimacy with others, but don’t require it at a detriment to your own well-being. You’ll let yourself be vulnerable, without letting yourself be abused.
You could also be someone who’s an anxious attacher. This is someone who feels their partner’s independence as a threat to their emotional closeness. Anxious attachers will try to force their partners into conflict or engagement, and that feels like emotional intimacy to them. Anxious attachers will go out of their way to create comfort for their partners, at the cost of their own sanity.
Those who are avoidant in attachment style worry that others will suffocate them with forced emotional intimacy. They might have had parents who were overinvolved and gave little to no emotional freedom. Avoidant people will find faults with their partners, in order to always be ready to bail if they need to. They’ll find ways to distance themselves from situations that require honest emotional intimacy because that shit is scary.
There’s plenty of resources on attachment theory, through books to Youtube videos. A favorite is Amir Levine’s book Attached, which explains the theory in a very down to earth way. It has chapters devoted to each attachment style, which gives you all the tips and tricks to hack your attachment style for the better.
There’s also the website yourpersonality.net, which allows you to track how your attachment styles evolve over time. It also evaluates your attachment styles in four different categories: with your mother/mother figure, father/father figure, friends, and one romantic partner. It’s incredibly comprehensive!
What makes jealousy stronger? What doesn’t help?
In my experience, these are the things that make jealousy thrive. These suggestions might be controversial, but I think there’s merit to avoiding them if they’re not proven to be helpful for you.
In polyamorous relationships, a partner having “veto power” means they can decide to forbid their partner from dating someone specifically. They might have the power to decide where the other person can date, or when.
Much like a veto in government, giving someone the power to axe potential partners is controversial at best.
Realistically… veto powers don’t do much to make anyone feel less anxious. Often, they’re utilized by newly non-monogamous couples looking to open up their relationship. They want to be polyamorous, but one person might be particularly hesitant. Instead of addressing and working through these issues, people will use a veto power in place. It becomes a kind of band-aid solution, never really solving the issue and removing it causes a lot of pain.
Bottling up your feelings
Do not stay silent when you’re feeling upset. This seems obvious to most people, but if you clam up, it will leave everyone feeling resentful.
I’ve justified staying silent when I was upset. I’ve let myself believe that staying quiet and just hoping the other person will notice how upset I am was “honorable”. No one will be able to read your mind, and most people will believe you’re okay if you tell them you’re okay. Do not be emotionally lazy, and expect others to figure out your emotional environment when you could just as easily communicate yourself.
This sounds harsh, but you’re not a child (if you are, what are you doing on this site?!). The only major time you could simply expect others to pick up your emotional state without needing to express yourself was when you were an infant. You’re not an infant anymore. You’re not entitled to simply staying quiet if it means you or others are hurting from lack of clarity.
Be honest with yourself, and open up when you’re emotionally ready.
We all know what the old saying is on assumptions: they make an ass out u and me.
In the case of jealousy towards another partner’s bustling love life, making assumptions on what your partner is doing or looking for will only hurt you.
If your partner is on a date, and you’re starting to feel a little twinge of insecurity, search out that feeling without letting it suggest wild fantasies. “Oh, they’re just attractive because they’re young! I must be just so old in comparison, I must be boring!” No no no. Your partner’s feelings of attraction towards someone else isn’t about you, as harsh as that sounds.
Polyamory can be like getting a Ph.D. in jealousy management. Non-monogamous people aren’t more evolved beings who just simply never get jealous… they’re just people who have decided not to limit their relationships to a single one from fear of insecurity.
Not all polyamorous people know how to manage their reactions to jealousy. Polyamory is like throwing yourself into the deep end of a pool in order to learn how to swim; it might work, but it could be overwhelming.
If you’re opening up an existing relationship, take things step by step. Don’t rush through any important self-growth just to be able to feel like a “real” polyamorous person.
When you’re not constantly threatened by every stressor, you can be fully present in all aspects of your life. Really, that’s a benefit that goes far beyond just romantic relationships. Learning to manage your jealousy or insecurity is a life-long process where you’ll endlessly grow from. It means becoming a better friend, lover and finally being “the cool partner” who doesn’t take things too seriously.