Thursday, July 18, 2013

Taming the Green-Eyed Monster: Tips for Those Considering Polyamory

Photo courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller
For people who have been monogamous and are considering opening their relationship, a major concern is jealousy. It's the most common question posed to people who are poly. How do we deal with jealousy? Do we feel jealousy?

Of course, everyone feels jealousy. Monogamous people feel jealousy. Everyone gets jealous. People feel jealous of their siblings, of their coworkers, of their friends; it's not limited only to romantic relationships. So of course, people who are poly get jealous, just like everyone else.

Thus people who are poly come up with mechanisms to handle jealousy in the context of romantic relationships. These are probably unique, and different from the way monogamous people handle jealousy. So if you are monogamous and thinking of opening your relationship and you're concerned about jealousy that's a very good start. You're already thinking about it. You're anticipating it. So here are some tips that you might employ to deal with it.

My best advice is to prevent or reduce jealousy before it even starts. This can be done by, early on, having discussions about what will help you not feel jealous in the first place. Try to do this before either of you has any actual, specific interest, so you're not thinking about a specific person. You're just thinking in general, hypothetical terms. And try to focus on statements of doing instead of statements of not doing. What your partner doesn't do with someone else is an endless list. You can't cover everything and you'll be upset with yourself when they do something you forgot to mention, and you'll quickly have to write it in. So try to stay away from the "do nots" and focus on the "dos."

Some examples of a "help me not feel jealousy" list could be:

  • I would like to know the name of the person that you are going out with before the date.
  • Before you have sex, I would like for your partner to have negative test results six months or more recently for all major STIs and not have had any new partners in that time. (Sex safety is a very important thing to people who are poly!)
  • I would prefer that you meet in public when you start your date.
  • I would prefer to meet your potential dates before you go out with them.

Having that list already made before the date (write it down if you need to!) can give you reassurance that your partner is providing the things that you need to help minimize your stress.

There is an idea I think a lot of monogamous people have, because they've only been in monogamous relationships, of themselves sitting at home on their couch, bored and jealous, while their partner goes out and has the best sex of their life. I'm sure that that happens. I know that it does; I have been in that situation myself. But the reality is that, when you are seriously involved with more than one person, you become very, very busy, and you forget that your partner is on a wonderful, fulfilling, sexually charged date with someone else, because you are too busy doing the thing that you are doing and really enjoying.

So before either of you starts dating someone else, start doing some things on your own. Do these things separately, not as a couple. I know it's very easy to fall into "couple habits" when you are partnered up. But get your own hobbies that don't involve that other person. Join a sports team, or play board games with other people, or join a karaoke league or quilting club, and do not include your partner. Specifically exclude them from that activity. And then deliberately try to schedule their dates with other people during that time. So your partner has their dates with other people while you are at your karaoke league and you have your dates with other people while they're at their racquetball game. Because when you are sitting around dwelling on your jealousy, you're feeding it and making it stronger. When you're actively engaged in doing something you enjoy, with people you enjoy doing it with, you won't have very much attention to devote to the fact that your partner is out with someone else. And, if it does occur to you, you won't have much time to think about it before you need to think about something else. This is not smothering it and it's not quashing it. It's just not allowing you to dwell on it and make it any bigger.

But as I said, you are going to feel jealousy. It might come up when you don't expect it--maybe not when your partner is on that date. So when it does come up, sit with it. Acknowledge it. Realize that this is happening and it's real. And it's okay. You can either embrace the feeling, or you can confront it, or you can just mull it over, but don't ignore it. And try not to feed it. Try not to go down a spiral of imagining all the things that your partner is doing with someone else, because that is only going to make things worse. Remember that you have felt jealousy before and survived it. You have felt this before; this is not a new emotion. And you have felt it with people that you are still on good terms with. You've felt it with your family members or friends or coworkers. This will turn out okay too.

It seems a lot of people who are monogamous have some very rigid ideas of what they think will cause their jealousy. They think this because they haven't actually been in these situations. They say things like, "Well, I would have no problem if my husband fell in love with someone else, I just can't abide the thought of him spending a Saturday night in someone else's bed," or, "I would be fine with my girlfriend kissing someone, but I just don't want her to suck anybody else's cock," or, "You know, I'm totally okay with my boyfriend having all the sex he wants with all the people he wants, but I can't imagine what would happen if he watched Game of Thrones without me." And the truth is, you're wrong. Maybe those things really would set you off, but things you never even considered will set you off too, and you won't know until you encounter them. It may be that, in fact, waking up and having to make breakfast alone maybe is the biggest deal you could have possibly encountered and suddenly you're consumed with jealousy about it. Maybe it never occurred to you before.

Right now, you might say something like, "Oh, I can't imagine having Christmas without my partner." But at some point you may be passionately and deeply in love with someone else and very committed to them, and you may prefer then to spend Christmas with their family, learning about where they came from. And you may be happy for your partner to spend that same holiday with another person, having a similar experience.

So having a set script of what will and will not make you jealous is just completely unrealistic. You need to realize that it's going to come up, and it's going to happen over things you didn't expect, and you can mitigate it beforehand by having some agreements and some idea of what is going to happen, and by keeping yourself busy when things that are likely to produce jealousy are happening. And remember that, at some point, the situation is going to be reversed. At some point it's going be you going on a first date with someone, having the excitement of the first time you have sex, and it's going to be your partner who is dealing with how they feel about that.

So keep those things in mind when you're on both sides of this equation, and behave in ways that are respectful toward each other. Make sure you're doing what your partner needs. Just because it wouldn't bother you doesn't mean it won't bother them. Avoid those things you know will bother them as much as possible.

And finally, the idea that sharing your partner's body or heart with another person makes you vulnerable to having them stolen from you is completely ridiculous. If the person you are with is the type of person who will leave you for someone else, they are going to do that no matter what kind of relationship you are in, whether it's monogamous or polyamorous. And if they are not that person they are not going to do that, regardless of the type of relationship you are in. You need to trust that you know what type of person they are. If they are the type of person to leave you for someone else because they think that person is better, then you should go ahead and face that now, because they will. And if they are not the type of person to leave you for someone else, then have faith that that is not going to happen any more in a polyamorous situation when they love someone else deeply than it is when it's just the two of you. Trust in their commitment to you and their love for you, and know that they will behave in a committed and loving manner toward you, regardless of the circumstances.


  1. I *love* this! One major point in this conversation for me is that I discovered my biggest solutions for feeling jealousy were to feed myself spiritually/emotionally -- not just distract myself. (I think you were pretty clear on the "doing something that you enjoy* thing, but I also think some people see that information and think distraction, not self-love and personal growth.) So for me, the jealousy feelings were a sign that I didn't feel whole for some reason, or I wasn't already getting what I needed in my relationship with my partner. The two big solutions for me were a) making sure my partner and I were already getting good quality time together, and making sure that time was really as fulfilling as I was wanting from that relationship (assuming the other person wanted that, too), and b) spending time alone doing things with myself that increased my own access to self-love, increased my self-awareness and ability to listen to my body and identify my emotions and the roots of them. For whatever reason, these two things mostly obliterated what was, for me, a pretty significant jealousy reflex when we both started spending time with other people.

    Thank you for writing this, it was lovely! <3

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      I agree about the things you do by yourself being very fulfilling with regards to your own needs. Jealousy issues aside, I often schedule "self-dates" in which I take time alone to do things that make me feel secure, like watching my favorite movies or having hot baths. Not only does this provide for my self-care needs, it allows my partners opportunity to spend time with the other people they love.

      I also try to set aside time for friends (although I admit to failing at this too often lately). I value my friendships as much as any other type of relationship I have, and I know they can only be rich and deep by spending time together. For me, nothing makes me feel as valued as someone else scheduling time to hang out with me without agenda or distraction. I don't need as much "friend time" as I need "date time," but I try to get together with my friends over drinks every couple of weeks or so.

      So yeah, just doing things to "take your mind off" your partner's other dates will likely be less successful than doing something good for yourself.