Jealousy challenges most relationships but couples that choose non-monogamy, or open relationship, face jealousy in multitudes.
Although not everyone experiences jealousy, most do. The more people involved, the more potential for that green monster to rear its ugly head. In open relationship, where partners agree to support each other in pursuing other love connections (sexual or not), jealousy is almost inevitable despite the negotiated agreement.
In my experience as a sex and intimacy therapist, jealousy is the number one challenge non-monogamous couples face. Sexual connections are bonding – not only physically but sexual excitement produces hormones and those hormones make us want to form attachments. Combine that with love and a desire for commitment, and we’ve got a delicate situation when other lovers enter the scene. As a result, jealousy should not seem surprising.
Except that it is. I’ve seen many people over the years, in an attempt not to make waves in their relation-ship, suppress their feelings. Instead of being honest about their raging jealousy, they play a game called “good poly partner.” The “good poly girlfriend” pretends that she isn’t jealous and instead tries to feel, what’s now known as ‘compersion‘ or happy for her partner, when s/he is out enjoying another.
Pretending anything is never a good idea – especially in intimate relationships. “Good poly partners” spend too much energy pretending versus preserving their love. The lack of emotional honesty erodes intimacy and connection.
So what’s a girl (or guy) to do? Because for the most part, jealousy is inherent in non-monogamy, I teach my clients to embrace it. Jealousy is like a young child awakened from a scary dream in a night-filled room. She looks around, decides it isn’t safe and screams for help. Jealousy has needs of her own — for Perspective, Acknowledgement, and Love. Jealousy needs a P.A.L, a friend she can rely on.
Embracing jealousy means warmly welcoming your pal whenever she knocks on your door. Gaining perspective while acknowledging your feelings is the first step. This requires doing the hard work of recognizing your feelings as your own instead of blaming your partner.
I suggest the following:
1. Create a Jealousy Journal.
Decorate it with photos of you and your partner, words you’ve written to each other and reminders of your love and commitment (including times you’ve overcome difficulties.) As soon as you start to feel your body bellowing, hormones raging, fear making its way up from the roots of your very being, find your Jealousy Journal and write until your heart’s content. Write like there’s no tomorrow; no one will ever see those words.
2. Once you’re writing feels complete, set up a time to speak with your partner.
It’s best to ask whether it’s a good time and if not, set up a day and time that work for you both. Creating sacred space for a clear and conscious conversation is vital to managing jealousy. It will provide an opportunity for perspective, acknowledgment and love to re-surface. Very simply, one of you speaks while the other listens. The listener’s task is to hold an open-hearted loving space for their partner to share their pain. Remember, it’s not your fault – he’s feeling scared because he loves you. This can often feel confusing. However, nothing could be further from the truth — we are scared because we love.
3. Lastly, love is a verb.
Make agreements on how you will love each other – in action – when one of you is feeling jealous. Ask her what she needs to feel safe and negotiate a win/win.
Ultimately love is putting bandaids on the places inside us that need healing. When we realize that our partner showed up with these wounds, we make a conscious agreement to love them as best we can. As we embrace jealousy, the screaming child in the middle of the night is simply showing us where he hurts and what he needs to feel better. Offer Perspective (turn on the light), Acknowledgment (see jealousy for what it truly is – fear of loss) and Love (in action) your sweetie fostering a resilient, powerful, loving relationship that can withstand the inevitable, and hopefully occasional, storms.