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Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm so jealous of you!

The other night I had the opportunity to have some interesting conversation with a small group of poly folks about general poly topics. The group consisted of a couple in a long term poly relationship and a couple of others whose status I don't know.

One person made a comment that I found interesting which I'll paraphrase here: Jealousy is a bad thing. Poly's strive to overcome jealousy so they don't experience it anymore. The ultimate goal is to never again have jealousy or to be able to say "I don't do jealousy".

When questioned about the reason for such a statement the person further stated, "Jealousy just isn't healthy."

As you might imagine that generated quite a lively conversation with some of the following arguments:

-Jealousy is a healthy thing. It is a normal human emotion and to try and just not have it anymore wouldn't be healthy.
-Jealousy can be a good tool. It lets us know that we care for someone, maybe more than we know, and that our needs maybe aren't being met. The result can be healthy as well if it prompts open discussion between partners about reasons for jealousy and how they can help each other overcome jealousy.
-Ownership jealousy, such as being jealous when your partner is physically with someone else, often is just a symptom of something else. Fear of loss or rejection, or one's own insecurities for example. Understanding and working on the actual root of the issue will often eliminate the feelings of jealousy.

One point of agreement within the group was that jealousy, for any reason, which begins to dictate control over another person, or the relationship, is not healthy.

Personally I experience jealousy and don't feel it is always a bad thing. Something I've realized is that I have different types and levels of jealousy depending on my partner. That isn't a way to assign blame or avoid ownership of my emotions but it has proven to me that jealousy, although a feeling experienced by one person, involves both people and requires both of them to consciously work at either avoiding or overcoming the feelings.

Whenever possible I try to embrace any feelings of jealousy I have and use them as a learning experience. I try to understand their cause and immediately upon noticing the feelings communicate with my partner. When communicating I try to be clear that I'm not assigning blame or criticizing their actions. Only that I want them to be aware of how I am feeling and to work with me to understand the feelings. Note that I don't say I want to work toward eliminating the feelings. I truly believe jealousy is okay at times. And often a better emotion than anger, resentment, envy or a host of other uglier alternatives. I have even been in relationships where we have made rules supporting jealousy as a way to temporarily provide relief for the person experiencing the jealousy while they try to understand their cause.

As many different types and causes of jealousy that exist, so do the number of possible solutions or methods of dealing with jealousy.

How do you deal with jealousy? Is it something you don't experience at all? Do you believe it to be healthy? Unhealthy?


  1. I think it is impossible not to experience jealousy. And to set a goal of never experiencing it is unrealistic to say the least. Of course it's healthy. A perfectly normal emotion at that. It's healthy in the sense that it serves as a reminder that we have strong feelings for the person we're getting jealous over. And to be quite frank, if my wife and I ever quit getting jealous over each other, I'd say our marriage is near the end of the road.

    When my wife and I get's true we both try our best to hide it at the time. After all, neither one of us wants to be the 'party-pooper'. But sooner or later it comes out. More often sooner than later. And so we talk about it. We talk about what triggered it and how we can change things up a bit to help alleviate it and/or prevent a similar occurrence. I know for me, sometimes just talking about it helps to gauge my own level of jealousy in a particular type situation. If I think I can deal with it, I'll give it another go. Kind of like starting in the shallow end of the pool while slowly working my way to the deep end. My wife will go at my pace and vice-versa. There's certain things I've done with Joanne which my wife acknowledges she can't handle. Therefore, I stop. I don't consider it controlling. Instead, teamwork.

    Therefore, in my book;
    No jealousy = red flag for a relationship. I'd bet money on that.

  2. Hi Marco,
    Thanks for the comment!

    I know what you mean about being a 'party-pooper'. If I'm in a group situation and start to feel jealousy unless there is a classy way to step out of the situation I will just hold it in to be dealt with later. I dislike doing that but like you, I don't want to ruin the mood for everyone else either.

    I think 'teamwork' is an excellent outlook!


  3. I agree with Marco that no jealousy is a sure sign of a red flag. The red flag is that someone is keeping emotions pent up in a smoldering stew of gunpowder and nitrogen. The final straw could erupt as anger, or physical or mental illness.

    I know that I have had to deal with feelings of jealousy in my current relationship. If my SO is giving his OSOs all of his attention or he is taking them to dinners, to romantic getaways, to movies, or spending four or five hours giving them intimate massages, I find that I start to feel the heat of jealousy boil under my skin. When my jealousy kicks in, I find that I itemize how much time,effort, money he shares with his OSOs, compared to me. Since I clean the house, cook the meals, take care of externalities with the house, do all of the shopping, I expect to be treated like a queen. But when I am observing another woman receiving what I want, then jealousy kicks in.

    When we discuss my jealousy, it is an opportunity to tweak our relationship. Sometimes, it is an opportunity for me to throw a tantrum. Other times, like last February, it was an opportunity for me to have a mental break down.*

    But back to jealousy. Especially in this current relationship, I am consciously aware that my jealousy really triggers something deeper than seeing my partner giving longer massages, or giving more romance to another woman.

    What is triggered when I am experiencing jealousy? During the last six years, I've been following my jealousy like an electrician who follows a malfunctioning wiring harness. I traced the gremlin all the way to my childhood. Using the jealousy gremlin as a friend, I was led to the day when I was three-and-a-half years old; the day my parents brought my baby brother home. Imagine my discovery that my jealousy is that of a child. The gremlin took me on another journey. We went to the day that my little sister came home. To complicate matters, when I was six-years-old, my mother's daughter from a previous marriage moved into our house and I had to share my bedroom. It is obvious, that with each new OSO that my partner brings into our home, I re-live my jealousy issues. But now, with so much consciousness around the emotion, I feel like I live a colorful and illuminated life. I identify my child self as the one who is really experiencing the jealousy.

    To sum up the jealousy issue, I believe I use the emotion to sort out and untangle some knots that exist in my relationship with siblings and my parents. Each new episode of jealousy gives me fuel for growth or implosion. Jealousy can be a good thing when exposed under a healthy light.

    *I'm certain that I'll return to discussion about that event in the future. It was not a bad thing, even though a break down is usually regarded as a sign of weakness. For now, we can consider it in terms used by Marco: what happens when someone holds out so long because they do not want to be a "party-pooper."

  4. Kameshwari,

    Sounds like a long journey of self-discovery you have been on. Congratulations on the work you have done and the understanding you have gained. I think personal awareness is awesome!

    I really like what you said about using your emotions to untangle knots.

    Thanks for the comment!


  5. I just can not agree with the statement your friends made that jealousy is unhealthy. How you deal with it is the question to the state of your emotional well-being and the health of your relationships.

    While I feel it is true that some people have fewer jealous tenancies, I don't believe anyone is totally immune.

    In our quad, Chane is the least likely to be jealous (though he has had some moments). I firmly believe that is due to his upbringing and his personality. Chane was not raised with the fundamentalist Christian background that Dirk and I were. He was also a military brat. He moved around a lot both in this country and abroad. Different cultures have things to teach us.

    There is a man in our poly group that really doesn't have much of a problem with jealousy. Not that he hasn't ever experienced this. So, far, all he and his SO has participated in is swinging but are exploring poly by learning more about it. His ability to handle things well appears to me to anchored in some faith in his SO and his self confidence and his real need to see her happy.

    Though both these examples have never denied feeling jealous at some point.

    If someone says they are NEVER jealous it's a lie or they live in denial. IMO.

    For me, I use jealousy as constructively as I can. It's mostly due to an insecurity I feel and I have to determine why that has cropped up. And I know that my insecurities generally stem from my abusive past.

    I try to use my jealousy, though it crops up less than ever now, as eventual communication avenues for my relationships.

    And who likes to be a party-pooper? Not me and that has led to some real problems in the past. I try to have a balance of waiting to discuss things and trying to find a way to get past it at the time.

    Jealousy is the most common thing I am asked about by those outside the lifestyle.

  6. lovingmorethanone,
    I agree with you, I think jealousy is a healthy emotion most of the time. When I hear someone say it is unhealthy I am concerned for their ability to deal well with jealousy.

    I don't however think those who say they never experience jealousy are lying or in denial. I tend to believe another persons emotions are unquestionable. If they say they are having or not having them, I can't be in their mind and know if that is true or not. I have to accept what they are saying and try to never disregard a persons emotions.
    That said, someone saying they never experience jealousy is a big yellow Caution sign in my mind.


  7. You have a point and I think you are right. I was wrong. I can't be inside their head either. But I will be leery of such statements. The Caution sign would probably be more like a flashing caution light in my mind. LOL.

  8. Lovingmovethanone,
    Thanks for the comment I'm going to keep my eye out for that flashing caution light!


  9. In my household we make a very clear distinction between Envy ("can I have some of that too, please?") and Jealousy ("Can I keep that ALL TO MYSELF?") - I think a lot of people don't make the same distinction in meaning, which is where these arguments about jealousy being healthy vs not healthy come from.

    I think Envy is a very healthy thing, as it teaches you what you want out of a relationship, and points out where your needs aren't getting met (sometimes needs/wants that you didn't even know you had!), allowing you to responsibly do something about that - in the way that several posters above are talking about 'jealousy'.
    Whereas to us, the *only* meaning of the word Jealousy in relationships is the sort that wants to control another person's behaviour, as we have Envy to cover the 'other' kind. That's why we see jealousy as unhealthy, and that's why I say I've never had it. With the innate understanding that my partners are their own people, the idea of keeping them 'all to myself' just feels utterly wrong to me, and always has.

    In summary,
    If you're looking at someone your partner is seeing, and thinking 'I want some of what he/she's having too!' that's Envy.
    If you're looking at that person and thinking 'I want to take that away from him/her to keep for myself' that's Jealousy
    (and an opportunity to learn to grow up and respect that your partner is not a toy)

  10. Amorouspolly,

    Nice comment, you raise some good points!

    You made me very aware that I didn’t include mention of envy in my article. For me, envy is usually a fleeting emotion. Psychologically the two are defined as being closely related and although I personally differentiate between the two, I didn’t see the need for that distinction in the article. Probably because I feel envy is usually either easily dismissed or so closely resembles jealousy I put it in that category. Although I don’t define envy and jealousy the same as you do, I appreciate you pointing out the oversight and differences.

    I found your definitions of envy and jealousy interesting though I’m not sure I agree. Envy is often defined as the refusal to acknowledge another persons achievements or possessions due to the desire to have what they have. By that definition it would be plausible that a person envious of their SO’s OSO might refuse to fully acknowledge that relationship. Something I would think quite damaging in a poly relationship.

    Envy often includes the concept of culpably coveting the possession of another person. Or more bluntly, desiring what someone else has so strongly as to be willing to take it from them by less than honorable means.

    Jealousy on the other hand is usually understood as a desire to preserve a current situation, most commonly by denying change. Denial of change could easily be considered as trying to control another’s behavior if applied to a poly relationship, I do agree with you on that point.

    Personally, if I compare the concept of envy with jealousy using the points I’ve made above I think I would prefer jealousy. Envy sounds more damaging when I consider it includes active denial of another’s pleasure, whereas jealousy sounds more passive.

    I think that we would probably argue the difference between envy and jealousy to the end of time and never really come to an agreement. It would be an interesting debate and one I would love to have!

    When I think back to the reason for this article though, the casual conversation between friends, it is now more apparent to me why a casual comment resulted in debate. It was because we all had different definitions of envy and jealousy. If somehow we could have all agreed on definitions for those words it is quite possible there wouldn’t have been any debate. We might have all realized we feel the same way.

    I could easily see you, Amorouspolly, being one of the people in that conversation who said “I have never had jealousy” (as said in your comment). And I would have reacted with disbelief and the debate would have commenced. Much as it actually did. But now that I understand your definition of jealousy, including the associated definition of envy, I probably wouldn’t have disagreed with you much.

    Regardless of the word used, I think most people would agree that the desire to take away what someone else has is unhealthy. The reason for that desire really doesn’t matter much. It is just plain a bad thing.

    Similarly, regardless of the word used, polyfolk would probably agree that the desire to prevent or inhibit another person from finding pleasure is unhealthy. They would likely agree it is contrary to the concept of polyamory and again, just plain a bad thing.

    That's not to say we can't learn and grow and bring about something positive from either of those situations.

    I don’t know that any definition of either jealousy or envy is completely accurate, or that one definition is better than another. Either way, without common understanding and agreement as to the definition of those words conversation is going to be quite difficult.


  11. Thankyou, and yes, different definitions no doubt stem from different experiences and inputs, and we all have those. If I defined envy in the way you did above I'd see it as a much worse thing, too!

    It's something I'm in the process of learning at the moment - if arguing with people unexpectedly about whether a thing is bad or good, it's useful to stop and check whether you're actually all talking about the same concept!

    I totally agree though, the desire to take away what someone else has is unhealthy. No matter what you're feeling, too, whether the desire is present or not, it's how you act that really matters. :)

  12. Edit: The following comment is from amorouspolly but for some reason didn't post when moderated.


    Thank you, and yes, different definitions no doubt stem from different experiences and inputs, and we all have those. If I defined envy in the way you did above I'd see it as a much worse thing, too!

    It's something I'm in the process of learning at the moment - if arguing with people unexpectedly about whether a thing is bad or good, it's useful to stop and check whether you're actually all talking about the same concept!

    I totally agree though, the desire to take away what someone else has is unhealthy. No matter what you're feeling, too, whether the desire is present or not, it's how you act that really matters. :)

  13. Amorouspolly,

    Obviously I'm still learning to stop and check definitions when speaking with others as well. Forgetting to do that was a lot of what made this article possible.

    And I agree with you. You can call your emotions the Great Bubble-Gum Psychosis if you like, the name doesn't matter. It is how damaging they might be and how you react to them that matters in the end.

    Thanks for the comment :)


  14. really great thread!! thank you all for sharing!!
    i've never replied like this before. i don't know what profile i have. putting gmail because i have a gmail email address.