Strategies for Dealing with Jealousy
Because I'm blogging about polyamory I am obligated by rules of the poly-internet to write a post about jealousy.
It's important for me to begin by saying that sometimes jealousy and uneasy feelings tell us that something is wrong, or that we simply want something different. When this happens, figure out what you need, and ask for it. You deserve to be heard, and you deserve partners who respond to your concerns. If anyone tells you differently, I will fight them.
But, sometimes, you don't actually want anything to change but you still feel like shit. Or, you can tell that you will be ok with a situation, but aren't yet. For some of us, the practice of polyamory summons demons. They are the vestiges of scarcity thinking and fear rooted deep in our psyches, and they balk at being challenged. For some reason a situation might rile up your jerkbrain, but underneath all that you still want to move forward. You know it's worth it.
You are committed to wrestling those fears and insecurities. Great.
But what do you actually do?
There isn't an easy prescription, I'm afraid. We are all triggered and soothed by different things. I have found, though, that there are three main principles running through everything I've stumbled on that actually helps: self-care, normalization, and trust.
And so, here is what that looks like in my life.
As background: I live with my long-term partner, Alexis, and we were monogamous prior to exploring polyamory. At this point I am mostly only jealous when one of my partners is at the beginning of a new, exciting relationship. Given the current lives of my partners, it happens to mostly be Alexis who is starting up a new relationship. I have also been blessed with overwhelmingly fantastic metamours, which I gather is not always the case. Obviously mine is only one perspective, and all of the specifics are particular to my life.
The underlying principles, however, are applicable to many different types of emotional turmoil. I hope that these examples will offer insight and inspire you to create practices that are tailored to your unique heart, brain, and situation.
Wallow. Cry. Pet a cat.
Avoiding these jealousy gremlins never works. I need to lean into the pain, and really feel it. I want to move through these feelings, and to do that I need to get them out of the loop in my brain and into a form I can work with. Sometimes that's saying all the feelings I'm ashamed of out loud, or journaling, or talking to a loved one. Sometimes that means wrapping myself in blankets and crying until I'm exhausted.
Whatever it is, do it. AND THEN—notice that you're still ok. Give yourself a hug, take a drink of water, and move on.
Schedule a simultaneous date - with a partner or myself!
In the early days, Alexis almost always had to have dates in our apartment for various logistical reasons. I saw this as a newly defined amount of free time to myself. I would go out, settle into a coffee shop, and... get more work done. Hello, grad school.
Do you know what's a surefire way to stir up resentment? Hitting your head against qualifying exams in a Starbucks while your partner is in your cozy apartment having a fun, sexy date with a new, fun, sexy person.
You know what is awesome? Having your own fun, sexy adventure while your partner is having a date. I love scheduling dates at the same time as Alexis, and then getting to swap stories and share in some A+ compersion when I get back. And it doesn't always have to be with a partner! It turns out that going to a movie by myself feels like the height of luxury. My lil' introvert heart eats that shit up.
Once I realized that I could reserve that time for something fun, rather than feeling like I needed to use it to "get things done", my resentment vanished.
Meet the person.
If someone is new to polyamory, I gather it's pretty common to not want to meet metamours. I myself wasn't sure that I wanted to. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but damn what a shame it would have been.
I have extremely special friendships with all my metamours, and I would hate to have missed out on that. I could gush about them forever, I swear.
When it comes to jealousy, meeting a metamour helps to disarm some of those more damaging feelings. I don't know about you, but my jerkbrain likes to paint a new metamour as an Adonis who will sweep in and reveal how dingy and inadequate I've been all along (leading to heartache and tragedy, obviously). It's easier to avoid buying into this fiction when I know them as a real individual who eats food, cracks jokes, and has the same taste in cuties as me.
This is what I mean by 'normalize'—realize that you are dealing with real people, in the real world. You can find a way to relate to this person. Hopefully you will even like them! They aren't out to get you, and someone awesome dating your sweetie is not the harbinger of a personal apocalypse.
Be the roommate.
This one is extremely specific to my relationship with Alexis, whom I live with. I am including it, though, because I think the principle is transferable: find a way to observe your partners and their cuties being happy without you, and realize you are not crumbling away in their esteem. The world has not ended.
It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to leave the apartment when Lexi was having someone over for a date, and that I also didn't have to actively hang out with them (although that's fun, too). I have gotten better at being the roommate; I'm around but not intrusive, and their date progresses without me. It helps me see that not only is a new person not a vindictive sex goddess (bad news, traditionally), but they are also having totally normal dates. This is real life, and we are all a part of it. My cutie having a fabulous romantic time in the other room does not erase my existence.
It helps that I have become friends with most of Alexis' partners. It's pretty great when two people who are visibly excited to be with each other also like to make space for me entirely because they want to; they ask me about my day, say 'hi!' as I pass through to get a cup of water, or call me over to play a board game. My favorite thing, though, is to pretend the two of them don't know I'm there at all. I love hearing the distant chatter, the beeps and blips of a video game, and the conspicuous silences (awwwww yeah).
I was terrified of this scenario at first; I thought I would feel sad and lonely. Instead, it makes me feel grounded, at home, and like I'm part of a community. I am neither intruding nor left out. I just am, and they are, and it works.
Talk to my partner.
I am pretty skeptical of 'don't-ask-don't-tell' polyamory. Of course, if it works for you, that's awesome (and I would actually really like to hear about it—leave a comment or shoot me an email!). For me, though, training my brain to see metamours as real life humans is so important, and talking with my partner about their dates is a huge part of this process. If I don't already know the new person, this will also be how I first get to know them.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes hearing about sexy adventures with metamours can be hard. Especially if it's the beginning of a relationship that is quickly getting emotional, that much enthusiasm can be overwhelming. But in my experience, with enough pauses for hugs and reassurances, hearing about dates can be quite helpful—and fun! It brings an encounter out of dangerous fantasy land and into excellent fantasy land, if you know what I mean. In addition to playing into my slight voyeurism kink (ahem), it also makes me feel less left out. I wasn't there, but I can still share in the memory of the encounter with my partner.
Additionally, my relationship style just happens to include talking about a lot of emotions on the regular. I kind of think that my 'love language' (i.e. when I feel the most loved) is when people trust me enough to talk about hard stuff. I always feel honored to get a glimpse into the emotional landscape of my friends and lovers. So, when a partner tells me about their feelings for someone else, the very fact that they are talking to me about the relationship reassures me that we are still close.
Talking with a partner about their ongoing relationships also grounds me in reality because relationships are always complex. If someone can confide in me about the amazing wonderful things about a relationship, they can also tell me about the mundane or frustrating aspects. Because remember, this is real life. Relationships are varied, complicated, and challenging. Chances are good that the relationship between my Love and her girlfriend will have a completely different texture than my relationship with her. And that's a fantastic thing! That's why we're even doing this, right? To explore and delight in the multitude of experiences we humans can have together.
Time will work its magic.
There is a lot of trust involved in practicing polyamory even at the best of times. We hear that so often I hesitate to even mention it. But you know what? Just living as an out queer person requires a lot of trust. I have to trust that my partners love and care for me, that we can face conflict and be made stronger for it, and that I have the capacity to hold all of the love, responsibility, and hardship that this queer life might bring. When I am feeling the darkest, though, it's trust in Time that is both the most key and the most tricky.
As you have probably gathered, when I get jealous my anxiety brain creates a bunch of worst-case scenarios. In fact, my brain does that when pretty much any negative emotion shows up. The most common story I tell myself, though, is that I will never feel better. I imagine that I am horrible for feeling this way in the first place, and that because of this "weakness" I have doomed myself to a life of misery. I've fucked everything up, and it's all downhill from here.
I struggle to remember that these feelings are cyclical; this too will pass.
But, it's gotten easier to get some distance from my catastrophic thinking around jealousy. Now that I have survived the introduction of quite a few metamours, I can track certain patterns. Even if I can't fully soothe myself in the moment, I can recall past experiences and compare them to the present, and that provides its own relief.
My internal dialogue goes something like this:
Anxiety Brain: THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. Everyone will see what a fraud I am and nothing will be good ever again.
Self-Care Brain: Erica. Remember when X entered the scene? You felt like this, then, as well.
Anxiety Brain: No way. I don't believe you. They're the best and I love them! How could I have felt like that about them? It's much easier with X and it was never this bad. This is definitely going to be the time that everything falls apart.
Self-Care Brain: Shhhh. It was this bad. Also when you first met Y, and even Z. It's what you do. Give it a month. I promise.
Anxiety Brain: Oh. Ok. FINE I GUESS. But what do I do until then? IT HURTS.
Self-Care Brain: omg I just wrote a whole blog post about that. Pet a cat or something.
Self-care. Normalize. Trust.
Figure out tangible ways to make space for these processes. Investigate sore spots with open curiosity, and remember to be gentle with yourself. Reach out for affirmations when you need to. Hide and lick your wounds when you need to. Be patient. Eventually jealousy will go from a destructive dictator to something more akin to an annoying acquaintance.
What makes you feel jealous or insecure? How do you cope? Tell us in the comments!