My poly tips for working with jealousy (even if you’re not polyamorous!)

Guest post by Sarah
My poly tips for working with jealousy (even if you're not polyamorous!)
Polyamory Mug from BashfulBatCreations

Recently, I have seen an increase in the number of articles on polyamory and ethical non-monogamy. Alright, that probably isn’t true, it’s more likely a “chicken and egg” scenario: maybe more articles are being written, but probably I’m just noticing them after practicing non-monogamy with my partner for the last two years.

Regardless, I’ve been reading a lot more pieces about, by, and for the ethically non-monogamous. I’ve been thrilled to see some of these pieces being published here on Offbeat Home & Life; pieces like Coming out as polyamorous to family and Why ethical non-monogamy is AWESOME and totally worth the extra effort.

This brings me to a theme I also see a lot of: that non-monogamy requires so much effort — likely too much effort for most of us. And I have a growing appetite for unpacking our assumptions that non-monogamy is so much harder than other ways of being in relationship.

The effort polyamory has required of me has stemmed from learning to better love myself.

I’m not here to tell you that scheduling time with and navigating the feelings of multiple partners doesn’t require a lot of work, or even that I think everyone needs to want to do the kind of work polyamory requires. Non-monogamy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach any more than monogamy is and both require dedication and communication.

I am here to tell you that most of the effort polyamory has required of me has stemmed from learning to better love myself. I am here to tell you that I believe everyone is worth that kind of effort — non-monogamous or not.

Jealousy in non-monogamy

One topic that comes up frequently when talking about non-monogamy is jealousy. Many of us shy away from any scenario that could invite jealousy, which seems incredibly reasonable to me. Much of what I learned from monogamy about how to handle jealousy was to try to minimize any and all exposure to it via the idea that exclusivity is what brings me security in my relationships.

Did I need to become polyamorous to learn that it’s trust and communication that are the bedrock of feeling secure? No. Did a non-monogamous framework still help me get there? Absolutely.

It’s the myths that monogamy is built upon that many of us struggle with.

Ultimately, this is what is at the heart of what I spend an awful lot of time attempting to unpack and articulate: that it’s not being monogamous that is problematic. Rather, it’s the myths that monogamy is built upon (and how successful we are or aren’t at dismantling them) that many of us struggle with.

I’d like to illustrate what I mean by walking you through how non-monogamy has helped me confront my jealousy and learn to work with it in ways that can be applied by anyone, in any relationship.

  1. Reframe, reframe, reframe.
    It’s easy to get wrapped up in thoughts like, “If I’m not the most special, then others are more special, more valued, more worthy, and more loved than I.” This kind of comparative thinking is often heightened in the context of romantic relationships, though it’s certainly not the only place it happens. Hell, these feelings can (and do) come up when a close friend starts spending time with someone new.

    What non-monogamy gave me was simply an extrinsic motivation to confront these thought patterns. It wasn’t until opening up my relationship with my partner that I really felt pushed to actively replace thoughts like this with statements more closely aligned with my values. Now, when I find my thoughts creeping this way, I try replacing that narrative with something like this instead: “Who I am, and my relationship with the person I love, is unique. No one else can replace that.”

  2. Check in with yourself. A lot.
    Often times, when we engage in comparative thinking, it’s a one way road. Recently, my boyfriend voiced that my metas (the other partners of my boyfriend) also have feelings of jealousy related to me and my relationship with him. I was floored when I noticed that it had literally never occurred to me that this was even remotely possible.

    Reveling in someone else’s struggle with jealousy is not the answer; I don’t want to be at the root of these feelings for others anymore than I want to experience them myself. But this told me a lot about how I was viewing myself and helped me see that I had been ignoring my self-esteem as a critical part of the puzzle.

  3. Focus on the here and now.
    I’m a socially anxious introvert — I excel at living in my head and obsessing over things that are not currently happening. When I focus on “what if’s,” I’m really focusing on my fear of things outside of my control and not on what’s actually going on right in front of me. Actively shifting my focus toward the tangible presence of my relationships is a frequently necessary exercise for me.

    The act of demystifying others by getting to know them is a common theme in non-monogamy and can be a helpful tool for anyone if all parties are interested.

    Polyamory has helped me find the right questions to ask myself. For instance, “Is this other relationship that my loved one is in actually taking something away from what I need out of my relationship with them?,” or, “Is there something I need in my own relationship that I’m not currently expressing to my loved one?” This has helped me refocus on what is within my control: me and how I feel about my relationships. It also serves as a reminder that the people I love are wonderful and want to hear from me about what I need just as much as I want to hear it from them.

  4. Get to know what you’re afraid of.
    This tip comes with a grain of salt because it may or may not be helpful depending on who you are and who the other people in your story are. Having common connections doesn’t mean that everyone has to want to get to know each other.

    The act of demystifying others by getting to know them is a common theme in non-monogamy and can be a helpful tool for anyone if all parties are interested.

    Chances are high that if we’re feeling jealous about someone we don’t really know, we’re building them up way too much in our minds. Chances are also high that the more we get to know them, the more human they become to us. Which ultimately forces us out of the context of comparison and frees us up to value and appreciate their unique relationship with our loved ones.

  5. Be transparent with yourself.
    It’s not something I’m proud of, but I have also found myself using comparison as a way to soothe my insecurities. This was amplified in the context of polyamory which told me I really needed to put in some work.

    I’ve now learned to see thoughts like, “It’s okay, my loved one still spends more time with me” as red flags. First, this kind of comparison doesn’t get to the crux of the problem, which is that I really need to be locating my love for myself. Second, all relationships change, and if I fall back on comparisons like this, I’m in for a rocky road if one day my loved one needs to spend more time on a particular relationship, romantic or otherwise. Transparency, then, is really about confronting my fears and negative thoughts with honesty and trusting myself and my loved ones to navigate changes in our relationships together.

Yes, all of this does take a lot of effort. While non-monogamy might have been my catalyst, this journey is primarily about me and the things I am still trying to learn about myself; there could easily have been other catalysts for this kind of self-work in my life and I assume there will be other catalysts in the future.

Ultimately, the best thing non-monogamy has done for me is to give me a different framework with which to examine how I want to be in relationship with others. I don’t think I will ever find myself monogamous again, but I can say with confidence that if I ever did, I would want to take all of these lessons with me and continue the internal journey they have sparked.

What are the catalysts for this kind of work in your life? What are the struggles you encounter as part of being in relationship with others (romantic or not) and how do you navigate them? Do you find yourself pushing against the ways you learned to be in relationship with others? Do you, like me, find yourself pushing against the myths of monogamy or the myths of other social constructs?

Comments on My poly tips for working with jealousy (even if you’re not polyamorous!)

  1. I was briefly poly. I agree wholeheartedly that there are really great lessons in self-growth and jealousy processing that can be learned from the poly community and literature, whether or not you practice.

    But, when I (and I think a lot of other people) say that poly is a ton of work, I’m talking about the more concrete stuff. Managing schedules. Balancing time. So, so much communication, constantly, about everything. Conflict mediation. Dealing with personal crises, health issues, etc. A relationship between two people involves managing one single relationship. Add two more people, one extra partner each, and now you’ve got SIX relationships (maybe 5 if the other two never meet.) It’s a lot. And that’s all supposing that everyone involved is actually doing the self-work, and is emotionally intelligent enough to handle hard feelings productively and communicate effectively… which often isn’t the case.

    There were definitely upsides to the lifestyle for me, but it left me with so little time for work, friendships, hobbies, MYSELF… and so much extra stress and drama and transition-to-be-adjusted-to. For me, it wasn’t manageable long term, though I have a lot of respect for those who pull it off.

    Still, I think everyone in any kind of relationship would benefit from reading More Than Two!

    • My exact thoughts. I almost don’t have time for my hobbies and long-term projects nowadays… and I just got only one girl to take care! (And I say take care in the emotional sense, she’s a strong, independent woman with a job and a life outside our relationship). If someday scientists presents us a fully functional slowing time machine, maybe I could give it a try, but until then… Anyway, if it works for you, go ahead! It’s just not my cup of tea.

  2. All of this.
    I think that being Poly is a LOT of work. But 100% of it is the work of being human, and on a journey. And my past monogamous relationships were a LOT of work, and that work was also about me leaning to be me, love me, communicate my needs, unpack my expectations.
    Unpacking non/monogamy intersecting with unpacking purity/rape culture, patriarchy, objectification and scarcity/possessive orientation is a lot of work. But if I ever imagine myself in an exclusive relationship, I imagine it with all that I’ve learned— where we appreciate and learn about each other, keep our hearts open (even if our relationship is t), stay curious and grow, together and individually. And mostly, where my value is intrinsic, not the rollercoaster of needing my partner’s affirmation to remain intact.
    My sisters are on their own journeys, learning similar things in technically monogamous relationships. We are able to share and compare our experiences and grow together.

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