Being that jealousy is often the first topic that comes up when one mentions polyamory and open relating, clearly, there’s a lot to explore there.
We at Leveled Up Love asked five of our favorite top experts in consensual non-monogamy for their perspectives and advice on jealousy and insecurity in open relationships.
This world-class team of poly counselors, educators, and authors shared some groundbreaking and critical advice that we believe will be incredibly valuable to anyone who struggles with this complex and delicate feeling.
And oh my, did we deliver! We heard back from:
- Jessica Fern, Trauma Specialist and author of the wildly popular POLYSECURE
- KamalaDevi McClure, author of 52 FRIDAYS: A POLYAMOROUS, KINKY, QUEER LOVE STORY
- Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., CSE, Expert Educator, Relationship Coach, and author of multiple books including THE POLYAMORISTS NEXT DOOR: INSIDE MULTIPLE-PARTNER RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILIES
- Maria Merloni, Psychotherapist & Poly Coach, and
- Derek Hart, America’s Relationship Rebuilder
The expert consensus was clear: if you think that people in polyamorous relationships are somehow immune from jealousy, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Rather than an “inconvenient” emotion that’s to be denied, ignored, or shunned, our experts believe jealousy should be welcomed as important information worth exploring.
Some jealous or insecure thoughts in open relationships can indeed not be grounded in reality and even harmful to everyone involved. But once we move past jealousy expressions, it’s always worth looking for “the conversation beneath the conversation”, as Derek Hart always says.
Jealousy in polyamory can be a key indicator of two main possibilities.
- A partner has unresolved relationship traumas, perhaps related to abandonment in childhood or adulthood. This is the inside job.
- A partner is genuinely not getting their basic relational needs met in the relationship, In this case, new strategies should be explored. Yes, there is often an outside job.
Now here are five expert opinions and advice on how to deal with jealousy in polyamory from our top experts:
Jessica Fern, MS, Psychotherapist, Coach & Author of Polysecure
The topic of jealousy can be confusing. Culture and society have many mixed messages and conflicting beliefs about what jealousy is and how you should or shouldn’t deal with it.
On one hand, being jealous is equated with true love, so much so that a partner’s absence of jealousy is interpreted as a sign of their disinterest or lack of care and commitment.
While on the other hand experiencing jealousy is also seen as being some version of unevolved, possessive, irrational, insecure, or even psychotic.
Because of these differences, jealousy often gets polarized into either being good or bad–something to be proudly shown or seriously shunned.
From the CNM perspective, jealousy is not a rigid binary or just good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, evolved or unevolved. Instead, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to go deeper within ourselves and with our partners. Jealousy is something to embrace, befriend and get curious about because in its essence it is an important messenger.
Your jealousy is trying to tell you something. Something very important about yourself, your relationship, or your relationship to life, and when you turn towards your jealousy to listen and get curious about what it is trying to tell you, our jealousy is able to be constructive instead of destructive.
So based on this idea that jealousy is a messenger when you are experiencing Jealousy ask yourself?
- What is this jealousy trying to tell me?
- What about myself (possible insecurities, hurts, or past traumas) is it pointing to?
- What about my relationship (possible neglect, mistreatment, dishonesty, partners not following through on agreements) is it pointing to?
- Are there any internalized societal or cultural beliefs that are influencing me about what it means to be a partner, man, woman, or lover?
Learn more about Jessica’s work at HER WEBSITE.
*Jessica is a contributor to THE SECURE POLY COLLECTIVE, a unique set of transformative online workshops to help people break free from jealousy in polyamory and create more meaningful and loving open relationships.
KamalaDevi McClure, author of 52 Fridays: A Polyamorous, Kinky, Queer Love Story
Learning from Jealousy is like a new language
Since jealousy is often an umbrella term for a wide mix of emotions and unmet needs, you may want to ask yourself: Am I insecure? Afraid of loss? Possessive? Feeling out of control? Do I feel rejected, or is this a fairness issue?
And once you’ve identified what is happening, ask yourself is this a pattern? What does this remind me of? When was the last time I felt this way? When was the first time I can remember feeling this way?
The answer to these questions can help you and your partner(s) gain invaluable insights and build more conscious relationship(s.)
And this is not a one time survey, this is an ongoing process. Relationships are works in progress and growth is a spiral path rather than a linear one.
TIP: Suppressing a feeling doesn’t make it go away, it kind of just shoves it into the basement of our nervous system, where it lurks, getting ready for a surprise attack later. I don’t recommend it.
Instead, it’s good to identify the feeling…and feel it by letting the energy run through your body without indulging in the story.
Healthy emotions eventually move and change, however, if it triggers an old trauma and you feel like you’re stuck in quicksand, you may need to call for support to help move through it.
Find KamalaDevi at: www.kamaladevi.com
Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., CSE, Expert Educator, Relationship Coach, and author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families
In the more than 20 years that I have been researching polyamorous relationships, I have encountered numerous people who have reported to me in interviews that they do not experience jealousy.
Initially quite skeptical that these folks felt absolutely no jealousy in polyamory ever, I would pay special attention to them in public settings to observe how they would interact with their lover and metamour (the partner’s partner).
While some of them would act in ways that appeared possessive to me as an observer, others would appear completely unruffled by situations that would most likely have encouraged jealousy in a non-polyamorous situation — or even in most polyamorous people.
One of the benefits of a longitudinal study is that because I can stay in contact with people who change over the years, I can track their evolving ideas. When it comes to jealousy, people’s experiences tend to change over time.
Most respondents in happy polyamorous relationships reported that their feelings of jealousy tended to wane over the years, except when new people or situations popped up that provided fresh jealousy triggers.
Some never feel jealousy in polyamory…
In my 20-plus-year study of polyamorous families with children, some of my respondents reported that they did not experience jealousy. Generally, these respondents also reported that polyamory, or a desire for multiple partners, was a core element of their relational and/or sexual orientation. Many of them said they could relate to the idea of jealousy, but they did not understand the visceral experience, because they were not “wired that way.”
…until they do.
As I have re-interviewed people for my current fourth wave of data collection, I’ve noticed a trend in respondents who previously thought themselves immune to jealousy: They now admit to having encountered a person or situation that spurred their own feelings of jealousy.
A common response for these polyamorous individuals is to have much of their conscious thoughts taken up with the jealousy of the moment, but a part of their brain notices the experience and thinks: Oh, so that’s how jealousy feels. Now I understand!
Once they experienced the searing pain of jealousy themselves, several of these formerly non-jealous people expressed a new or deeper sympathy for their current and former partners who had struggled with the emotion.
All of this indicates to me that while people feel jealousy to different degrees and in response to different stimuli, everyone has the capacity for jealousy. There are differing circumstances that could make anyone jealous, though some people are lucky enough to have few jealousy triggers and do not encounter them very often.
A very few may make it through life without ever encountering a jealousy trigger. The vast majority of humans will have to face jealousy at some point in their lives, whether they are in a consensual non monogamous (CNM) relationship or not.
Dealing With Jealousy
So if jealousy is inevitable for humans and consensual nonmonogamy rubs jealousy triggers in your face, what is a polyamorous person to do? In my research, suppression does not appear to work. Jealousy can be such an intense emotion that suppressing it is generally ineffective.
The jealousy often comes out in other ways but does not actually go away. Rather, dealing directly with jealousy appears to be a far more effective — if potentially terrifying — strategy.
Find Elisabeth at: elisabethsheff.com
Maria Merloni, LICSW, CLC, Psychotherapist & Poly Coach At Connect More Coaching
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that jealousy is a normal human emotion. Not only that; open relationships tend to bring up people’s insecurity and jealousy more so than monogamous relationships, for obvious reasons.
However, in my opinion, jealousy has gotten a bad rap in our culture to the point where we ourselves tend to mentally “beat ourselves up” about it, telling ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel it.
This in turn, makes our jealousy more intense as the jealous part of ourselves feels like it must clamor even more loudly to be heard.
A great place to start when you notice yourself feeling jealous is simply to acknowledge that you have a part of you that feels jealous.
Then, sending some love and understanding to the jealous part of you may help soothe you further.
Find Maria at: www.mariamerloni.com
Derek Hart, “America’s Relationship Rebuilder”
When we broach the topic of polyamory, shortly thereafter, we’re often discussing the topic of jealousy. Perhaps that’s an indication of one of the most complex feelings that arise from joining the world of individuals that seek to create multiple romantic/intimate/sexual connections in their lives.
As with most difficult feelings, such as sadness, hurt, anger, fear, we often try to find the fastest path to moving from struggling emotion to positive emotion. We want to be happy.
I help people, one at a time, or in a couple, or in that fancy term that often applies inside the open relationship, polyamorous world: a throuple. Three people wish to understand each other, wish to know how each is affecting the other. Quickly conversations move to the feeling of jealousy.
I equate the feeling of jealousy closely to the feeling of fear, and fear the most primary of emotions. It is deep in our limbic system, almost a feeling that bypasses all rational thought, skips what the brain is trying to process, and almost literally moves the body itself.
Jealousy, fear: these feelings occur, as they are supposed to, with the imagined or very real threat that another person will take somebody we care about will go away from us.
Many will hear opinions that relate jealousy to having an emotional problem, a trauma that makes you incapable of allowing others to love each other even when you’re not included.
Perhaps this is true sometimes. And it doesn’t matter.
The “why” you feel jealous rarely helps anybody feel better. If you are jealous, that is happening, and it is accurate 100% of the time that you are feeling that way.
In my 31 years of clinical practice, I have found only one solution for the feelings of fear, the feelings of jealousy: to name these feelings, show the emotion underneath it, and hopefully find validation from your partner(s) that you’re having a valid feeling. This is easier said than done in polyamory.
All partners need to be on board with the emotional intelligence it takes to communicate these feelings in a way that includes very little to no blame. This skill is required for success in the polyamorous lifestyle.
Find Derek at: WWW.UNDERSTANDEACHOTHER.COM
The expert verdict is clear: jealousy can be viewed as an annoyance or an irritation, or a tool for transforming a relationship from just having fun, great sex, and making babies, to a vehicle for the root cause resolution of deep abandonment trauma and relationship injuries.
It’s all a matter of perspective on how you choose to define jealousy. If you desire a new, more productive definition, WE’RE HERE TO HELP.
All of the amazing coaches, therapists, and counselors here are contributors to THE SECURE POLY COLLECTIVE, a unique set of transformative online workshops to help people break free from jealousy in polyamory and create more meaningful and loving open relationships.
Leveled Up Love