The following content was written by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, CNM relationship expert. Elisabeth is a trusted friend and contributor to the Leveled Up Love community.
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 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 case — 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.
What Does it Mean to Be Jealous?
The meaning of jealousy is to feel things ranging from suspicious to rage to fear and to humiliation. Feeling jealous happens to everyone and anyone, whether or not there is a real threat.
Jealousy can often be a harmful emotion as it is very complex and hard to pinpoint at times. It is most common in romantic relationships, particularly when you see your partner with another person.
What is the Main Cause of Jealousy?
The feeling of jealousy is often driven by low self-esteem or a poor self-image. If you ever feel unattractive or unconfident, then it can be hard to believe that your partner actually loves and values you.
You often question your partner about why they love you and how they could love you when you have low-self esteem. During periods of low confidence, you often feel that you are unworthy of being loved and are not right for the person you are with.
The important thing to remember during a fit of jealousy is that feelings are not always facts.
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 said 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.”
So That’s How That Feels
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 feelings of jealousy.
A typical 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.
Why Am I So Jealous?
The feeling of jealousy happens to everyone. While you may have thought you couldn’t be a jealous person, there is always something to trigger the emotion of jealousy. Often people feel jealous when they have low-self esteem, feel possessive or have a fear of abandonment.
Other times people feel jealous because there is an actual relationship breakdown occurring, such as breaking of agreements, cheating, or poor mishandling of NRE and changes to life decisions.
All of this indicates that while people feel jealousy to different degrees and in response to various 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. Still, 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.