|Posted by [email protected] on February 19, 2015 at 12:00 PM|
The Hidden Gift of Jealousy
A recent set of studies, published in the Psychology & Sexuality journal, and reported on in Psychology Today, has revealed that “contact theory” (which states that the more exposure one has to something, the more favorable one is likely to be toward that thing) is true when it comes to polyamory as well. The study, “How to Make People More Accepting of Polyamory,” found that most people are fairly accepting of the concept of consensual nonmonogamy, although those interested in trying it are much fewer in number. One interesting find in this group of studies was the types of people more predisposed to be accepting of polyamory include those who are more adventurous, younger, liberal, and apparently weren’t as focused on their jealousy issues.
Myth: If you’re jealous, you’re not doing poly right, or you’re not really poly
It is a common myth both in and out of polyamorous circles that in order to be poly, you have to be one of those rare individuals who don’t feel jealousy at all, or you are supposed to swallow it and instead focus on learning compersion (the feeling of happiness as a direct result of your partner’s joy at being with someone else). However, jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing. All of our emotional states exist for important reasons. Our feelings give us clues about things occurring in our subconscious and can help us uncover deeper desires, limits, needs, or areas of confusion.
Myth: The jealous partner must be cut off or broken up with to prevent drama
Just because someone in your poly group is experiencing jealousy, this is not a reason to end the relationship, to request/require your partner to end their relationship with the jealous party, or to disregard, dismiss, or belittle the one having those feelings (Including if that person is YOU!). Instead, this is a prime opportunity to engage in more communication with one another. Allow yourself to open to the possibility that the jealous reactions of yourself or another are rooted in a place of pain, fear, or need. This is a chance to send messages of love, acceptance, safety, and trust. The gift of jealousy is that if offers the opportunity to deepen trust, solidify connection, and create an even more intimate relationship IF all parties can courageously meet the challenge of working through it together.
What IS Jealousy?
Usually, a feeling of jealousy is a result of EITHER a need not being met in the one experiencing those feelings, OR a boundary has been crossed so that the one feeling jealous winds up feeling less secure in the relationship. There can be other sources, but these are the two primary ones, in my experience. So it’s important to ask the person feeling jealous for more information about that feeling and about what has triggered the feeling. It requires the person having a jealous reaction to take a breath and a step back and to seriously and honestly analyze their reactions to a situation or a person to determine what exactly is going on inside of them.
Is There a Need Not Being Met?
We are only responsible for own feelings; no one can make us feel anything. So when we have a feeling, we need to develop the capacity to identify it, express is in a healthy manner, and resolve it. When it comes to jealousy, see what other feeling is also present - it could be a sense of sadness or (impending) loss, it could be grief, it could be pain, it could be fear of abandonment, it could be a feeling of inadequacy or low self-worth, or something else. This other feeling gives us a clue as to what else is lacking for the person, what need isn’t being met. This feeling could be compounded if the jealous person PERCEIVES that this need is being met for another person by the shared partner. It’s important to reiterate that fixing the jealous person’s feelings is NOT the responsibility of the other partner.
In this case, if there’s a need that isn’t being met, having an open and honest and non-blaming conversation about that could result in finding a new solution for that need to get met, either within the existing relationship or through some other outlet. Discussing the fear or the pain or the need and then exploring options together is the best bet for arriving at a satisfactory outcome.
Has a Boundary Been Crossed?
If the issue is more about boundaries being crossed, it’s very important to examine what lines might have been violated and if those lines had been explicitly agreed to by all parties, or if they were implicit boundaries, assumed to be understood and accepted by all parties. If the case is the latter, then the conversation needs to be about renegotiating boundaries, being very careful to be extremely explicit and detailed oriented in the discussion. Sometimes this means getting all the way down to defining terminology to make sure everyone is on the same page with what certain words (like “intimacy” actually mean. I’ve known some larger polyamorous households that created their own dictionary, where they would have a family meeting to discuss and come to agreement on whatever tricky words had come up for them.
If the issue is the former, and someone has crossed a line that was specifically and explicitly agreed to, then the focus must shift to the offending party. It is still the responsibility of each individual to manage their own emotional state, but the one who crossed the line must now be honest both within themselves and with their partner(s). What happened to facilitate that boundary-crossing and what can be done to mend the trust that crossing has caused?
No Matter What, Stay True to Yourself & Open to Hearing the Other
These are very difficult and delicate discussions. No matter what is going on to cause the jealousy, it is so very important for everyone involved to be true to themselves while being as open as possible to hearing the other(s) out. It’s important to give the benefit of the doubt; in most relationships, the partners are not trying to hurt each other, that was not the intent, but rather an unforeseen or unexpected consequence of getting some other need met.
Can You Ever Go Back to the Way It Was? Should You Even Want To?
All of the so-called “negative” emotions have a reason to exist, a purpose in our lives and relationships. The complex set of feelings we call “jealousy” combine to become a red flag. What need may not be getting met? What fear may have been triggered? What boundary might have been crossed? These are the places to start. And there is help...you don’t have to wade these murky waters alone. A coach like myself can help your family navigate this dark and bumpy terrain so that you wind up back in a place that is good for all involved. I can’t promise your relationship will return to the way it was. In fact, that’s nearly impossible. You know that old saying, “You can’t step in the same river twice” ? Anytime something difficult happens, it changes the people involved. This is an opportunity for growth. What can you do to facilitate the growth process?