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Being Okay With the Inevitable: Reframing Jealousy in A Relationship

We all get jealous, and, despite how we are sometimes socialized to think that jealousy is a negative, scary, shameful thing, I’m here to tell you that jealousy can actually be a friend.

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to make the grand assumption that you’ve experienced relationship jealousy in your life. Maybe you’re currently in a jealousy spiral and searched this article for some reprieve, or maybe you’ve stumbled here timidly, not wanting to admit that you have experienced this feeling.

Regardless of what brought you here, welcome, and let me start by saying that you’re experiencing something absolutely normal and human. We all get jealous, and, despite how we are sometimes socialized to think that jealousy is a negative, scary, shameful thing, I’m here to tell you that jealousy can actually be a friend.

Before I dive in, let me share more on me: as a solo poly person, who has been practicing relationship anarchy and polyamory for seven years, but living and loving way before then, jealousy is an experience that I am all too familiar with.

I remember portrayals of jealousy in my adolescence that taught me that a boy only really liked you if you could make him jealous; I remember launching myself into deep spiraling pits of anxiety and insecurity at the thought of my partner meeting someone else; and I remember last week, when I was jealous of my best friend’s partner because of the time they spent together.

As someone who has worked hard on understanding my attachment style, as well as investing personal work in deconstructing how I navigate my relationships, I am under no fantasy that jealousy as an emotion is ever going to entirely go away. Instead, when it does crop up, I take a beat to listen to what it’s trying to tell me.

What even is jealousy and why is it so human?

Jealousy rears its head as a protective instinct, showing up when we perceive threats to something we hold dear. The Multiamory podcast extends this definition, discussing in depth how jealousy also comes with the fear that someone is going to take something away from you. However, jealousy is a secondary emotion, meaning that there is always something else underneath this feeling. Knowing how to discern where this emotion is coming from is essential to maintaining healthy relationships with our partners and ourselves.

How can you befriend your jealousy?

Sometimes when I think of jealousy, I think of Scooby Doo. Here me out: there you are, terrified, fighting ghosts and monsters, only to pull off the mask of the demon and find…just an ordinary human! Except in this version of Scooby Doo, the mask is the situation making you jealous and the person under it is YOU with something to say. Remember when I named that jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat?

Well most often, the threat isn’t always the monster you think it is: sometimes it’s you with a mask, scaring you into thinking the worst, when actually a deeper emotion is trying to come out. Exploring this deeper emotion can help you better understand how to manage and respond to your jealousy.

This is why I think jealousy can be a friend, a harsh one, but a friend nonetheless. Jealousy is so often an indicator of unmet needs or desires, or a growth point that needs tending. As was the case with my friend last week, jealousy indicated an underlying desire for more intentional, quality time with my loved one.

Jealousy has also demonstrated to me aspects of my own insecurities that I needed to care for. During a relationship a few years ago, I was hyper-focused and deeply jealous of a partner’s new romantic interest, someone I was convinced was cooler than me. Yet in befriending my jealousy and disentangling the underlying insecurity, I realized I was being hit with the harsh reality that I needed to do some internal work to find what I believed made me cool, and own it. I’ve since started crocheting my own clothes, and I find myself to be very cool for that!

All this said, internal factors aren’t the only thing fueling jealousy. There can be external harsh truths as well. Sometimes jealousy can point out aspects of unresolved conflict or lack of security in your relationship(s). Learning to discern attachment trauma and dysregulation from specific present conflict in a relationship can be supported through working with a therapist, as well as educational resources.

Releasing Control

It is no secret that jealousy has a darker side, one that seeks to control insecurity through control of others. This side of jealousy is the one before the mask is ripped off, the one that is fueled by fear. Although this may sound counterintuitive, the best way to counteract this need for control is to release the idea of control itself, according to polyamory educator Gabrielle Smith. In knowing that you cannot control another person or the outcome of your relationship, releasing control can be a big sigh of relief when moving through jealousy and anxiety.

The most positive, healthy, and secure relationships are those where all partners involved are there because they want to be, and it can be relieving to realize that is true for your partner as well. Besides, regardless of your relationship structure, recognizing your partner’s autonomy and desire for other people is proof that they’re making the active and grounded choice to be in a relationship with you!

Jealousy will come and go, but know that when it does, it’s a friend calling you up and reminding you that the only relationship you can control is the one you have with yourself. So the next time you feel jealous, rip off the mask, listen to what that deeper emotion is trying to tell you, and breathe easy knowing that the monsters will get less scary overtime the more you get in touch with your internal and external stressors.

Photo Credit: Sex Education