Navigating Jealousy and Insecurity in Polyamorous Relationships
Find out what your jealousy is telling you
The very first time I’d heard of polyamory I was wondering whether polyam folks aren’t jealous. An anxious person by nature, I had no idea whether I’d be cut out for polyamory. And the first time meeting my partner’s other partner was nerve-wrecking – I expected to feel all the jealousy feels. Through the years, jealousy certainly has played an important part in my life and relationships, and more so once I started practicing polyamory. So that’s what I want to discuss today: how to deal with jealousy and insecurity in your polyamorous relationship.
Understanding different types of jealousy
Jealousy might sound like an obvious and simple feeling, but it’s actually anything but. Essentially, jealousy is the discomfort we feel when someone else has something enjoyable. But there’s a huge variety of flavors here! Here’s a number of feelings we commonly refer to as jealousy:
- Unmet needs: When our own needs are unmet, we may feel triggered when our partner is meeting their needs (especially if this conflicts with our needs, for instance them having sex with their other partner, but not with you). This may result in envy, where you begrudge the other the things you want.
- Fear of abandonment: While this may feel similar to jealousy, when you have this fear you don’t actually mind your partner’s other connections and what they do together… if only you could be sure this doesn’t mean they’ll leave you.
- Anxiety: Often confused with fear of abandonment, anxiety is more about fear of the unknown. The not-knowing how something will impact you and your sense of control may drive you crazy. This is especially common if you’re neurodivergent and/or suffer from mental health issues.
- Insecurity: Your partner’s other partner(s) might trigger your own feelings of inadequacy, both as a desirable partner and even as a person in general. Notice the word ‘trigger’. The sense of inadequacy is already present, but dormant; the comparison to the other partner is what wakes it from its slumber.
- Distrust: You have reason to believe your partner is not going to stick to the agreements you’re making (whether this reason is valid or not).
Understanding what type of jealousy you’re experiencing is the starting point to getting to the bottom of it.
Feeling jealousy is perfectly normal
Jealousy is often categorized as a ‘bad’ feeling. We’re supposed to be confident! Trusting! We shouldn’t feel jealous, preferably ever (unless you’re part of the cult that actually worships jealousy as a sign of love, but if that’d be the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this). The truth is: jealousy is normal, and it’s a messenger. It’s not a sign of weakness, but it certainly is a sign of… something.
It’s up to you to figure out what it’s trying to tell you. That’s why a curious approach in dealing with your jealousy is most helpful. What is the jealousy really about? Is there some need that’s still unmet? Do you secretly believe you’re not good enough, smart enough, funny enough, sexy enough? Are you scared of the unknown, or of being alone?
- Start exploring your feelings with the following questions:
- When does the jealousy come up?
- Does it remind you of something else?
- Is it triggering scenarios in your mind?
- Do you know when you first started having similar feelings or thoughts?
Our brains are wired for survival. So whatever your brain is telling you about your polyamorous relationship, it believes that the thought or feeling is necessary to your survival. It’s actually only trying to help! That’s why it might help to treat your feelings as information or a sign. Compare it to a message on your computer: pop-up windows with warnings are actually quite useful, but they become super super annoying when you get a 100 of them and they stop you from going about your business. Don’t get angry at the pop-up though! Instead, get to the root of the problem & maybe tweak your configuration a bit.
Unhelpful ways we try to fix jealousy
Fixing the problem is obviously easier said than done. Luckily, there is a number of things that might help you with your jealousy. But first, let’s talk about a few things that (surprisingly) aren’t a great help for your polyamorous relationships.
- Asking for reassurance. Sometimes, reassurance feels like a good way to cope with jealousy, but there’s a nuance here. The reassurance is a bit like clicking the ‘ok’ button on the warning pop-up. Yes, the pop-up disappears… briefly. And then it’s back with a vengeance. Not only that, after a while you get really tired of clicking the button. Reassurance may certainly help in the short-term, but it’s a crutch, not an actual solution. On top of that, if your partner is avoidant, your need for reassurance might scare them and cause them to withdraw. Not saying reassurance is wrong, but it’s certainly not a fix.
- Controlling your partner (or their other relationships). You might feel like the key to your jealousy is controlling what your partners are doing (with their partners). Surely, if you can make agreements about that, this will help with your jealousy? I’ve talked to a lot of people who tried (hell, I tried myself) and it never does. If the jealousy is there, coercing your partner to comply with your wishes will usually only build resentment (surprisingly, on all sides).
In the end, the antidote to jealousy is trust, which is the opposite of control. Luckily, there are different ways you can build trust, both yourself and with your partner.
Navigating jealousy, alone and together
So what are some ways you can build trust in your polyamorous relationships to overcome any jealousy?
Well, this will depend on the source of the jealousy. Here are some things to consider:
- Self-help tools. There are some books specifically on jealousy in polyamorous relationships, such as The Jealousy Workbook and Polysecure. On top of that, there are also books that might help you with different forms of jealousy in general. Personally, I found books leaning on the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment to be quite helpful. You may also want to explore what your ideal polyamorous relationships would look like with our Polyamory Cards.
- Conversations with your partner. Now I know I said seeking reassurance is not the solution one might hope for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate your jealousy together. Especially if you have unmet needs, conversations with your partner might be your key to the solution. And not to blow our own horn, but here, too, the Polyamory Conversation Cards might be a great help, providing you with conversation prompts about the things each of you needs.
- Therapy. Therapy might be helpful to heal any past traumas or learn coping skills, for instance if you’re anxiously attached. It might also be helpful to improve communication patterns and understanding between you and your partners.
- Finally, if you feel like you have good reason to distrust your partner based on their behaviour, this, too, is something you might try and resolve through therapy. If that doesn’t help, sometimes parting ways is the best solution.
You are not your jealousy
In the end, don’t forget that you are not your jealousy, not your anxiety. Sometimes, just sitting down and focusing on the physical sensations of the feeling might help you unclench your muscles and take a deep breath. As you allow yourself to experience what your body and mind are trying to tell you, you’ll remember that you are stronger than whatever unpleasant feelings you might encounter. You got this.