Anyone who has practiced polyamory will tell you that the most difficult aspect to deal with is jealousy. No matter how much you may conceptually oppose the notion of jealousy, we live in a culture that values jealousy as an expression of “true love,” and even without our societal reinforcement, it seems to exist across all cultures. In a polyamory context, the opposite of jealousy is compersion, a feeling of happiness that your lover is happy with another. The word was coined by polyamorists to describe their feeling of contentment with their mates’ activities.
For people who are part of an existing couple and are new to polyamory, there’s a mistaken belief that establishing strict rules will somehow obviate these base emotional reactions. They think that rules, if correctly structured and respected, will result in a jealousy and acrimony-free setup where everyone happily has sex and lives happily ever after. More often than not, jealousy rears its ugly head, the rules are renegotiated to eliminate whatever action or activity that triggered it, and now under these new rules, it is soon discovered that something else was the problem. After several rounds of jealousy and renegotiation, the growing list of rules, prohibited activities or partners grows to the point where couples wonder why they opened up their relationship in the first place.
The desire to control partners in intimate relationships can be a strong, almost instinctual drive for many. Having agreed-upon rules is a sensible thing to do in any relationship, but trying to legislate jealousy out of existence is a fool’s errand, and constantly tightening the restrictions to try to eliminate every potential source of jealousy is an impossible game of whack-a-mole.
Jealousy is a part of being human, and no one entering into a polyamorous situation is going to be immune. Jealousy is, at its heart, emotional and irrational. Recognizing it as such, and admitting it to yourself and your partner(s) when discussing it or the action that set it off, will go a long way towards fostering the communication that can help allay those fears. Whether its reassurances of their place in your life and heart, a discussion of and solution to a legitimate grievance, or just an open and host assessment of where you feel you’re being neglected, open communication is the bedrock of all healthy relationships.
How do you cope with jealousy when it arises in your poly relationships?