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Jul 21, 2021

How to confront and conquer jealousy

Because it's oh-too human to sense the green-eyed monster ...

By Abby Moss

When my partner of eight years and I started discussing having a threesome, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel seeing him with someone else. I expected to feel at least some jealousy in the bedroom, but I knew I wouldn’t know for sure until it was happening. Flash forward a year and I’m in a committed throuple. Sexually, I experienced no jealousy at all when we first met Andrea. In fact, the lack of jealousy I felt around sex surprised me. 

But then six months into our relationship they started working out together, and that was a whole other story. I knew it was totally illogical: here were two people who I’d seen fucking (and loved it!) but watching them lifting weights together almost brought me to tears. I went out by myself for a walk to think things through. I knew I had to figure out what was going on. Figure out the real reason, deep down, that this seemingly innocent thing had upset me. 

Jealousy is a normal human feeling and it can rear its head at the most unexpected times. And almost always the reason for the jealousy has nothing to do with what is actually happening in reality. I realised this that day. 

On my walk I thought carefully about why I’d felt jealous and I realised that, deep down, I suddenly felt like the underdog. I felt like Andrea was showing me up. That my partner was more impressed with her than with me. That she was a superior woman because she can lift and has abs. These are not things I want to believe. Hell, they aren’t things I believe. 

And once I’d climbed into my brain and plucked out these warped and socially constructed beliefs and had a good hard look at them, I started to see how ridiculous they were. I went home and explained my feelings to my partners. Of course Andrea wasn’t trying to show me up, and she was understandably upset I’d ever felt that way. And of course Paul isn’t going to run off with her just because they share this interest (if that were the case he’d have run off with his personal trainer months ago). I’d created a narrative in my mind, one influenced by toxic representations of women and relationships in film and on TV and in countless magazines. 

But with good communication I quickly saw that it was no more real than Kim Kardashian’s lips. Ok, so that’s a weirdly specific example from my relationship. But a lot of experiences around jealousy work in the same way. They’re usually rooted in an insecurity you have, one that might be influenced by society, popular culture, beliefs you were taught growing up, hang ups from previous relationships, the list goes on. But with a bit of introspection and a lot of communication, they can be overcome. 

Here are our tips on how to confront and conquer jealousy:

Don’t feel ashamed of jealousy

It’s ok to feel jealous and you don’t need to apologise for feeling this way. At the same time, jealousy isn’t necessarily a reason to pull the breaks on an experience. Like any emotion, it’s worth sitting with it for a while. Think about what’s provoked the feelings and whether you’re happy to work through them.

Always, always, always communicate

The only way to truly overcome jealousy is to talk about it. This can be scary because it makes you vulnerable and oftentimes people don’t want to admit to negative feelings in a relationship for fear of upsetting someone else. When you talk about jealousy, be careful not to ascribe blame. Rather, discuss the fact that you felt that way, and try to talk about why that might be, and what you can all do moving forward to make everyone feel more comfortable. Sitting alone with your feelings of jealousy for too long is a sure way to make them mutate into something bigger and much more difficult to deal with.

Apologise for actions, but not feelings

Say your feelings of jealousy bubble over one day and you end up saying something hurtful to your partner(s), you might want to apologise for what you said, but remember that this doesn’t deal with the feeling, which is likely to still be there. Apologise for what you did, but not the way you feel. Your feelings are valid and worthy of respect and discussion.

Setting boundaries can help manage jealousy

Setting boundaries is an important way to manage feelings of jealousy, especially if you’re new to opening up your relationship and are unsure how you’re going to feel. When setting a boundary, try to think about why this is important to you and communicate this with your partner(s). Understanding why someone has a boundary is important, especially if it’s one you don’t share yourself. It’s really important to have this discussion early on, as early as before your first IRL date even, to avoid getting off on the wrong foot and having to course correct very early on.

Remain open, things change

In relationships sometimes things change, and no matter how much you plan, you can’t always see everything coming. When unexpected situations or feelings arise, try not to respond in a knee-jerk way. Don’t immediately and without thinking refer back to the rules you and your partner(s) may have laid out months ago. Instead, take a moment to consider how this makes you feel today. If you feel the same, if your boundary has not changed and you don’t want it to change, that’s fine. Communicate this with your partner(s) and work out a way to deal with the situation. This might mean ending the relationship, or it might just mean reminding one another of your boundaries and clarifying that these haven’t changed. But you might find that you feel differently than you did before. Again, communication is so so important here. You and your partner(s) need to discuss any changes in your relationship and make sure everyone is happy and comfortable with these.

You make the rules

One of the great things about open and poly relationships is that they’re 100% yours to make how and what you want. You make the rules. That can seem kind of scary (and, yeah, there’s not that much out there to guide us, certainly when you compare it with all the self-help books and online guides for monogamous couples) but it’s also very freeing. Remember that YOU are your own guide - check in with your feelings, communicate with your partners and make your own path together.

Confronting jealousy (a mental checklist)

  • It’s ok to feel jealous
  • Communication is key
  • Apologise for actions, not feelings
  • Set boundaries early on
  • Accept that change can happen
  • You make the rules 

Abby Moss is a freelance journalist specialising in sex, relationships, and feminism. She lives in London with her partners and their growing animal menagerie, and can be found on Instagram @abbyrmoss

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