We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, onto today’s topic: how to know if you're too jealous for an open relationship.
Q: “I'm coming to realize that I'm a super jealous person. My girlfriend and I are non-monogamous. I really enjoy being with other people, and I can see first-hand that my being with other people doesn't mean that I love my girlfriend any less. As deeply as I hold that belief, I have a hard time applying it the other way around. Every time my girlfriend is intimate with another person, it feels like a betrayal. I get so upset. I've tried communicating with her about it, but it doesn’t seem to help. I always seem to get angry and upset and anxious whenever I know she's out with someone else. I don't want to feel that way. Can I unlearn jealousy? Are some people just not cut out for non-monogamy, no matter how much they want to be and can enjoy the freedom on their end?”
A: Thanks for the question! Jealousy is an incredibly difficult emotion to feel, so it makes a lot of sense that you’re having a hard time coping with this intense emotion. Here are eight things to know if you’re battling the jealousy monster in your non-monogamous relationship.
Remember That Jealousy Is Normal
First, I just want to offer you some normalization: jealousy is one of the most common dynamics you have to deal with in a non-monogamous relationship. Jealousy makes a lot of sense in non-monogamous relationships. While there are some people who genuinely enjoy seeing their partners with other people, most people struggle with knowing that a person they care about deeply is being physically or emotionally intimate with someone else. We’ve been socialized to believe that monogamy is the standard relationship model, and that other people are “threats” to our relationship. Even if you wholeheartedly believe in the philosophy behind non-monogamy, it’s hard to completely remove that socialization from the back of your mind. So here’s the bottom line — what you’re experiencing is totally normal.
Own Your Jealousy
From there, your next step is to take ownership of your jealousy. If you want to be able to work with your jealousy, you need to be able to own it. Like I said above, jealousy is a really uncomfortable feeling to feel, so most of us try to fob it off on our partners. We say things like, “you’re making me feel jealous.” The people in our lives can create or lead to triggering events, but we can choose how to react. Our feelings are our responsibility, and ours alone.
Another part of owning your jealousy is not making yourself feel guilty about it. Most people feel jealous, then they feel guilty and ashamed for feeling jealous. Guilt and shame are just as intense of feelings as jealousy, so this is a lot to put on your shoulders. Instead, tell yourself, “Alright, I’m feeling jealous. It’s OK for me to feel jealous, but that jealousy is probably a sign of something, and it’s my job to figure out what that is and what I need.”
Know That Jealousy Can Be Revealing
Jealousy usually has a way of acting as a mirror, and revealing the things we’re personally struggling with. In other words, we get jealous for specific reasons. It’s not random. It’s important to get curious about your jealousy, and try to uncover what’s behind it.
Consider the following questions:
- What, specifically, is triggering to you?
- Are there certain people or situations that feel more triggering than others?
- What fears come up for you when you’re jealous?
- What other feelings accompany your jealousy?
- Does your jealousy remind you of other times in your life?
- Are you getting what you need from your girlfriend? How is the relationship between just the two of you?
- What do you need from yourself? How can you take care of yourself when you’re feeling jealous? (More on this below.)
Address Your Self-Esteem
One of the most common dynamics that jealousy reveals is a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence. Jealousy can be a signal that we’re not feeling good about ourselves. If you don’t think very highly of yourself, it’s easier to be afraid that your partner will enjoy being with someone else more than they enjoy being with you, or that they will leave you for someone else. Ask yourself some serious questions about your feelings towards yourself. Do you need to put some work into improving your relationship with yourself?
You may also find it useful to find support from non-monogamous communities. It’s can be really therapeutic to talk to other people who are also struggling with jealousy. At the very least, you’ll learn that you’re not alone in your feelings. Do you have any friends in non-monogamous relationships? Is there a support group in your area? Or is there a non-monogamy-friendly therapist in your area?
Re-Evaluate Your Boundaries
Jealousy may be a sign that you need to re-evaluate some of the boundaries or guidelines in your relationship. Just because you’ve chosen non-monogamy or certain boundaries in the past doesn’t mean you need to adhere to those guidelines for eternity. You always have a choice about what you can ask for in your relationship, and you can continue making changes to your arrangement throughout the course of your relationship.
Maybe you and your girlfriend can take a pause on seeing other people for a short while. Maybe you could use some time to focus on your relationship, and get back to a place of feeling really stable and secure with each other. Maybe you want to take certain sexual acts off the table. Or maybe you want to put some guidelines on how often you see other people, like you each have one playdate per month. There are many ways to be non-monogamous.
Examine The Trade-Off
It’s safe to assume that jealousy is going to surface in your relationship on a regular basis. At the same time, you also seemed pretty clear that your values are aligned with non-monogamy. Another sex educator once told me, “if you’re willing to deal with boredom, choose monogamy. If you’re willing to deal with jealousy, choose non-monogamy.” The basic question you need to ask yourself is are you willing to put up with some tough feelings in order to stay in alignment with your values?
Know That Non-Monogamy Isn’t For Everyone
Finally, let me address your last question. Yes, there are some people who are just not cut out for non-monogamy. (Just as there are some people who are not cut out for monogamy.) Or rather, they’re not willing to grapple with the difficult feelings that are part of the package of non-monogamy. I know that you really want non-monogamy to work on a rational level, but it may be that non-monogamy just doesn’t give you what you need in a relationship. I’d advise you to try to work with your jealousy first, but be willing to recognize that it just might not be the right model for you. Do your research, learn about the different approaches to non-monogamy, confront difficult feelings — but above all else, be kind to yourself.
Wishing you the best of luck!