One of the most common questions polyamorous people get from our monogamous friends and family is about jealousy. Don’t we ever experience jealousy? How do we handle the green-eyed monster when we do?
So for the record, yes, poly people do sometimes experience jealousy. I suspect we get jealous about as often as monogamous people do, and over the same things. Embracing a polyamorous lifestyle doesn’t suddenly make you “more evolved” or somehow “above” a “petty” emotion like jealousy. It’s also important to note that jealous and envy, while related, are not the same thing. Envy is wanting something that someone else has. Jealousy is about fear.
Jealousy commonly appears when someone feels threatened, vulnerable, mistreated or insecure in their relationship, or doubts the commitment of their partner for some reason (usually connected to insecurity or perceived or actual mistreatment). But jealousy isn’t actually the problem. It’s the symptom.
The way to address jealousy most effectively is to go after the root cause of it, rather than the emotional reaction. Instead of denial, talk about the jealousy. Figure out where it is coming from, and why you are experiencing it. One of the keys to making a poly relationship work (and this is just as true for monogamous ones) is open and honest communication. That means talking about your hopes and dreams as well as your fears. Whether or not they are realistic or rational.
That last part is particularly important. Irrational fears are much more likely to provoke jealousy. Insecurity and fear of rejection frequently manifest completely out of thin air, with no rational or reasonable basis for existence. Small slights and doubts can quickly become magnified all out of proportion. And human nature drives us to cover up our fears. Embarrassment alone can silence us.
This is not to mean or imply that jealousy is always irrational or invalid. Jealousy, as we said, is a symptom, and it might very well be a symptom of something real and dangerous to the stability of the relationship. Figuring out whether or not it is rational only grows in importance.
If we as individuals can overcome our reluctance to confront unpleasant emotions and feelings like jealousy, the battle is half over. Taking about it will almost inevitably lead you to the source of your jealousy. Is it fear of abandonment? Fear of loss or rejection? Anger or sadness? Feelings of inadequacy? Jealousy is a cover for something else, often with a real or rational basis buried deep down. Dealing with it may require facing some deep-seated fears, over a period of months or longer. Counseling or consulting a mental health professional may be helpful, or even necessary, to get through a spate of jealousy. But understanding that these feelings are common, and point to unresolved fears that need addressing, are critical to overcoming shame, fear, and denial in all of your relationships.