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Jealousy

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Jealousy - the fear that someone will take someone or something away from you that you currently have
Envy - the desire to obtain something that someone else has.

The concept of jealousy is one of the most common subjects to be brought up when people ask me about polyamory. Our society has simply accepted it as a "normal" emotion. We are expected to feel jealousy in certain situations, or else something is "wrong" with us or our relationship. The idea of jealousy as normal is so prevalent that it has been an acceptable excuse for murder!

Jealousy is a composite emotion. That means that it is not an emotion all by itself, but it is made up of other emotions. This makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint the cause of the jealous feelings. Jealousy is typically rooted in fear. As you can see from the above definitions, Jealousy is a fear that you will lose something. Jealousy is often based on fears such as "Fear of Abandonment", "Fear of Being Alone", and self-esteem issues like "Fear of Inferiority", "Fear of Being Replaceable", and the fear that your partner is only with you for what you can do, not who you are.

Generally what happens when you experience a jealous reaction is that something triggers your insecurity, your fear. Your fear is based on some kind of expectation that could be explicit or implicit (stated or unstated) and a real or perceived contradiction to your expectations. In other words, you have some idea of what your relationship should look like, maybe you made assumptions or maybe you talked about it specifically, and now something either has happened or you *think* it has happened that isn't in line with your idea of what *should* be happening. The problem is that our society has trained us to believe that the trigger is the cause of our jealous feelings, and that removing the trigger is the natural solution to removing the jealousy. But the trigger is not the cause. It is merely the catalyst that inflames our underlying fear by contrasting our expecations with the situation. If you see your lover kiss someone else, and you feel jealous, you might be tempted to think the kiss itself is responsible for the jealous feelings. Then you might pass a rule that says "no kissing other people" to prevent you from feeling those painful jealous feelings. But that doesn't make the jealousy go away.

Maybe the reason you feel jealous is because you have a Fear of Abandonment. You're afraid your lover will leave you. This is compounded by an underlying belief that the reason why your lover is with you in the first place is because you have sex, or because your lover thinks you're good at sex. So when you see your lover kiss someone else, it triggers the fear that maybe your lover will like the kiss and want to have sex with this other person, and if your lover has sex with this other person, your lover will like it better and leave you. Or maybe you have attached your "specialness" to the act of sex, instead of believing you are special because of who you are, so if your lover has sex with someone else, then you are no longer "special" because the act can be performed with someone other than you.

Because the underlying fear hasn't been addressed, removing the act of kissing won't prevent you from ever feeling jealous. Maybe the next time you see your lover flirting with someone, it sparks those jealous feelings again. So you pass a rule against flirting. Then some night you see your lover talking with someone and you perceive it to be flirting, so you feel jealous again. But you can't make a rule forbidding your lover from talking to everyone! Well, some people try.

Often times, feelings of jealousy are caused by a belief that our lovers are possessions. In fact, the Mirrim-Webster dictionary includes the defintion "vigilant in guarding a possession". Or that maybe you feel you have the right to be possessive of your lover's time and attention. That your lover owes you their time or their body, that it is your right as their partner to have priority or access to their time, attention, or physical self. Many times, people attempt to avoid the feelings of jealousy by controlling their partner's behaviour instead of exploring their own inner insecurities that may even have impact on other areas of their life besides their romantic partnerships. Polyamorous people attempt to understand what is causing the jealous feelings and to work on the insecurity or misconception of expectations that caused it. This is a very scary, difficult process but the rewards are infinitely more satisfying than the belief that my partner behaves in a manner I have dictated because I have threatened punishment if he doesn't.

When your relationship is based upon the premise that your partner will behave in a certain manner or else you will punish them, well, as one of my former partners likes to say, "that's the same relationship I have with the crackheads in my neighborhood - they don't harm me because I'll call the cops on them". I prefer to know that each and every day, my partners remain my partners because they actively desire to do so, and they behave in a manner that is considerate of my feelings because they actually are considerate of my feelings. I am not so interested in having a partner that has to be "kept" and controlled and maintained. If he requires a set of rules that I lay down for him to follow, that means he doesn't actually want to follow those rules and only does so because I've threatened him with punishment. If that is the case, there is very little to stop me from questioning or doubting the sincerity of his ability to follow the rules since we have already established that he doesn't really want to, he's only doing so to avoid punishment. So, is he really following the rules, or is he just not getting caught at breaking them?

Acting on our jealous feelings by creating rules that limit our partners' behaviour rather than working on the internal insecurity is really just creating a relationship with someone who does not want to be with you or to behave in a manner you wish him to behave, but only does so because you've threatened him. Really, does that make you feel better? Does knowing that the only reason he isn't out there screwing some chick is because you've dictated to him that he can't so he doesn't out of fear of punishment really make you feel better about your relationship? It certainly doesn't make me happy. I would rather understand why his action bothers me and seek to make that action not bother me so he is not required to obey under threat of punishment. I don't want to have to police my partners into behaving according to a set of rules that really are masking some insecurities that are based upon assumptions that aren't even true in the first place. My partners and I are adults and we all deserve to be treated like adults. That includes not controlling their behaviour, and it also includes having an open and honest dialog so that our relationship is based on truth, and not false assumptions that breed fear and mistrust.

My sweetie has written quite a few essays about jealousy, particularly about how to identify and combat jealousy:

Of course, you might find that your fears are totally realistic. If you work hard and unroot the insecurity causing your jealousy, you might discover that your lover really is the kind of person who will leave you for someone "better" in bed than you. Maybe you are willing to put yourself in an emotionally vulnerable position with someone who will leave you for the next good fuck, but I prefer to know when someone is that shallow and I'd rather spend my time, energy, and intimacy on someone who values me for who I am.

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