How I’m Working on Myself
So, I’ve laid out my issues and insecurities. I’ve opened up about my deep-seated feelings that stem from childhood. I’ve shown that you are not alone in feeling jealous, envious, and insecure when you are in a non-monogamous relationship. I’ve reassured you that feeling those ways doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be in a non-monogamous relationship.
Now, we are going to talk about ways to combat jealousy, envy, and insecurity. All of these strategies will not work for you, though I feel like the 5-step approach is really useful if you are willing to do the work. What strategies work for someone else might not work for you. There is no cure-all because everyone comes from different experiences and backgrounds. I’ve tried all of the standard advice for dealing with my insecurities and nothing has seemed to stick thus far.
In Part 1, I briefly mentioned some coping strategies for dealing with jealousy. “5 recommended steps to coping with jealousy in an open relationship in a healthy way include: acknowledging the emotions, figuring out where they are stemming from, breaking down your hetero/mono biases, talking about them with your partner, and building your self-esteem.”
As said with many issues, acknowledging the problem is the first step. Do not be ashamed of your jealous feelings or try to deny them; jealousy is a natural reaction to feeling insecure or lonely. Though it is normal to have jealous thoughts, that does not mean that you cannot control your behavior in response to jealousy. That’s where the next 4 steps come in.
First, you need to figure out where the jealousy is coming from. Do you feel threatened? Do you feel like you aren’t getting enough time with your partner? Dig deep into exactly what you are feeling when you start exhibiting jealousy (anger, sadness, irritation) and what situations cause your anger (your partner going on dates, having sex, saying ‘I love you,’ buying gifts, etc.) Whatever the specific situation is will point to an insecurity. And it doesn’t have to stay consistent over time.
For example, when I was pregnant, I was very jealous of my husband spending quality time with any other women. It made me feel insecure about my own worth and ability to make him happy while I was pregnant. I felt that maybe I was too boring because I needed extra sleep or too annoying because I was sick all the time. However, now that I am post-partum, I have switched to being extremely jealous of him wanting to have sex with anyone else. I can clearly see now (after talking to a therapist) that this stems from my insecurity surrounding my sex drive (or lack thereof). I’m tired, my baby still doesn’t sleep through the night, I can’t nap during the day because I also have a toddler, and I feel like the kids are climbing all over me all day. So, I honestly don’t have much of a sex drive anymore, AND I have two men at home whose sex drives haven’t changed. They don’t complain, but I put a lot of pressure and guilt on myself. So, when I hear my husband say he would like to visit his girlfriend and watch a show, the first thing my mind actually hears is, “I want to go have sex with my girlfriend because you aren’t enough.” Is this what he means? Absolutely not. It’s a cognitive distortion, and something I am working on.
Next, realize that you have internalized heteronormative ideas – and challenge them. Growing up in a society that only celebrates heterosexual, monogamous couples as the norm makes it easy for us to get stuck in those ideas. We are shown over and over from the mono perspective that when our partner wants to be with someone else that means that they no longer desire us. Of course, any of us who practice polyamory ourselves know that we CAN want to be with and love multiple people without it taking away our love for another partner. However, because these messages are so internalized, it is hard not to initially react in the way you have always been conditioned.
Next, communicate with your partner about what’s going on. Let them know you are feeling jealous. Usually when you’re feeling this way, it means you need some extra love and attention; so, ask for what you need.
Last, build up your self-esteem by reminding yourself why you are awesome. You are most likely feeling jealous because you feel like this other person fulfills roles that you wish you did. Maybe they are a ‘better’ wife, homemaker, worker, mom, etc. than you. Whether they are or aren’t doesn’t actually matter. Remind yourself what you are great at. Your partner is dating you for a reason. There are things your partner loves about you that his/her other partner doesn’t fulfill.
Keep Yourself Busy
So, all of those steps are helpful for the long-run, but what do you do when you are in the moment? The strategy of keeping yourself busy works for a lot of people (and I feel like it would work for me when I don’t have young children and can actually use that ‘free’ time to do what I want rather than chasing around surly children). The point is, when you know your partner will be gone on a date, plan something for yourself to keep your mind busy. Plan a date with one of your other partners. Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and your favorite book. Have a movie marathon. Hang out with friends. Work on your hobby that you usually don’t have time for.
Another way to address your jealous feelings and insecurities is to do some personal work on them. This is essentially like a guided way to work through the steps above. Jealousy workbooks and the jealousy section in polyamory books can help you to further discover where your jealousy is coming from and give you ideas on how to work on your specific issues.
Of course, you have to make the time to work through these resources, which can be difficult depending on how busy your life is. Or you might be like me and have a terrible memory. So, I can read the jealousy chapter and be like, “Wow! This is spot on! I’ll try all of these strategies next time I feel jealous.” But then a week later when the feelings start bubbling up, I’ve already forgotten everything I read. I’ve thought about writing down the important aspects and posting them in my room or bathroom, which could be a solution to the memory issues.
The Jealousy Workbook: exercises and insights for managing open relationships by Kathy Labriola
Jealousy, Envy, and Mental Illness
Now, people who do not suffer from mental illness may read this and think that getting over jealousy is an easy step-by-step process. As someone with mental illness, I can tell you how hard it is to put these strategies into practice. Someone without mental illness may tell you, “Just do a different activity while your partner is gone,” “Don’t think about it,” or “Learn to meditate.” They might look at my difficulties with putting these into practice as ‘excuses’ or ‘my fault.’ They may say, “You probably just shouldn’t be in an open relationship.”
I’m here to say, “Bullshit!” Dealing with mental illness may add another consideration into your open relationship, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be in one. If you are consciously choosing to be in an open relationship, you aren’t being coerced, you aren’t being forced, then you do you. Is it more difficult for those of us with mental illness? Probably. Sitting at home while my partner goes on a date doesn’t just make me slightly uncomfortable, it can cause me to have a panic attack (though that was when I was pregnant). Knowing my partner is texting someone else in a sexual way can cause my emotions to go so awry that it can mess up my whole day (I suspect I may have BPD due to my issues with emotional dysregulation, though my therapist disagrees and thinks it is just anxiety issues).
Is this an excuse for people with mental illness? No. We just need to work a little harder to fix our jealousy issues and insecurities. We need to be committed to fixing our cognitive distortions, to changing our thought patterns, to recognizing when our thoughts and actions are inappropriate to the situation and actively change them. All of this is much easier when you have the help of a therapist. Of course, not everyone can afford a therapist, so that’s where other strategies come in: like, working through a jealousy workbook and/or talking with your partners or friends.
I’ve been lucky enough to find a poly-friendly therapist in my area. I’ve been looking for almost two years, and she just popped up recently. Honestly, the only reason I even found her is because I was asking for advice on jealousy on one of the poly FB groups I am a part of, and someone posted a link to kink friendly professionals lookup website and told me there was one in my area. I was blown away! Where had she come from?! When had she opened up?! (I later found out she had opened up her practice about 4 months before).
I understand the frustration of dealing with a therapist that doesn’t know anything about polyamory/non-monogamy. Don’t do it if you don’t have to; it’s exhausting. I spent at least 2-3 hour-long sessions just explaining what nonmonogamy is and how it works. Then, I spent the rest of my sessions defending my relationship and dismissing most of the advice she gave because she obviously didn’t understand and her monogamy-centered opinions were irrelevant to my situation and sometimes a little rude honestly. I’m not blaming her, because I understand that she just did not have experience in this topic, and I can’t expect her to magically understand something she has never encountered. I’m also not saying that every therapist with no nonmonogamy experience will be this way. However, you are much better off finding a poly-friendly therapist if you can. It’ll save a lot of session time, money, and grief.
It is amazing talking to a mental health professional who understands all the terminology and concepts surrounding nonmonogamy. We’ve had about 5-6 sessions at this point, and though I don’t feel like I’ve made any amazing breakthroughs, it is still useful to have someone reminding what is and isn’t appropriate behavior/thought patterns.
Remember, jealousy is a normal emotion. You can’t control getting the emotion, but you can control how you act. The more you work on changing your jealous reactions and thoughts, the easier and more automatic it will become as you go on. Try out the 5-steps; work on yourself; employ the help of a therapist, a trusted friend, or a partner. If you have any other advice, leave it in the comments for me and others to read! This is a journey; let’s do it together.