Managing Jealousy and Setting Boundaries

Ethical non-monogamy offers high risk/high reward returns on the happiness offered by human relationships.  And the hardest thing to manage is that often gut wrenching emotion: jealousy.

Jealousy is linked to both:

  • Our self-esteem.  Can we still feel really special and unique when someone we care about is spending time with another?
  • Fear of losing our partner.

Imagine a world in which we are all highly advanced souls … we are confident in who we each are as individuals and  confident in our relationships with others without having to exclusively own them.

We can feel happy for significant others’ happiness when they meet someone else and are buzzing with ‘new relationship energy’.

The reality is that none of us is a fully advanced soul and few non-monogamous relationships are so secure that jealousy is not felt.  Instead it is acknowledged and managed.  At one extreme the experience may be so painful that we want to curl up in a dark corner and die and even end the relationship to escape the pain and uncertainty.  Or perhaps we simply do not feel very happy during the periods our loved one is with someone else.

The trick is to try to acknowledge and live through the emotions but not let them control your actions – which is a learned skill we can get better at over time.  The website has some good guidance on managing jealousy.  One key message is that it is important to acknowledge that one’s jealous feelings, whilst very painful, are not necessary logical or based on reality.  Also, it is suggested, jealousy is a secondary emotion – to manage it we should try to understand our unique personal underlying causes/fears and address them with our partner/s.  The good news is that the insights and strength that comes from this process can take us on a great self development journey.

There are an infinite number of jealousy management and boundary options – including but not limited to:

  • Work really hard to make each other feel special and emotionally secure in your relationship/s.  Name and try to work together on the primary causes of the jealousy.  Perhaps leave trying non-monogamy for a while until your relationship feels strong and secure;
  • Work really hard to be self-sufficient in your self-esteem (reduce your need for validation from others);
  • Try to avoid keeping scorecards (note that it is often easier for women to find men open to ethical non-monogamy than vica versa);
  •  One or more of you could hold off on seeing others for a while;
  • Have an open-minded good councillor on call (I note the Polyfinda internet site has links to such counsellors but haven’t tried them).  Keep trying different councillors till you find one that works for you (if your feelings are really making you unhappy, go to your doctor and ask for a Mental Health Plan to get some Medicare assistance with the costs);
  • Early in a new liaison, the person who is out with another make contact as soon as possible after the date has finished to de-brief and make sure their partner knows they are still cared about deeply;
  • Introduce the new person to your primary partner as soon as possible to reduce the ‘OMG what if they’re a God/Goddess?’ fear;
  • Time your dates to be at the same time so you can to reduce the frequency of home alone experiences;
  • Treat yourself to a fabulous date-for-one or best-friend-time when your loved one is out with someone else;
  • Only play with others in each others’ presence;
  • Agree whether or not emotional bonds with others are allowed – and whether you can keep seeing someone if you think you may be falling for them;
  • Only allow online anonymous flirting while you both get used to/test the idea;
  • No liaisons with mutual friends;
  • Foreplay only;
  • Short-term liaisons only with people who don’t live within 100km;
  • Don’t talk about others’ bodies or what they are like in bed;
  • Set a ‘not of same gender’ boundary.
  • If the woman is bi-sexual/bi-curious, seek a single bisexual woman lover for you both (dubbed ‘unicorns’ as they are considered to be rare); and/or
  • Have a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ agreement.  Do you need to know everything or does it just make you feel bad when you do?  Probably only works if you don’t live together.  This option allows a sense of personal freedom/being trusted/not feeling ‘owned’ or having to account for every move.  On the down side you lose the fun of sharing some of your fascinating life experiences with your significant other/s.

Working out the right boundaries should reduce the frequency and level of jealousy.  Discussing and setting physical and emotional boundaries is very important.  But this needs to be done in the knowledge that things may change over time.  For the most adventurous of us: we don’t actually know what our boundaries are until we test them.  But trust is a sacred thing and once lost may never be able to be won back.  Whilst boundaries may at times need to be re-negotiated – if you really care about your lover/s you will discuss the option of changing boundaries BEFORE breaking any rules.  Swallow hard and have the conversations.  At the very very least, ‘fess up and apologise as soon as you’ve stepped out of line.

Lots of talk needed. Podcasts on polyamory call the amount of talking about feelings required: “the poly-tax”.  The time and emotional work involved is enough for some people to decide that ethical non-monogamy is too hard/not worth it.  For others it is an investment.