ColumnHow do we tease apart the fundamental differences between jealousy and desire, when they are often literally and figuratively in bed together? It may seem impossible to avoid jealousy in relationships, but the polyamory community may be able to teach you a thing or two about the green monster.
A thread of fear, rage, humiliation, and abandonment: jealousy is a many-headed hydra that wells up in us from what feels like the primordial seat of our soul. It’s that dread rising up from your belly into your chest. It can make you feel like you’re going to disappear.
It’s easy to assume our jealousy in relationships comes from elsewhere – specifically from our partner’s behavior. After all, advice columns about jealousy tend to rehash the same tired territory. They’re often about an unusually jealous boyfriend who thinks his partner is cheating whenever she’s five minutes late, or accidentally glances at the waiter too long. (Note: that man is dangerous and you should probably leave him at the salad bar.) Can other people “make us” feel jealous? Or is this solely a projection of our own insecurities – relics of patterns that echo our relationship with our parents? What’s really beneath that terrible, if familiar sensation?
How we respond to jealousy says much about its essential source. Sometimes, if we’re with our partner, we say something cutting. If we’re alone, scanning through an exes’ flirty Facebook communiqués with “some girl” we might ask our friend to read them, seeking validation in our growing insecurity cum rage. Post-coitally, we might wonder if we performed well enough with a new or regular lover – is he/she thinking about someone else right now? Did they fantasize while we were making love?
There’s even the jealousy in relationships born of being with a partner who claims not to be jealous. (I have an ex who always said he wasn’t jealous, and it drove me nuts.)
In a culture (now a global culture) in which advertising drives our self-worth, and the concept of ownership informs every waking moment of our lives – is it such a surprise that we’d think we “own” our lovers, too? Compulsory monogamy is a product of capitalism, much the way that sneakers are a product of Nike. Your bare feet may not really need them, but boy oh boy – you believe you do in every cell of your body. Same for monogamous relationships – there’s a growing body of literature about why the marriage industrial complex was born.
You know who has a really sophisticated take on the subject of jealousy? The polyamory community. I’m not poly, but I’m intellectually with them 100 percent – they are incredibly evolved on the subject of sexuality. Think of their stance as the Paleo version of dating, mating, and relating. But even if you can’t imagine yourself ever experimenting with juggling multiple lovers at once, there’s much that these pioneers can teach you about feeling less jealous of your one and only. If anyone knows how to tame jealousy in relationships, it’s those who have multiple partners.
The best way to wrap your brain around the poly jealousy tutorial is to understand a concept that seems to have been invented by them – it’s called compersion. Compersion is defined by modernpoly.com as: “the experience of taking pleasure in the knowledge that one’s partner is experiencing pleasure, even if the source of their pleasure is other than yourself. The feeling may or may not be sexual.”
Ever felt it? There is definitely a learning curve here. Experiment – next time jealousy wells up in you, try flipping the script – what if you could feel joy instead of resentment? Much like meditation, when your mantra gets lost in a tangle of to-do lists and daily worries, you gently come back to it. Try that with compersion. Is there something your partner says or does that makes you smile? A gesture or sound or shows his/her pleasure? Now imagine yourself tasting that sweetness when he is talking to a pretty woman, and potentially enjoying it.
Here is what my poly friends have taught me about taming jealousy:
COMMUNICATE. That’s the key to everything. Don’t stew in your insecurity – talk about it, even if you feel silly. But don’t rage about it – wait until you can bring it up in a sensitive, non-accusatory way. After all – it’s probably about you, not about your partner. Remember that your feelings are rational – because they are your feelings. Don’t be mean to yourself about them. You’re working through them now and getting to the root of the dynamic.
Jealousy shouldn’t evoke guilt, but it often loops back on itself and makes you feel worse than you would if you were simply feeling jealous. Be gentle with yourself – this is a vulnerable moment. And then, when it comes back, as it inevitably will — just try it again. This ain’t your first rodeo (with jealousy) but it can be the beginning of a healthy, human, loving practice. It may do more than just heal your relationship – it could end up healing your relationship with yourself.
Got a question for Stefanie? Email stefanie at ecosalon dot com and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.
Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality
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Image: erin leigh mcconnell