My girlfriend and I have been polyamorous for three years. We have established boundaries and as far as poly relationships go, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. Usually I’m a very low-jealousy partner.
But lately she’s been flirting with this one woman that I think she wants to date and it feels like all of my normal jealousy strategies have evaporated. I can’t stand how it makes me feel and lately we’ve been arguing a lot about this other woman.
Can I ask her to stop seeing her if it’s this toxic to our relationship? Why am I so jealous all of a sudden? How can I squash it?
— Green-Eyed Girl
Dear Green Eyes,
One of the reasons jealousy is known as the green-eyed monster rather than the green-eyed bug is because sometimes it’s just not that easy to squash. More importantly, in many fables about monsters and the heroic, everyday people that conquer them, these heroic people emerge victorious not because they simply squashed the little jerk and moved on with their afternoon, but because they used some combination of life-lessons, insight and witty strategy to overcome their sizable enemies. This is what you need to do with this jealousy.
First: Learning moment! Polyamory, poly for short, is the practice of dating/sleeping with more than one person simultaneously with the consent of all parties involved — so, no, not the same as cheating.
First, no one is immune to jealousy — regardless of what type of relationship you’re in. Not even the best of the best of practicing poly folk can claim to never feel a twinge of envy every now and then. One of the first layers to shed before tackling this jealousy, though, is the shame that often comes with it. You’re not “bad at poly” because you feel jealous. Jealousy happens. It’s the actions you take in the name of jealousy that tip the scales in negative directions.
Which brings us to … No, no you cannot ask your partner to stop seeing this person because you cannot tolerate or handle your own jealous feelings. Controlling another person’s actions with your emotions and/or in order to satisfy your own emotional needs is emotionally manipulative and/or emotionally abusive behavior.
If your relationship agreements with your partner have been violated in some way — ie. Do you have agreements about how new partners are introduced? Are they lying or withholding information from you? — then speak to your partner about that violation. The difference lies in the belief that you and your partner are free agents who can make their own choices and build their own relationships within the boundaries of what the two of you have mutually agreed upon.
So, what can you do?
Conduct an emotional self-assessment. Has anything changed recently for you besides the presence of this other woman? Have you been feeling an increase in any jealousy-feeding emotions like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or insecurity?
Identify some needs or desires you have for your relationship. An increase in communication? Some reassurance from your partner? Then, determine who can meet those needs: it’s best if you can meet some of them for yourself, like going to the gym when you feel anxious, so your partner isn’t doing all of the work to manage your jealousy for you.
Then, present your jealousy to your partner in a way that doesn’t blame her or this other woman for your feelings.
State your underlying feelings clearly — “I’ve been feeling unusually jealous, possibly because I’ve been feeling insecure in our relationship.”
Tell your partner what you plan to change — “I’m going to try to be more clear when I’m feeling insecure rather than pick a fight with you about my frustrations with insecurity.”
Finally, ask for what you need from her — “Could you remind me why you continue to choose me as a partner?”
It can be very appealing to want to push your thumb down on unpleasant feelings like jealousy until you hear a satisfying crunch, but this leaves us with little progress.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex writer and educator living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex advice, workshops, and resources at yanatallonhicks.com.