I’m 19 years old and I recently ended my first really serious relationship that lasted about a year. A big reason we ended it is that I felt a little restless and wanted to explore an open relationship.
I did a lot of research and we both felt comfortable with it in theory but when my partner started having intercourse with other people, my partner became angry that I wasn’t having any feelings of jealousy.
I know an open relationship requires trust and openness but am I heartless for not feeling any jealousy or am I just very trusting? Is there anything I could do the next time I try an open relationship to avoid this?
Not So Green-Eyed
Dear Not So Green-Eyed,
If misery loves company, jealousy loves a full-on dinner party full of miserable commiserators to feel terrible with. The thing with jealousy is that it’s one of those unique emotions that can be hard to put your finger on. When I feel jealous, I’m often like okay waiiiittttt — am I mad? Hormonal? Lonely? Sad? Hungry? Tired? Undersexed? Do I just need to buy a new cute outfit? Like what is happening to my emotional landscape???
Jealousy is an emotion rooted in a lot of other emotions such as fear, dissatisfaction, and envy. It can be tough to figure it out, which I think can cause an extra layer of distress for folks steeping in this green-eyed gooey mess.
Jealousy also carries an extra ick factor because it’s often finished off with a shiny coat of social shame and anxiety. We’re often told that if we feel jealous, we’re doing or feeling something wrong or should “just be more confident and secure” which, often isn’t very helpful when trapped in the throes of feeling it. Similarly, the phrase “You’re just jealous” is often used against people to dismiss the more vulnerable feelings lurking underneath and, contrastingly, touting “I’m just not a jealous person” is often a braggy source of pride.
Basically, jealousy comes with a whole lot of baggage. And it sounds like your partner — rather than being able to say “Hey, the baggage I carry around you having intercourse with other people is heavy and I’m not even entirely sure what’s packed into these suckers. Can you help me out?” — got angry at your personal lack of heavy baggage around this topic.
There’s absolutely nothing bad, wrong, or heartless about your personal lack of jealous feelings. Jealousy is frequently (though incorrectly) taken as a sign that our partners must really, truly like us because they’re so afraid of losing us that they are jealous of any and all perceived threats to our relationship!
However, jealousy is usually an emotion that’s triggered by someone else’s actions or experiences — not caused by them. Jealousy is usually actually about something happening internally within us. It’s not very kind of your partner to want you to feel such an icky feeling though it sounds to me like this is more a case of their misdirected desire to have you give them some kind of affirmation or assurance — they just weren’t able to identify or ask for it very well.
If you’re a non-jealous person who’s dating someone who’s feeling jealousy, especially in the context of an open relationship, here are some ways you might try to support them:
1) Take a non-judgemental approach to their jealousy and remind them that feeling jealous is normal and okay, and let them know that you’re here to support them even if you yourself aren’t feeling jealousy.
2) Rather than react to their anger, respond to their roots. Inquire about what is triggering their jealousy, and what other feelings are swimming beneath the surface of their jealousy such as fear of abandonment or comparison to others.
3) Ask how you can help without taking on the responsibility to fix the problem. Great ways to help include offering reassurance or cuddles, or simply listening empathetically. Just remember that if a partner is wielding their own jealousy or anger as a way to control or manipulate you, something else might be very off about the foundation of the relationship that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.