I see a lot of material on how to deal with one’s own jealousy when you’re polyam, but little on how to deal with your partners’ jealousy. This is my personal take on it, reflecting my own experiences. I won’t cushion my statements with "I think that…" or "in my view…" this time, or this long toot would get too repetitive; but please don’t take me for any kind of authority, ok? I’m just making it up as I go like everybody else x3
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t blame them for their feelings, argue them out of feelings, or convince them to not have feelings. It’s easy to fall into that trap, because it feels bad for you to be treated as the cause of jealousy; it feels like an unfair accusation, like you’re being punished for loving. If A is going to see B and C is feeling sad because of that, then A (who was happy about seeing B) will naturally feel guilty, worried and sad. It’s easy for A to feel like their time with B was unfairly ruined; that everything would be alright if it wasn’t for C’s dastardly feelings. But C can’t be held responsible for _feeling bad_. They don’t want to feel bad, and they would avoid it if they could. Since C consented to a polyam relationship, chances are C doesn’t even want to feel jealous. But they do. It’s just a thing that happens, and it’s nobody’s fault.
Of course, the appropriate response to that is _not_ for A to call B and say whoops sorry I can’t see you today. That would breach the fundamental boundary: what A does with their time is theirs to decide, what A and B do together is for A+B to decide. C should not hold power over this. But C is entitled to feel sad; feeling sad is not the same as prohibiting. If their sadness reverberates in A, it’s up to A to deal with their own feelings. Moreover, A should take care to treat C in such a way, that C feels safe and encouraged to express their feelings, even difficult ones. That’s one core responsibility of being in a relationship.
The step A has to take in this situation is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in relationships, which is to say something like:
“I understand that you feel bad about this, and I care about you and I’m willing to do anything I can to help you feel better; but this is important to me, and I am going there now.”
If you’re conflict-averse like me, your first reaction is to try to compromise on everything, to please the people, to respect everybody’s needs but your own. I’ve learned (from #relationshipAnarchy) to be sceptical of compromising for love. Maybe it’s ok to compromise on small things, you prefer listening to music on a speaker but they dislike the noise so you accept putting on headphones. But don’t compromise on your values, your boundaries and needs and dreams, the stuff that makes you you. If you are drawn to polyamory, your spirit will wither without it, and you have to make this need bright and clear, draw a boundary around it.
This doesn’t mean you have to abandon ppl at the first sign of jealousy or difficulty, of course. Since you love them, it’s a given that you care about their feelings and want them to be happy. You can and should listen to their needs, make yourself available to support them, as long as that doesn’t involve self-destructive compromises.
(If they are absolutely 100% irrevocably unhappy about being in a polyam relationship, and being polyam is core to you, then it might be a good idea to consider whether you aren’t both better off as friends rather than lovers. But since they knowingly embarked in a polyam relationship, they must have some attraction of their own to it; and then chances are there’s ways to make it work.)
I like to think of listening to what’s _behind_ the jealousy. Jealousy is a surface emotion, like pain; it sprouts from underlying causes. With queer people, the cause is not usually (the toxic kind of) possessiveness, typical of abusive relationships. Rather, most often the cause is insecurity, self-doubt, fear of abandonment: "B is so cool and pretty, there's nothing interesting about me, you'll get tired of me after being with them". If you spot that feeling, think how you can address it without compromising on your time with B. Maybe write messages to C regularly, every day, or before and after seeing B. Tell them not only that you love them, but give them reasons why. Tell them you want to continue to be with them. Demonstrate it with actions. Do that often; fear of abandonment has deep roots and won’t go away easily.
re: polyamory, jealousy
Another common feeling behind jealousy is that of unfairness: how come you’re dining out with them but we haven’t dined out in months? Now this is a bit of a trap – every relationship has different levels of commitment, different material conditions etc., and you can’t approach it like a checklist, I did activity Y with B so now I have to do Y with C and D and F. If C is demanding a checklist approach, there’s a conversation to be had about that. _Why_ is it that C feels like they need all the same things?
Often the feeling of unfairness has some root that you can address. Maybe they’re jealous of your NRE because they miss going on dates, or being courted. Maybe they’re jealous of you living with them because they don’t like sleeping alone and wish they had somebody to hug too. The jealousy might have been triggered by A doing something with B, but it’s pointing to a lack internal to A+C; you can’t magically argue away the jealousy, and you can’t duplicate the same exact relationship with everyone, but you can listen to and address the lack.
Elilla’s personal server.