Jealousy Is Totally NormalFirst off, let’s get one thing clear: Jealousy is a totally normal emotion. It’s not shameful, it’s not bad, and it doesn’t mean you’re less evolved than others. “There is no feeling that is off limits,” says Manduley. What matters with jealousy is how we choose to act on it. That’s a loaded topic, because jealousy gets to the core of our societal beliefs about what it means to be in an intimate relationship. In heteropatriarchal, compulsory monogamy—the ideology that we must partner with and marry one partner who “belongs” to us—jealousy and possessiveness are often romanticized as signs of devotion.
Jealousy is neither a blank check to control our partners, nor is it necessarily a sign that we are insufficiently evolved.Many non-monogamous folks have done great work to challenge the idea that we own or have an entitlement to our partners’ sexualities—monitoring your partner is coercive, not cute. At the same time, says Manduley, some people who practice non-monogamy can stigmatize others for feeling jealousy. “They think that being jealous is bad and that it’s just about residual monogamy in your brain,” they say. But jealousy is neither a blank check to control our partners, nor is it necessarily a sign that we are insufficiently evolved. Instead, it’s “a little warning flag or a symptom,” says Manduley. Our task isn’t to ignore jealousy nor thoughtlessly do whatever jealousy says; it’s to get to know it.
We Get Better at Jealousy With PracticeGive yourself time and space to feel the raw intensity of jealousy, without turning it on yourself and others. Thrasher suggests grounding yourself in your immediate physical reality. Take deep breaths; change position by either standing up or sitting down. If you’re feeling tempted to take your jealousy out on your partner, promise yourself that you’ll first focus on another activity for the next five or ten minutes. Thrasher advises getting into hot water. “A hot shower will change your mind.” You can also make a hot cup of tea and tune into what it tastes and smells like, or move your body in a way that feels good. It’s hard to feel such an intense emotion, but it gets easier over time. That’s one concrete advantage nonmonogamous people have when it comes to contending with jealousy: They get more opportunities to consciously build these skills. “Development of this muscle just gets stronger with practice,” says Thrasher.
Break Jealousy Down Into Its “Ingredients”Manduley compares jealousy to a cake. It’s not the whole cake you’re interested in. Instead, “We want to look at the eggs and the flour and the milk and the sugar.” There are many different emotional ingredients that can make up our jealousy. “The emotion that’s triggered is actually fear,” Thrasher says. This might be fear of losing a partner, or fear that we’ll be replaced. We may fear our own perceived inadequacy. We may feel competitive or worry about fairness or equity, perhaps by feeling it’s unfair that our partner spends more time with another partner than with us. Or we may feel a desire to control. Underlying most of these factors is fear of scarcity. We worry that we don’t have enough time, resources or love; we worry that we ourselves are not enough. It’s true, says Manduley, that there’s only a certain number of hours in a day and money in the bank. But fear of scarcity can also be a reflection of past deprivation or abandonment, and of internalized negative messages from systemic racism and gender inequality. To understand whether our jealousy might be rooted in past trauma, says Thrasher, “We scan our memories for times in the past when jealousy has been an issue for us.” This could include not having access to enough food or parental care as a child; it could include being abused by a partner who used infidelity as a tool of control.
We worry that we don’t have enough time, resources or love; we worry that we ourselves are not enough.