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Five Strategies to Manage Jealousy

Lessons from the cutting edge for everyone.

In my last blog I started a conversation about jealousy and compared jealousy in polyamorous and monogamous relationships. This blog extends that conversation to strategies for people who are facing uncomfortable jealousy. Because this blog is about polyamory, I present the strategies in reference to poly relationships, but these strategies can be useful for anyone experiencing jealousy regardless of what kind of relationship they have.

Below I list five strategies to manage jealousy. The first two come from a workshop on jealousy at InfinityCon in Atlanta this spring.  

1. The Three D’s

DISCUSS: Talk about your feelings and boundaries. Sometimes expressing yourself can begin to defuse pain, and it gives your partner a chance to provide some reassurance by expressing their love and commitment to you.

DISTRACT: Instead of ruminating on fearful thoughts of what your partner is doing with others, do something fun yourself. Go out on your own date, see a movie with friends, take a bubble bath, or eat your favorite dinner.  Do something fun, meaningful, or fulfilling to distract yourself from just stewing on what is happening on someone else’s date.

DO: Each other. Sex, or at a minimum cuddling and affection, can help reconnect and reassure.

2. Anxiety Cards

Wikkimedia Commons, Wes Washington
Source: Wikkimedia Commons, Wes Washington

When you are feeling jealous or insecure and have repeated negative thoughts in your mind telling you that you are undesirable, bad in bed, not as good as her partner’s other dates, and all sorts of negative things, consider externalizing the thoughts by writing them on index cards so you can see them in black and white. Once they are outside of your head, they may seem less powerful and more patently ridiculous scrawled on the page. Then, you can write countermeasures or defensive strategies on the back, defending yourself against the barrage of disdain and recrimination. Next, you can give these cards to your partner who can write their own thoughts on the back of the cards, thoughts of how much they love you, what they love about you, and why they want to be with you. Any time you begin to feel those uncomfortable feelings or think those negative thoughts, you can pull out the cards and have some ammunition to use against the painful self-talk. Eventually you might not need to even look at the cards much anymore, because you will come to know the responses and can use them to defend yourself against the jealousy and insecurity.

3. Invest in Yourself

Jealousy is about what is happening with someone else, and takes the locus of attention from yourself to place it in the external world. One of the primary ways to combat this is to refocus on yourself. When you are feeling jealous, you can reclaim the energy that is flowing out to someone else and instead redirect it to yourself by doing something fun like a hobby you enjoy, learning something new, spending time with dear friends or making new friends, getting some exercise, taking a nap, writing in your journal, or meditating or praying.

4. Face your Fear/Anger/Sadness

In her excellent resource The Jealousy Workbook, author and counselor Kathy Labriola explains how jealousy is almost always related to underlying feelings of fear, anger, or sadness that are the true root of the jealousy which is more of a symptom of one of those foundational emotions. Uncovering and facing those feelings can be the best antidote to jealousy and help you deal with the true underlying issues. Labriola encourages her readers to create a “jealousy pie chart” to help identify and master the emotions that make up jealousy.  

5. Get Support

Jealousy can be incredibly painful and difficult to face, especially alone. If you are plagued by difficult feelings of jealousy, get some external support in dealing with it. First and foremost, talk to your partner about your feelings. Simply expressing yourself and getting the feelings out of your head and in to some fresh air can change your internal experience significantly. Your partner may also be able to offer some reassurance and healing attention to help calm the fear/anger/sadness and reinforce the good things about your relationship. Second, get support from friends and family. This can be tricky if they are uncomfortable with your poly relationship and are tempted to use your expression of pain as an opening to say, “See, I told you so! What did you expect?” If you think your usual/non-poly social support sources might react negatively, then seek out poly community resources like the chat to find support from others who understand polyamory. Good places to find this support are Loving More’s discussion forum they call the Lovelist, and the Polyamory Information Page which has lots of links to great resources. Finally, I provide one-time consultations and ongoing relationship coaching for people dealing with issues related to polyamory and BDSM

When Jealousy is Good

Although the feeling of jealousy is almost always incredibly uncomfortable, it can be a positive signal that triggers self-protective mechanisms. When something is breaching your personal boundaries or acting as a threat to your ongoing mental, physical, or emotional health, then jealousy can make you take notice. The tricky thing is being able to distinguish between the kind of pernicious jealousy that hampers self-growth and poisons relationships, and the protective jealousy that signals a real threat or boundary violation. An external view from a neutral party can offer the perspective to help distinguish between the types of jealousy.