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The Jealousy Excuse, Can We Please Get Real?

Compersion or Jealousy?

I hear it all the time and everywhere when the subject of Polyamory comes up, “what about jealousy?” or “do poly people get jealous” or the declaration, “I can’t deal with jealousy so I could never be in an open relationship”.  At times these repeated questions and statements are heard so often that many poly people have almost rehearsed speeches to talk to people or reporters about poly and jealousy.

I was reading an article this morning, as is often true the article stated that “jealousy is human nature” and of course this is why polyamory and/or open relationships can’t work.  Jealousy is certainly a part of human nature but if we allowed the fear of the emotion of jealousy stop us from doing certain things, most of us would not have made it through kindergarten.   The truth is that we as human beings can and do experience jealousy.  This started me thinking about the adult avoidance of jealousy and the hypocrisy of many people’s attitudes when it comes to jealousy.  Yes, most human beings deal with jealousy from the time we are small children and we learn both to deal with it and to overcome it.

Jealousy is a strong and often painful emotion.  As children we are told by loving adults to get over it and/or deal with it.  How often do parents say to a young child, “Cindy, don’t be selfish, share your toys with your little brother.”  When our kids experience serious challenge with jealousy, whether it is a new member of the family or sharing toys with the neighbor kids, we as adults try to help them.  We do not tell them to horde their toys or decide not to have another child to save our kid from the emotional pain of jealousy.  In fact the opposite is true, we will put our children into situations we know challenge them in hopes they will learn to deal with the emotions and be a well rounded person.  Most parents do their best to teach their children a balance between boundaries and sharing.  We expect children as young as two or three to deal with this painful emotion and move through it.

The irony is sometimes so astounding to me when I hear someone proclaim that humans just can’t get past jealousy.   Even as adults, we have to learn sometimes to deal with jealousy.  Perhaps our spouse has a demanding job and they love it.  We want them to be happy but we may feel jealous that the job is taking them away.  Maybe your best friend loves to golf and you hate it, then they meet someone who also loves to golf and become close friends leaving you feeling left out.  Human beings may be jealous by nature but they are also intelligent and can work or move through these emotions.

Why is it in our culture that in our romantic sexual relationships we condone acting like the three year old when we feel jealousy?  Jealousy can even be used as a defense for assault.  When a sexual partner strays or cares for someone else, it as if we accept bad behavior because they were jealous.  Yet the pain of possibly losing a friend to golf or a husband to his work can be just as painful.  No one, however, would condone a person vandalizing someone’s car or smashing in their window while they are driving.  This is no different than the child who pushes over his little sister and grabs her toy.  Many would say it is because the stakes are higher but to a two year old that toy is high stakes.

If we expect a two year old to learn and move through jealousy, then how is so hard to imagine that a group of adults have chosen to do the same?  It is not always easy and it can be painful.  You can feel like that two year old who just lost his toy forever as you sit crying and looking over at the brat who has taken your toy.  If we sit with these feelings, don’t judge them and allow ourselves to grow and learn, we can move through it.  This can be made easier when our partner, just like our parents did as children, comfort and reassure us while allowing us the opportunity to grow.

I continue to be baffled by the looks of disbelief when I say many poly people use jealousy as a tool to grow.  That they learn to move through it and that over time it does get easier.  Why is this such a hard concept?  I know that many adults in our world avoid emotional pain at all costs.  Emotions are the water of life and like water, become polluted when stagnant.  Embracing difficult emotions instead of avoiding them keeps the water flowing and life moving forward.  Polyamory can certainly do this but there are many other ways.  Polyamory is just one way and it is not for everyone, but jealousy is a poor excuse for declaring polyamory does not work.  If poly is not your cup of tea then it is ok to own that and say so, you don’t need to explain or make any excuses.

Jealousy is an emotion about insecurity.  It gives us insight into ourselves and information we can use to feel better about who we are.

The next time you hear someone say that poly can never work because of jealousy, ask them if they learned to share their toys with the other kids as a child.  Yes, jealousy exists in polyamorous relationships along with love, understanding, compassion, sharing and compersion.  This is what makes it so worth experiencing for many people; to move through emotions to a place of connection and love and wait for the next wave to crash.

Loving More staff writer – Robyn Trask (39 Posts)

Robyn is the Executive Director of Loving More Non-Profit, a national leader for polyamory awareness, polyamory counselor, workshop facilitator and writer. Since 2004 Robyn has worked to expand media awareness of polyamory appearing in numerous articles, radio shows and TV. Robyn and Loving More were instrumental in the formation of Polyamory Leadership Network. A national speaker and advocate for polyamory she has been a speaker at conferences, taught at universities and been a featured keynote speaker. Robyn has been openly polyamorous for 23 years, raising three children in a polyamorous family. Robyn has been running polyamory support groups, teaching and facilitating relationship and sexuality workshop since 1999. In addition she counsels polyamorous individuals and families. Currently Robyn is working on two polyamory related books.


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Discussion

  1. Venus Aquarius  February 22, 2010

    k.d.lang sings of the “mean, mean mouth of the jealous dog” in her Watershed album. I remember my parents warning me of the Aesop fable of the jealous Dog in the Manger, “one who prevents others from enjoying what one has no use for onself”. According to Wikipedia, Aesop was a slave (possibly from Ethiopia) who lived in Greece in 5th centruy BC. Slaves probably know a bit about jealousy. I agree that the biggest taboo behind the mainstream condemnation of poly relationships is the “law” of jealousy, as if this were as inevitable (and unavoidable) a force as gravity.

    We are challenged to love bigger, and what bigger love is there than to share the one you love with someone else? As you say, humans tend to “avoid emotional pain”. But those of us on the realtionship edge perhaps seek this experience like a boarder seeks new snow – we are into “extreme relationships”, and nothing short of growth, as hard as it is, is worth doing anymore.

  2. Maricela Treptow  March 7, 2010

    Lots of Good information in your blogpost, I bookmarked your site so I can visit again in the near future, Cheers

  3. Michael Stopka  March 8, 2010

    Thanks, Keep up the Great work :)

  4. Marco  March 14, 2010

    Jealousy. A feeling known all too well in my quad relationship. Will it ever go away? Only time will tell, right? We’re dealing with it though.

  5. Vallin  March 16, 2010

    C’MON PEOPLE! If a double Scorpio/Moon-in-Taurus/Venus-in-Scorpio can get outgrow grade-school level jealousy, I think everyone else can…evolve! (Geez, it’s the twenty-freakin’-first century) I’m really only jealous before I know someone really well, so just introduce yourself, and I’m cool.

    I’ve devoted all my dark posessiveness and jealousy to my career. As Lady Gaga said: “it won’t wake up one day and say it doesn’t love you anymore.” Of course I reserve the right to be jealous of people who have better music equipment than I do. That’s what keeps manufacturers and finance companies in business!

  6. Sonya  March 17, 2010

    What I love about this perspective is the way it says “hey, look back, look deep”. So much of our inner emotional responses, such as jealousy and the insecurity/fear cocktail that comes with it, is about the experiences we had as children and old recordings in our heads that were never reprogrammed from negative to positive recordings. I love it. It speaks to the child in me. The child who wants very much to share her toys and make her friends smile.

  7. Dave Morten  April 25, 2010

    Yeah I agree jealousy is a strong emotion but like anything with human behaviour it can be trained to react in a different way. Very interesting post, look forward to reading more of your work.

  8. ammc2  May 19, 2011

    Just to give a back ground, I am in a polyfidelous quad and have been dealing with jealousy for a while. I am going to tell a little story and explain why I think jealousy in a relationship is not a simple matter like when we were children. I will also explain what I believe to be the true underlying issue with jealousy. My friend Sally always wanted to play with my jump rope on the playground. I had learned that I should share and not act jealously, so at recess I would let Sally play with it. Although I wanted to be playing with it all the time, I could withstand my jealousy long enough to let her have it for a time at recess. Here is where the difference is: at the end of recess I got to take my jump rope back home because it was MINE. I could choose not to bring it back the next day if I didn’t feel like sharing. Sally did not have equal access to the jump rope and she didn’t take it home some nights and I took it some nights. Also, my jump rope could not say to me, he I want to go hang out with Sally and then leave me. So let’s get back to this MINE issue. This is where I believe the root of jealousy lies. It is mine and now I have to share it and overcome jealousy. What if it is not yours at all, then what is there to be jealous about. It isn’t yours to share, they are theirs. In our culture we have an obsession with ownership and possession. Maybe if we could root out these ideas, then sharing and compersion would come naturally instead of jealousy.

  9. ammc2  May 19, 2011

    Just to give a back ground, I am in a polyfidelous quad and have been dealing with jealousy for a while. I am going to tell a little story and explain why I think jealousy in a relationship is not a simple matter like when we were children. I will also explain what I believe to be the true underlying issue with jealousy. My friend Sally always wanted to play with my jump rope on the playground. I had learned that I should share and not act jealously, so at recess I would let Sally play with it. Although I wanted to be playing with it all the time, I could withstand my jealousy long enough to let her have it for a time at recess. Here is where the difference is: at the end of recess I got to take my jump rope back home because it was MINE. I could choose not to bring it back the next day if I didn’t feel like sharing. Sally did not have equal access to the jump rope and she didn’t take it home some nights and then me take it some nights. Also, my jump rope could not say to me, hey I want to go hang out with Sally and then leave me. So let’s get back to this MINE issue. This is where I believe the root of jealousy lies. It is mine and now I have to share it and overcome jealousy. What if it is not yours at all, then what is there to be jealous about. It isn’t yours to share, they are theirs. In our culture we have an obsession with ownership and possession. Maybe if we could root out these ideas, then sharing and compersion would come naturally instead of jealousy.

  10. Kendra Holliday  July 31, 2011

    Bravo! Well said!

    “Jealousy is all the fun you think they’re having.”

    The only person I own is myself.

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