I’ve been meaning to write about jealousy for a while. When I get interviewed on podcasts about non-monogamy it’s a question that often gets brought up ‘Don’t you feel jealous?’ And my reply is always the same…
So this article is for you whether you are single, monogamous or non-monogamous. Here’s what I’ve learnt about jealousy and what I know to be true from my own experience.
Jealousy is one of those emotions that people hold so much judgement over. It’s one we tend to keep to ourselves. That we rarely, if ever actually tell people we are feeling it. We fear that it may push people away, or if we struggle with intimacy, we fear it may bring people closer. We worry that we might come across as needy or insecure. We want the world and our partner to see us as ‘together’ and independent - part of our Western idea that living independently is a sign of strength and asking for support or help is a sign of weakness. Well, we know where that has got us, soaring suicide rates amongst men and isolated mothers struggling with their mental health to name a couple of examples.
Our fear of expressing jealousy comes from a number of reasons. The first being that jealousy has had a bad rap. When you look at Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Othello, we have as a society a really dangerous relationship with jealousy. We blame it for overruling our cognitive brain and ‘making us do things we didn’t want to’.
We attach shame to feeling jealous. That it means there’s something wrong with us for having that experience. We get embarrassed about being insecure. I’m here to say that jealousy, like all of our emotions is a great tool to learn more about ourselves, what triggers us, the stories we create about a situation and what we make that mean about us - what is the core wound here that’s being triggered?
When we get to experience our jealousy and also to observe why it was triggered, it’s an opportunity to really get to heal parts of ourselves that fear vulnerability, that fear abandonment and that fear intimacy.
Therefore taking responsibility for our jealousy as our own expression of emotion. That when we share it, it’s ours - this is essential. It’s important that when we do share how we are feeling around jealousy that we are making it clear to the other person that they don’t need to do anything
And that takes me on to the second reason we fear expressing it. Because we fear the other person has to ‘fix it’ or change it or do something to ‘make you feel better’. I’ve talked before about that it’s important to create a space in relationships to talk about our feelings and emotions and just be witnessed in them without needing anyone to do anything. Just being witnessed for expressing how you feel and being thanked for your vulnerability creates a deeper connection to the person who is listening to you. It also means that when you are not trapping it in, you are less likely to suffer from anxiety with it or maybe let the stories take over your thoughts and spiral into a world of catastrophising and drama. I talk about the importance of witnessing here.
When we express it, can we take responsibility for it? Can we own it? Can we offer our feelings without expectation that the other person changes anything that they are doing (unless of course they are behaving in a way contradictory to what you had agreed within your relationship).
Which takes me onto the next reason - we feel we need to fix or do something. When people express their emotions to us, as a society we often feel like we need to do something to ‘make them better’ or to ‘fix the problem’ quite often what we can do best is just hold space for what’s coming up. And know that their emotion to a situation is not necessarily a reflection of you, but more of how they feel about themselves. Can we listen to someone tell us how they feel without needing to fix, and also recognise their vulnerability in their honesty to share what they are feeling?
Which takes me on to the next point - our jealousy tells us something about how we feel about ourselves which feels uncomfortable, shameful and embarrassing. Admitting it even to ourselves, let alone to another means we are admitting that we feel at times insecure, that we might not be enough, that maybe we might be abandoned. These shadow parts of ourselves that we try to deny and ignore are what then become the influence in inappropriate reactions to the jealousy. In a bid to hide or deny it, we may project onto the other person what they are doing wrong or how their behaviour is triggering a response in us. Although we may not be consciously aware it’s jealousy we are feeling (because many of us try not to experience emotions society deems as ‘negative’) our reaction to the feelings means we can get into a state that takes us out of being in control of our actions.
Like all emotions we need space to name them and experience them - and be responsible for them.
When we experience sadness and tears flowing can we welcome this and just give ourselves the space to feel without judgement?
When anger bubbles inside us can we immerse ourselves in it and process it that without projecting it onto others by blaming them and calling names? Can we own it as ours. Can we allow the experience to flow through us but not project it?
We are then invited to get curious about what has triggered the emotion. What am I making this mean about me?
Anger - could it be I feel I’m not considered or valued?
Sadness - Am I unloved? Do I not matter?
Jealousy - Am I not enough? Am I going to be abandoned?
These are ideas - your core wound for each emotion and for each situation that triggers it will be your own, I share some of mine above.
When we notice this core wound, we are not asking anyone to change it for us. That is our work to do. To bring the core wound into our consciousness and acknowledge it’s there and bring ourselves into loving acceptance for those emotions we feel and the core wounds that we carry.
The thing is with jealousy we never really know when it might show up. I’m frequently asked on podcasts about my relationship with jealousy in a non-monogamous relationship. I suppose one of the benefits of non-monogamy is that jealousy is an accepted part of the experience. You know that at some point you are going to feel it. So when transitioning consciously from monogamy to non-monogamy, conversations that you would likely never have in a monogamous relationship you get to talk about. My husband and I spent many months before opening up our relationship exploring jealousy. What we might make it mean. What our fears were. We talked about what a separation might look like should we meet someone else and decide to head into monogamy with them. We had some deeply uncomfortable conversations on both sides. What it came down to with us was that we knew jealousy was going to come up and we would hold each other in that knowing that we didn’t need to fix it in each other.
What I wasn’t expecting in non-monogamy was where jealousy might show up. The first time I experienced it was when a guy I was seeing told me about a great date he had. How could that be? That I so far hadn’t experienced jealousy with my husband, but a guy I barely knew could trigger this in me. Speaking to a colleague who is also non-monogamous, we explored together what it meant for me. I felt secure in my relationship with my husband. Our ability to communicate meant there was vulnerability and trust. That I could fully settle into my relationship with him and feel safe. At the beginning of a new relationship, so much is uncertain. We can only know as much as the other person tells us and their behaviour. Which, as many people aren’t always as open in their communication, that can mean asking questions for clarity or second guessing. I always prefer to go with communication. But as always, with communication comes vulnerability. Vulnerability is access to our authentic self and if we show up authentically and it’s too much? Rejection! Ouch - there goes the trigger of that old wound.
So I’ve learnt that heading into any new relationship takes courage to show up authentically. That if my authentic expression isn’t received in the way it’s intended, it says more about the other person and how they feel about themselves than it does about me.
And jealousy when I was monogamous? I felt it all the time with my husband before. I think that came from the fact that I felt I shouldn’t tell him as it would make me look needy and that he would need to do something. I felt that he might abandon me for being honest. I felt that it was the ‘elephant in the room’ conversation. One we know that’s there but no one wants to talk about in case it upsets the other.
So what’s my biggest take away from my learning experience of jealousy (and probably all ‘negative’ emotions)?
If can own it and love that part, get curious and be accepting, I’m less likely to project it onto the other person.
When I allow myself to feel I am teaching my nervous system that emotions (sensations) aren’t frightening.
When I allow myself to feel, I am fully accepting of myself and everything that I am.
Can we teach ourselves that emotions are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ they just are?
They are a reflection of our interpretation of events based on our past experiences.
Recognising them as such allows us to experience without fear and also observe them from a place of curiosity.
What, if anything, my non-monogamous journey has taught me is that having the difficult conversations brings you closer together, it creates trust and you can literally feel your nervous system relax into the relationship. Having those conversations and talking about all the potentially ‘bad’ things that could happen, means we’ve dealt with it all in a way that we no longer fear it.
Experiencing the difficult and uncomfortable takes away its power. Because what we resist confronting continues to persist in our life until we decide to feel it, bring it into our awareness and no longer let it control us.
So whether you are in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship, I invite you to get curious, communicate and be responsible for yourself.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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