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Is Jealousy Ever Healthy in a Relationship?

Updated: Aug 22, 2022


The above image was posted on a poly board I am a part of and it started a short conversation. I had more to say about it than a Facebook post, so I am opting to post it here.

For people who practice poly or non-monogamy (not the same thing) jealousy can be an issue. It is the same in monogamous relationships, except in monogamous relationships jealousy is seen as both normal and desirable. Jealousy, in the broader culture, tends to represent desire to be with someone, intense love, and “true love.”

Unpacking Jealousy

Let’s unpack jealousy, and by that I mean let’s look at its symbolic meaning versus what it really is.

In the predominant American culture, jealously symbolizes love. Think about popular scenes in movies, television, and music. Here are a few to consider. The moment one partner realizes their other partner has things in their house/apartment from prior relationships: books, throws, pictures, memorabilia. The first partner then demands the second partner rid the house of everything from former relationships. There is a crisis, but about 90 percent of the time, the items get discarded.

Or, look at the scenes where partners interact with the larger world. There is the version where the guy checks out another girl when the couple is out and the partner female gets irate that “her man” could “even look at another girl!” Or, there is the version where there is a harmless work flirtation. The partner not being flirted with freaks out and bans the partner being flirted with from being alone or around that other person. The jealousy and possessiveness behind these scenes is supposed to represent what happens with people fall in love and become insanely possessive of their partner.

Then, of course, there is the glorification of stalking techniques. There are hundreds of popular scenes where one partner secretly goes through the other one’s phone and finds messages or texts or calls from another person and then has to find out if their partner is cheating. Or there is the “follow that cab” version, where a partner sneaks around to follow their love to see what they are “really doing” and if they are cheating. This again, is not portrayed as unstable or creepy behavior, but appropriate for a relationship.

The message people are sent about love and relationships is that it is typified by jealousy, possessiveness and irrational behavior (as seen in the meme at the beginning of this post). But is this an actual sign of love or is it behavior we are taught to manifest as part of being “in love?”

Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Lo ve

For many, many people, there is a strong connection between feeling jealous, possessive and in love. The three emotions are deeply rooted together for some individuals. They develop fond feelings for someone, then want exclusive access to that person and become jealous and suspicious.

I am willing to believe that some of this is based in evolution. After all, in the Darwinian model of evolution, the people who reproduced most win. So, a man would have an advantage if he protected his mates from any other potential mates (at least until his mates can no longer bear children). Women, on the other hand, would benefit from a partner who stays around to protect the offspring until they are old enough to fend for themselves and having a man who was not running hither and thither on the savanna would be an advantage.

This is only one evolutionary model, however. There are other social models that would allow men to procreate at high rates and having a village invested in protecting children would also help them reach a point where they could then fend for themselves. So, until I see more evidence, I will not pick one model over the other. I am just willing to allow that some level of jealousy and possessiveness may be pretty innate.

For me, however, jealousy and possessiveness have never been the markers of a healthy relationship. These emotions stem from other things, primarily insecurities. For me, love cannot flourish in the presence of jealousy and possessiveness.

I have been in some form of open relationship most of my adult life. I am in one now with my primary and I am experiencing a lot of compersion. This is the idea that a partner can be happy for another partner in a love and sex situations. When my guy gets to see another woman he cares about and enjoys spending time with, I am a little excited to hear about their night when he gets home. I like seeing him happy. I know he has spent a lot of his night getting hot and sweaty with this other girl, but he comes home happy and relaxed and that makes me feel good.

That is not to say I do not feel jealous at times. Yes, at times I get a little bent when he is on a date. I have spent some time examining why I am upset and what triggered the jealous feelings. These feelings of jealousy and possessiveness emerged when my best friends clearly excised me from their lives. For more than two decades I was BFF with a gay male couple. We vacationed together. They consulted me in issues about raising their son. We had family dinner on a regular basis, and so on. For more than two decades they were part of my support system. In the past year, they have (for several reasons) decided to break those ties. We still see each other occasionally, but they are no longer part of my intimate support system.

I went through a period where I was grieving the loss of my best friends. It was during times of feeling intensely alone and lost because of their severing ties that I got bent when my guy was on a date. The reality of the whole thing is, I was looking to him to fill the void left by loosing my close friends and confidants. Because he is part of my support network and I care deeply for him, I wanted him to fill the void left by these two other men.

In reality that is not something that is fair to ask of him. He is a romantic partner and not a BFF. These roles are different in my life. He fills the role of romantic partner very well. But, he is not the guy I am going to go get a pedicure with and talk about all my drama. That is a BFF role. My jealousy, however, took a second to recognize this.

Dealing with Jealousy When You Are Poly

Everybody has different ways of dealing with jealousy. There is no one “right” way. I have developed coping mechanisms from decades of dealing with Bipolar disorder. If Bipolar has given me anything positive, it is coping mechanisms for dealing with big emotions.

First, I recognize it for what it is. I admit I am jealous. I don’t try to rationalize or justify the feelings. I don’t try and solve the issues with the feeling. I just recognize it for what it is.

Second, I allow myself to feel it. I have found that trying to shut down an emotion as soon as you feel it only makes things worse. Trying to deny what you are feeling does nothing to help the situation. There is something profound about allowing yourself just to feel what you are feeling. This is true for deep sorrow, anger, happiness, and jealousy (and any other emotion).

Third, I begin to look at where this emotion is coming from. Am I jealous because he is on a date with a woman way more beautiful than me and I believe her beauty will cause him to fall in love with her and out of love with me? Am I jealous because he indicated that the woman he is on a date with is closer to his ideal woman than me? Am I jealous because my sex drive is through the roof and I really want to get laid tonight and his date is interfering with that possibility? Sometimes I find the root right away. Sometimes it takes a while.

Forth, I look at my behavior. While jealousy will arise in relationships, allowing it to shape your behavior often is detrimental. Jealousy is triggered by something within you that feels like you are lacking. Trying to solve this by involving your partner and their behavior will mess up a relationship.

Things like going through your partner’s phone or email looking for “clues” they love you or are going to leave you is a huge violation of privacy. This is never acceptable behavior. Things like demanding your partner cancel dates with the person you are jealous with can only cause rifts in relationships and will do nothing to solve your core issue. Yelling, screaming, crying… all of this is unproductive when it comes to jealousy.

So What Do You Do If You Are Jealous

Figure out your own issues. Figure out what it is that you feel you are lacking. Figure out what your fear is. Then address the core issue. Do you believe your financial security will be threatened if your partner leaves? Do you feel you are unlovable? Do you believe you are ugly?

These are not easy issues to deal with, but they are common. You need to do the work to make you okay with who you are. Jealousy is your issue. It is not because your partner is being a dick. The solution has to be internal.

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