How to Deal with Jealousy in an Open Relationship
Let’s be honest—the idea of our partners sexually or romantically engaging with others can be hard to wrap our heads around.
I remember the first time my partner slept with someone else with my permission. I found out right before a work meeting, and I did not process a single word of said meeting. The feeling was so all-encompassing that I couldn’t eat my lunch, I smoked a cigarette later that day (I don’t smoke), and I vaguely remember saying something inappropriate to my attractive coworker. It was honestly a painful feeling, but it was also very familiar. The way jealousy is experienced in your body in open relationships is the same as it is experienced in monogamous relationships. The main difference is, in open relationships, partners have intentionally created a space to experience and process jealousy.
Open relationships vs. monogamy
Are folks in open relationships naturally less jealous than those in monogamous relationships, or do they just process the jealousy differently? Research shows that people in all relationship styles experience jealousy. So folks in open relationships are not immune! But non-monogamous folk are typically less distressed by their jealousy than monogamous folks. They are also more likely to process their jealousy and talk about it with their partner than monogamous folks. Psychological studies also show that people in open relationships experience higher trust in their partners than their monogamous counterparts.
How to deal with jealousy
For one, turn off the fire alarm.
Jealousy is kind of like a fire alarm going off in your house. Meaning, before you can analyze what’s happening, you need to work on turning the freaking alarm off! When you are experiencing jealousy, and essentially in fight or flight mode, begin by taking deep breaths. Don’t get mad at yourself for feeling jealous find a way to engage in self-care in order to calm down. Meditate. Go on a run. Call a friend. Take a bath. Smoke some weed. Do whatever you need to do to relax your body and soul. Only after this can you effectively analyze the route cause of your jealousy and figure out the next moves.
Once you have calmed down—it’s time to process your jealousy. Jealousy is often multidimensional. You may be jealous because you feel less confident in your body or work. You may be feeling jealous because your partner acted against your relationship rules. Think about what precipitated the jealousy, as it’s not always what you think.
Analyze your thoughts
Once the alarm is turned off, it’s helpful to analyze the thoughts that brought on the jealous state critically. For example, say you feel jealous because your partner wants to go out with his *attractive* coworkers instead of hanging with you and watching a movie. It’s not too hard for this to spiral into thinking that your partner no longer enjoys hanging with you and is obviously sleeping with their coworker.
When you are in a state of jealousy, it can be challenging to think clearly. However, part of working on jealousy is taking the time to analyze your thoughts. For example, has your partner been hanging with you at home and enjoying your company the last couple of nights? If so, perhaps they want a change of pace. Also, assuming your partner is attracted to his coworker—would they jeopardize your relationships by crossing any established boundaries? Even if you are in an open relationship and your partner hooks up with this coworker—is it likely that this will lead to your partner no longer wanting to be with you?
Spend some time examining your assumptions. Are they correct? Have you talked to your partner about them? What did they say? Slow down and think it through.
Talk to your partner
This is a big one! Before talking to your partner, it’s helpful to ascertain if you feel jealous because your partner crossed the line or because you got triggered. To put it simply, is it a you thing or a them thing? If you feel that your partner crossed the line, that should be addressed directly. However, if you feel jealous but no boundaries were breached, you can share why you feel jealous and express if your partner could do anything to make you feel more confident.
What about compersion?
Compersion is the opposite of jealousy—it’s the feeling of joy because your partner feels happy/connected/satisfied. This term is often used when discussing polyamorous folks who can feel joy when their partner enjoys the energy of connections with other people. Although this is a fantastic ideal, not all folks can get here. For some folks, analyzing their feelings and getting to a place of mild discomfort is as far as they can get and that is also OK.
Research shows that folks in open relationships are just as happy as monogamous people. So the question is—is the potential good of opening up your relationship worth the bad? There is no wrong answer. It is simply about getting to know yourself and what will bring you the most joy. Happy exploring :)
For polyamory: More Than Two
For all forms of open relationships: The Ethical Slut
For dealing with jealousy: The Jealousy Workbook: Exercises and Insights for Managing Open Relationships.
For exploring the fascinating evolutionary basis of non-monogamy: Sex at Dawn
About the author
Niki Davis-Fainbloom (MA) is a sexual educator, writer, and researcher who has facilitated over 500+ workshops and published 60+ articles. She received her Master's Degree at New York University studying the Psychology of sexuality. Since then, she has developed a niche writing content that normalizes and educates about typically taboo topics such as fetishes, polyamory, and pleasure. She has been featured in over thirty magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Mind Body Green, and Refinery29.