Tuesday, December 08, 2009

From a Letter...

...I find myself 9 years into a triad with myself (male) and my original partner of 17 years and our other partner of 9 years and I'm struggling with a terrible bout of jealousy. It's one of those watershed times in our lives. We're opening an art gallery and I just got done with the total renovation of it myself and am exhausted, at least 2 of us are in the midst of an in-depth re-evaluation of our lives and choices, my original partner and I..... wait. ..... blah blah blah..... that has nothing to do with jealousy.

To the point and question, since I know you have a very busy life and don't know me at all.... do you have a way to deal with jealousy when it comes up? I'm 49 and have never really felt it but am having crazy, unsupportable jealousy with one of my partners. I'm asking about everyone I know how they deal with it in the hopes of finding a method that works well with me.

First let me say: you’ve been in a triad for nine years? You, dear man, should be proud of yourself. I think triads are the most difficult of all polyamory structures to sustain long term. So that speaks well for your ability to create solutions to your current issue.

Jealousy is an unpleasant emotion – you know that already. The thing about jealousy, though, is that it’s chameleon-like. It’s a symptom of a problem, but what exactly the problem is varies greatly.

This letter is fairly brief. I think you meant to be respectful of my time, which I do appreciate. But without having a hunch about why you’re feeling this way, it’s hard for me to offer solutions.

Does the partner you’re feeling jealous about have a new partner? If that is so, then I’d give you advice about handling a new person in your partner’s life. A lot of poly people have written about that, though, so perhaps you’ve already read up on the usual solutions.

However, I have seen people become jealous even when their partners do not have a new love interest. You allude to a lot of big life-changes, and then you dismiss them. Not so fast. Those can be very stressful, and they might be causing some generalized anxiety that is manifesting itself in jealousy. Our brains are odd – if we’re feeling anxious about something and we’re not clearly in touch with that, sometimes we unconsciously re-route the anxiety to, shall we say, a different exit. Especially if, to our unconscious mind, that problem seems like one that can be more easily fixed.

For example, someone who recently suffered the death of a loved one might have a flare-up of jealousy. The mind says, “I feel the pain of a loss, and there’s nothing I can do to make that pain stop. I’m afraid of feeling this again. Thus, I’ll attempt to control the behavior of my partner, so that I don’t lose them as well. That will distract me from my pain and soothe my anxiety.”

If you have had some loss, or you think that you might soon have one, then that might be causing this jealousy.

The other thing that occurs to me is: if this is really an unprecedented problem, it's very strong, and it seems to have no very definite cue, then this could be a brain-chemistry issue. Now, I don’t think that every emotional problem must have a pharmaceutical solution. And I am not attempting to diagnose you. But jealousy is just another word for fear. Or, as the medical profession would put it, anxiety. So when I hear “crazy, unsupportable jealousy” one of the possible interpretations I can put on that is: “I’m having intense anxiety, I can’t manage it easily, and it’s negatively impacting my life.”

If the usual methods of handling jealousy are not working, it’s not getting better with time, and the jealousy is really impacting your daily functioning, then my next suggestion is: go to your doctor and tell her/him that you are having trouble with anxiety and you’re wondering about medication.

If you can afford it, I would also suggest you find a good counselor. Finding one who is open-minded enough to not try to push you towards monogamy as the solution to your problem is the challenge here. If you want to see a talk-therapist and you can’t find anyone who seems poly-friendly where you are, drop me a note and tell where you live, and I’ll see if I know anyone. Alternately, you might find a poly-friendly therapist who would do phone sessions with you.

I hope that’s helpful to you.

Links to writings about managing jealousy in polyamorous relations. One, two, three, four and five.

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