This was the first time my partner would hook up with a new person since we got together. I had done the work to prepare mentally. I knew who I would call if I started to freak out. I wrote out some positive affirmations. I do not own my partner. Developing another connection does not make our relationship any less important. Homeboy loves me. Despite this mental preparation, I felt this older, more primal part of my brain screaming out, “I hope she has funny genitals!” or “I hope our sex is better than their sex.” These were NOT the types of thoughts I wanted to have. At all. Especially as a feminist who aims to lift up other women (and truly believes all vulvas are beautiful!).
Open relationships are not for everybody but for my partner and I, we found the freedom outweighed the difficult aspects of opening up our relationship. We had vulnerable conversations about feelings, discussed boundaries, and constructed an agreement. Now the only thing left was dealing with the green-eyed monster. What are helpful methods of dealing with jealousy in an open relationship, and how do you determine if the positives outweigh the negatives?
What is an open relationship?
An open relationship (or non-monogamy) is an umbrella term encompassing several relationship dynamics other than monogamy. This can include couples that only play together (threesomes etc.), couples who are open to sexual interactions with others but not emotional connections, and couples who are open to sustained romantic connections with more than one person (polyamory). In many relationships, monogamy is implied but rarely discussed more than a simple, “Hey babe, do you want to go steady?” Open relationships allow folks to create the dynamic that works for them. Are you down for your partner hooking up with people when you are out of town but not in town? Are you up for sexy times but not into sleepovers? Do you want to be a makeout queen but only take it further with your partner present? The options are endless in defining open relationships; however, the agreement must be negotiated with your partner to make sure you are both on the same page.
Jealousy and Non-monogamy
Many folks say that they would love to explore an open relationship, if only it were just open for them. For many, the pain of imagining their partner with someone else makes them unlikely to want to take the plunge into non-monogamy. A common misconception is that folks in open relationships are naturally not jealous. In reality, research shows that non-monogamous folks experience a similar amount of jealousy to monogamous folks. However, part of what differentiates the cohorts is that people in open relationships tend to do a lot of work analyzing their jealousy and getting comfortable communicating to their partners about it. As well, partners often work together as a team to help each other feel more grounded in their relationship and less jealous about other partners. This can be as simple as sending a message to their partner when they are on a date confirming that they indeed still love and still care about them.
Strategies for Dealing with Jealousy
Accept The Emotions
Instead of getting jealous and then getting mad at yourself for being jealous, work on accepting your emotions. Emotions are neutral, not good or bad; They simply are. You can’t control how you feel, but you can manage your behavior. An unkind or vicious thought may cross your mind from time to time, but what is essential in open relationships is that your feelings are your responsibility, not your partners. That is not to say that you shouldn’t talk to your partner about your feelings and thoughts, and perhaps even renegotiate your arrangement, but in the end, it is up to you to do the self-work to not blame your emotions on others.
Create Clear Boundaries
Navigate clear boundaries in your relationship that feel doable. For example, are you alright with your partner having one-night stands, but the thought of them beginning another relationship feels like too much? Are you cool with them falling in love, but having unprotected sex feels too unsafe? Open relationships force folks to do some soul searching to discover the minutiae of their boundaries. Don’t over-promise or agree to a dynamic that feels like it won’t work. It isn’t easy, but folks who choose this dynamic have to be open to the challenge of trying a dynamic, communicating about their emotions, and then potentially renegotiating.
Analyze Your Thoughts
When emotions are in the mix, it is challenging for us to be logical in our thoughts. For example, when my partner had his first hook-up, I was convinced that he would leave me. Logically, that made no sense because he was just getting to know the new person, and we were already very much in love. However, your mind can play tricks on you. That is why it is helpful to look for holes in your logic. In my case, I should analyze what evidence is there to suggest that my partner would leave me. Is there any counter-evidence? Is there anything that my partner could do to help me reframe my thoughts or gain confidence? For example, I could ask my partner to text me once during the date to remind me that they still care.
Take It Slow
You don’t need to jump into an open relationship. You can take it slow and explore at a pace that feels right. For example, perhaps the first move is that one partner gets dressed up and goes out intending to flirt. Even if nothing physical happens, the other partner must work on what it feels like knowing that their partner is going out there. Then, you can move on to having partners go on dates and kissing, and perhaps from there, things can escalate if that is within the rules of the relationship.
Experiencing jealousy in open relationships is totally normal. We are all trying to make the decisions to help us experience the most joy and the least pain possible; the question is, does the potential benefits of having an open relationship seem worth the difficult emotional work for you? It may take a bit, but if you can get to a place where the jealousy is manageable and you are experiencing the genuine joys of freedom, then it sounds like you made a solid decision for yourself. If you try an open relationship and the emotions are too painful, perhaps this dynamic isn’t for you, and that is also ok!