How to deal with jealousy in an open relationship
So, it looks like you’re jealous.
You know it’s irrational and unreasonable. You’re in an open relationship, and he’s been faithful to the rules and boundaries you set out together. But the thought of him with another guy is still driving you insane, and you can’t stop thinking about it. Surely this shouldn’t be happening, right? Isn’t this the point of an open relationship — you give each other permission to have sex with other people without guilt or jealousy?
Contrary to what you might think, your jealousy function doesn’t get switched off when you start a non-monogamous relationship. Actually, you could find yourself feeling unexpectedly territorial about your boyfriend and anxious about his other partners.
That’s why learning to understand and move through jealousy is an essential skill for non-monogamous couples — and one you can successfully learn together. Getting a handle on what’s causing your jealousy — and how you can manage it — will help stop your green-eyed monster from hurting your relationship.
1. Jealousy is natural — acknowledge it
Jealousy is a natural and completely understandable emotion. It’s likely to appear at some point in almost every relationship, and it doesn’t mean you’re ‘bad’ at non-monogamy. The idea that open relationships are jealousy-free is a myth. And monogamous relationships aren’t jealousy-free either! We’ve seen monogamous guys grow jealous over work, friends or pastimes that keep their partner from spending time with them. It’s an emotion we all have to navigate.
“The idea that open relationships are jealousy-free is a myth.”
Acknowledging that you feel jealous – and that it’s perfectly OK – is an important part of working through it. Pretending it’s not happening will only make you feel worse and let negative feelings continue to build between you and your partner. Feeling jealous isn’t bad — but how you act on it can be.
2. Get it out and see it for what it is
A lot of jealousy is a fear and stress response – you feel threatened and immediately start thinking about everything bad that might happen. Or it could manifest as feelings of insecurity where you ponder what could be wrong with you.
Getting your thoughts out can help defuse jealous feelings, provide some distance, and give you some clarity about why it’s happening. Try writing down your feelings or making a voice note on your phone. You might realise that it’s because a previous partner lied to you, and you’re worried about it happening again. You might notice it happens around milestones like birthdays or your anniversary.
Getting clarity on where it’s coming from can help you see the jealousy for what it is (a subjective emotional reaction) rather than getting caught up in what it isn’t (an inevitable dumping by someone you love).
3. Tell him about it without blaming him
Non-monogamy only works when you both communicate honestly and with kindness. If you’re sitting in the shower agonising over how he smiled at your barista, you need to find a way to tell him. A good way to do this without blame is the ‘I feel <emotion> when <behaviour/situation>’ format:
- I’m afraid you’re going to fall in love with someone else when I’m away for work.
- I worry you’re not attracted to me when we haven’t had sex in a week, and you tell me you hooked up with two other guys on the weekend.
- I feel like I’m not important to you when you flirt with other guys in front of me.
Sometimes it can be worth talking with a trusted friend first to help you get clarity.
Again, none of these feelings indicates your open relationship ‘isn’t working’. You’re allowed to feel insecure and irrational, even if you’ve agreed to be non-monogamous. What counts is how you manage those feelings — the point is to tell your partner how you feel honestly and leave room for you both to negotiate.
4. Get behind the jealousy and see what it’s showing you
In essence, jealousy is highlighting an unmet need of some kind. It’s showing you very clearly what you want — to feel like you’re ‘enough’ for your partner, to feel loved unconditionally, or to be the most important person to him.
This is valuable knowledge you can learn from. Talk to your partner and discuss ways you can work together to meet that need so that when jealousy does come up, it doesn’t have the same hold on you. Remember, you’re a team, so asking your partner for help navigating difficult emotions is OK.
“In essence, jealousy is highlighting an unmet need of some kind.”
Importantly, if you’re finding that jealousy leads to you wanting to control who your partner talks to or where he goes, it might show more than just unmet needs. It’s normal to feel jealous, but also necessary to stay aware of how our actions can impact our partners.
5. Assess what needs to change (if anything)
Sometimes, just talking through how you’re feeling can be enough. But if it’s not, don’t be afraid to make some changes.
Every successful relationship is a constant negotiation. If the rules of your non-monogamous relationship aren’t working for you, reassess them together.
When you’re doing this, it’s important not to give each other ultimatums (‘If you don’t agree to my terms, I’m leaving you’). Non-monogamy is about exploring your most intimate, emotional and sexual selves, and you both need room to say what you want without provoking the nuclear option.
Consider this — what are the things I’m willing to negotiate? How do I speak to my partner when I’m ready to discuss?
6. If it’s becoming a problem, seek professional advice
If you’ve tried everything you can and the jealousy is still driving you crazy, consider some further reading or talking to a counsellor.
Dealing with insecurity and fear (which manifest as jealousy) can take a little time and work — but it is achievable. Professional counselling can help ensure you and your relationship come out on top.
You can now claim up to 20 visits to a mental health professional on Medicare, so it’s worth doing some research and finding the help you need. Talk to your doctor about setting up a mental health plan to get started.
For further reading on understanding yourself or navigating open relationships, polyamory and consensual non-monogamy, we’d recommend: