In preparing last week’s blog about eros in relationality (Eros: The Language of Relationality), we realized that there were some strong emotional chords that often get tapped in our relationships. Jealousy is one we identified easily, especially because it is an emotion that people tend to view negatively (probably because it often seems to break relationships). Jealousy—defined as worry that someone (or something) is trying to take what you have—doesn’t feel good.
Whether the jealousy is aimed at a friend, a neighbor, or a lover, it makes us feel inadequate, possessive, and somewhat irrational in our responses. So this week we decided to focus on this highly charged topic.
And surely it can cause trouble. Over the years, we have known people who get jealous easily, often because they are insecure in their person and think their lover/partner is often, maybe even always, looking at and wanting another(s).
Of course, jealousy impacts both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. Coming from our respective locations (Robin, monogamous; Malachi, non-monogamous), we each can identify ways jealousy is present in relationships. Some of the jealousy may seem different depending on the relational structure, but in some ways it plays out in remarkably similar ways.
Utilizing Jealousy in Positive Ways:
Jealousy doesn’t have to be a bad or negative emotion. Oftentimes, it can provide an opportunity for growth—both self-growth and growth within the relationship. It can be hard, for example, to know what insecurities you have until they come up in a relationship. By choosing to deconstruct jealousy to examine our own insecurities, we build a better relationship with ourselves.
Perhaps I don’t feel sexy—maybe I’ve put on weight recently and feel negatively about my body and how I relate to myself. That negativity might even lead me to feel less interested in sex with my partner, but I can still feel jealous when, in Malachi’s case, his partner has sex with someone, or in Robin’s case, when he thinks his partner is showing signs of interest in someone else. That is an opportunity for some self-examination of my relationship with my body and possibly time to do some healing to help me be in a place where I do feel sexy and I am interested in being sexual with my partner.
Robin even feels gratitude for the jealousy he experienced, before he was conscious of feeling erotically drawn to his husband, when Jonathan danced naked on the beach to attract the interest of another man. As the drama played out over the course of a day, Robin began to realize he wanted Jonathan for himself. His anger at Jonathan’s actions at first surprised him, and then helped him decide to woo Jonathan. He was successful, and 18 years later continues to be grateful.
Dealing with Envy:
One cannot speak of jealousy without mentioning its twin, envy. Envy may be understood as wanting what someone else has. Advertisers know about envy—if only you buy our product then you will look like the beautiful model. Or if you buy a home in this development you too will have the perfect life shown by these models.
Jealousy and envy are so closely connected that it can be like trying to distinguish between a fruit and a strawberry; envy is a part of jealousy as much as a strawberry is a kind of fruit. Jealousy is often comprised of a combination of things: envy, entitlement (or, perhaps, expectation), and
insecurity (which often contains an aspect of fear). Different kinds of jealousy often come from some combination of these things.
The process of deconstructing jealousy is a difficult one, and when there are sexual dynamics at play, it can become even trickier.
Envy comes from a place of feeling unsatisfied. For example, in a non-monogamous relationship, if I am envious of my partner going on a date, is it because I want to be going on a date with him? Is it because I want to have someone in my life besides my partner to go on dates with?
Or, in a monogamous relationship, when my partner has dinner with a colleague, perhaps good-looking or even not, am I jealous just because I’ve been in the house for three days and I’m envious that he’s leaving the house? In either case, if I’m envious because I want to go on more dates with my partner, then that is something to discuss with my partner. And, again in either type of relationship, if I’m envious because I want to go out with someone other than my partner, then I would need to deconstruct that further to understand where that feeling is coming from (and most likely take a deep, hard look inside).
But if all I really want is to leave the house and be around people, then that’s something I can do for myself to feel satisfied and happy. Envy doesn’t have to be a negative emotion, but it’s an easy emotion to misunderstand because envy can come from many different places, and it requires that we be incredibly honest with ourselves about our needs and wants. The most important part of navigating envy is learning to recognize what we want and need to feel satisfied, and determine whether the thing for which we are feeling envy fits into that.
Envy + Insecurity Often Fuels Jealousy:
Body envy is a big deal. Rare is the person—even the most beautiful or handsome one—who does not have some insecurity about their body. Many men obsess about their penis size, others about their lack of pecs, maybe both. Women often have similar issues about the breasts. Men don’t seem to regret very large penises, but women can find larger than average breasts a real burden (and unlike men, surgery can help them). Some people hide from the camera because they negatively compare their smile to that of others.
Friendships, even primary relationships/marriages, break up because one of the people is envious of another’s success, body, or possessions.Over time, they worry the one with more will take something, or someone, from them. The one who perceives themselves as having or being less ends the connection before they think they will lose more.
Parents of young children—as Robin was and Malachi is—often advise their charges that they can’t necessarily control the emotions they feel, but they can control how they choose to respond and react to her emotions. We both are reminded, as most parents are, each time of how we could benefit from remembering and instilling this lesson in our own lives, especially when it comes to jealousy.
It is important to remember that jealousy is neither good nor bad; it’s our responses to jealousy that can be positive or negative. The truth is, jealousy can be destructive when it is used to manipulate or be possessive of someone else. When we make our insecurities someone else’s responsibility, we run the risk of developing dangerous, co-dependent habits. But healthy responses to jealousy—deconstructing our emotions and having honest conversations about where they are coming from—can be a powerful way to reconnect with ourselves and reconnect with our partner(s). By facing, addressing, and working through crucial issues in our lives and relationships, we build a stronger, healthier foundation with ourselves and, through that connection with ourselves, our partner(s).
Any relationship is subject to stress. The key is awareness and openness. When we feel jealous, or envious, it is important to acknowledge the feeling, accept it as part of being human, and decide how to deal with it. Do not hide it, but instead bring it out into the open.
If you can’t share it with the object of your feelings, talk to a friend, or seek professional help. Working with a therapist, for example, can help us overcome envy by being more accepting of, and even celebrating, our own unique beauty. A therapist can also help us overcome basic insecurity, and even work through jealousy (partners need to share this work).
You might just be surprised at the good that can come your way if, instead of hiding, and hiding from, your feelings of jealousy and envy, you own those feelings and share them openly and honestly.