Understanding jealousy


New member

I'm new to the forums and arrived here due to crashing and burning my first polyamory experience. It crashed and burned due to my jealousy and I have struggled to understand this complex emotion since. I found an enlightening article which is a dense read, but thought I'd summarise its salient features with a few of my own added thoughts. The first reply below deals with jealousy in a monogamous framework and the second reply deals with jealousy in a polyamorous framework.

Given I have only experienced jealousy once, I would be grateful for feedback from people who deal with this more often. My summary below is not based on any facts, but was written so that I could come to understand myself better. What I'm trying to say is, that this viewpoint may not be the right viewpoint or your viewpoint, it's merely one which I feel helps me understand myself better.

Thank you for letting me share, and thank you in advance for your comments.
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Jealousy and monogamy

Jealousy is one possible relationship situation between 3 people.

Societal view on jealousy:
  • Society places the locus of control of jealousy on the partner of the jealous person or the third party.
  • Jealousy is a socially sanctioned emotion that is considered unavoidable.
  • Jealousy is considered a strong reaction. When this fact is coupled with societal acceptance as being unavoidable, jealousy can be used in defense of actions that are otherwise seen as socially inappropriate, like anger, abuse and even murder. People convicted of murder have used jealousy as a means to downgrade the charge to manslaughter.
  • There is no universal agreement on what is an acceptable or unacceptable trigger for jealousy. Therefore, there is no universally agreed upon acceptable behaviour in any given jealousy-provoking incident, though society is likely to accept a range of socially appropriate responses.
  • Although jealousy is an emotion that comes from oneself, there are few books in a self-help section that focus on managing one's jealousy. This is in contrast to the many books on anger management, depression, guilt, shame and finding happiness that one can find in book stores.
  • Jealous reactions are often grouped into reactions that are reasonable and unreasonable. The focus around jealousy tends to be on the causes of jealousy rather than the jealous reaction itself. Rarely is there any discussion on the validity or usefulness of jealousy. The episodes causing the jealous event are often examined more closely than the damage caused by the jealous reaction. Contrast this with anger where the focus of discussion is on the person's anger rather than blaming the situations that cause anger.
  • When society tolerates jealousy, society permits abuse, control and violence.

Jealousy as an interpersonal control mechanism:

  • Jealousy, or the possibility of jealousy, controls the actions of our partners.
  • Jealousy can be used to make your partner change their behaviour or make amends.
  • The partner can also counter by claiming you are being too jealous.
  • People can deliberately goad a partner into jealousy with a primary goal of stimulating feelings of affection from their partner.
  • All the above are socially sanctioned (though not necessarily encouraged) methods of controlling your partner's actions.
  • Less commonly, jealousy can be used to make a third party apologise or alter their actions (the non jealous person can be considered to be both responsible for the creation and resolution of jealousy).
  • In summary, jealousy can be used as an interpersonal control mechanism in a relationship between two people. The fact that jealous anger tends to be taken out upon a partner rather than the third party highlights its utility as a control mechanism within the relationship rather than an emotion felt towards the third party.

Jealousy and monogamy

  • Monogamy sanctions the emotion of jealousy by providing the expectation of sexual fidelity.
  • The use of jealousy as an interpersonal control mechanism then enforces monogamy.
  • Monogamy and in particular marriage, encourages society to view the finding of a life-partner as a balance that juggles scarcity and time, where the aim is to find the best possible partner in the shortest possible time. This view is predicated upon assumptions of scarcity combined with an inability to share that drives the time constraint. The framework for these assumptions is monogamy and non monogamous relationships overcome this hurdle with ease.
  • Under this competitive version of monogamy, jealousy can be viewed as a rational mechanism to protect one's resources; specifically, protecting the time and investment one has already spent on a relationship. Failure to protect this will force a re-experience of finding the next best possible partner in an even shorter timeframe whilst searching in a reduced pool of potential partners. Jealousy can be viewed as a mechanism to protect what one has already earned.
  • Jealousy can also be viewed as a fear of loss. Viewed in this manner, jealous acts are similar to people who act in a manner to cover other losses, like deliberately destroying incriminating evidence by burning a building, lying to cover up a dangerous truth or hurting others to ensure their silence. Notably, we have no word to describe these other acts.
  • “All's fair in love and war” is a saying that highlights our societal acceptance of both the inevitability of jealousy and the social acceptance of jealousy acts we would normally not tolerate.
  • Whether jealousy creates monogamy or monogamy creates jealousy is a chicken and egg question. Both probably contribute to and perpetuate the existence of the other. It raises the question of nurture (monogamy) vs nature (jealousy). When society enforces monogamy upon us, our reflex emotion to fear of loss creates jealousy. The opposite is the assertion that we are inherently born with jealousy and that this enforces monogamy upon us. The former is easily seen but the latter is a position that is more difficult to defend because jealousy is only rarely seen in the animal kingdom and when seen, usually involves a patriarchal society like a lion defending his pride. Therefore, although both jealousy and monogamy can perpetuate the existence of the other, the driving force behind this complex is likely to be a human societal imposition on practising monogamy. Interestingly, a societal inposition on practising polygamy is also likely to lead to jealousy because wives will be viewed as resources that can be stolen.
  • Phrased in a different manner, the hegemonic concept of jealousy creates a framework of societal-sanctioned reprisals in order to enforce monogamy.
  • An analogy would be imagining jealousy as police and monogamy as a society, where the society uses police in order to create order and stability. The success of this social structure re-enforces the need for police. Non-monogamy would be an attempt to form a different social structure with rebellion against the police that enforce it.
  • When tempted to stray in monogamy, knowing the hurt and jealousy that this will inflict on one's partner is probably the strongest reason that keeps one from straying – stronger than self enforcement and stronger than societal retribution. This knowledge creates empathy for our partner and can manifest as guilt.
  • Once in an established monogamous relationship, jealousy can be used positively to maintain the relationship.
  • Monogamy can be viewed as the inevitable product of interpersonal struggles combined with the societal-sanctioned emotion of jealousy.

Polygamy and jealousy

  • Polygamy can be viewed as the inevitable product of interpersonal struggles combined with the societal-sanctioned emotion of jealousy on a background of a patriarchal society (contrast this to the dot point above).

Jealousy can be used to create sexuality:

  • The presence (or absence) of jealousy can be sometimes interpreted as a measure of love.
  • This leads to people sometimes rationalising jealousy by saying it shows the depth of their love.
  • Feeling jealous, or feeling concern about a partner being 'stolen' can be seen as evidence of a partner's desireability or sexual attractiveness. More specifically, such concern proves to your partner that they instil erotic desire in you.
  • Pretending or acting out jealousy can be used in the bedroom to increase sexual libido (eg cuckold fetish, BDSM power play, some aspects of swinging).

Gender differences in relation to jealousy:

  • Men and women both experience jealousy at similar rates.
  • Women tend to internalise the hurt caused by jealousy and blame themselves.
  • Men tend to externalise the hurt caused by jealousy and blame others.
  • If jealousy manifests as self doubt (usually in a female), the (male) partner can use the distress caused to further the self-doubt, exerting control over the jealous (female) partner.
  • If jealousy manifests as anger (usually in a male), the (male) partner can use the distress to gain concessions from the (female) partner.
  • Society tends to enhance the gender difference by discrediting women as overly jealous and by tolerating violence committed in the name of jealousy.
  • This leads to displays of jealousy tending to benefit men rather than women, regardless of whether it is the woman or the man who exhibits jealousy.
  • The exception to this is when women deliberately attempt to instil jealousy in their partner in order to increase their attractiveness to their partner. This lead to one of two outcomes:
  • A calculated attempt where the jealousy felt by the male partner would be welcomed by the female as it would lead to active reconciliation of the relationship by both parties.
  • A calculated attempt by the female to gain concessions from the male partner without attempt from both parties at reconciliation.
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This next post focuses on polyamory and jealousy.

<Disclaimer: I have never engaged in polyamory successfully. I have no clue if anything I write here is true or not, but my aim in creating this shortlist from the resource I listed above in my first post was so that I could overcome jealousy in order to experience polyamory. Feel free to violently disagree with anything here. As I said, I have no practical experience of this.>

Jealousy is probably the greatest obstacle to overcome in non-monogamy.


  • Describes an alternate emotion to experience in a 3-way relationship that is different from jealousy. A positive emotion. The opposite of jealousy.
  • Jealousy and compersion can probably be triggered by the same event and be experienced simultaneously.

Delegitimising jealousy

  • By pathologising or believing that jealousy is irrational and treating it as a pure liability with no gain, people become less inclined to feel or to behave in a jealous manner.
  • When deligitimised, there is no longer a motivator to become jealous.
  • Jealousy can be delegitimised in multiple ways from open discussion to refusal to date those who exhibit uncontrolled jealousy.
  • Downsides to delegitimising jealousy is that it can be personally brutal on the individual and often tends to lead to people internalising their jealousy, being forced into denial or hiding it behind other mechanisms of control.

“Owning your jealousy”

  • Jealousy can be viewed as an emotion belonging to an individual just like anger, sadness and fear.
  • Whilst others can help you with your jealousy, the underlying philosophy in owning your jealousy is that the emotion is yours to experience and to control.
  • Downsides to this method are that it can be brutal on the individual.
  • This method places the onus of responsibility of jealousy onto the individual. The next section describes how the onus of responsibility can be placed onto a relationship.

Moving the onus of responsibility of jealousy from an individual onto the relationship
  • Emphasis on feelings of jealousy as stemming from expectations of a relationship. For instance, feelings of insecurity. As another example, fearing the loss of a relationship can lead to feelings of jealousy. As yet another example, feeling your relationship is primary compared to other secondary relationships can lead to jealousy when this expectation is not met (for example, when sexual or emotional advances are made in secondary relationships, a person in the primary relationship can feel jealous).
  • Jealousy is fought by addressing or changing aspects of the relationship that can lead to jealousy.
  • Downsides to this method are that the jealousy is often not fully dealt with and the third party often still suffers.

Moving the focus of relationships away from the relationship itself and focusing on individual needs (equivalently, removing the controlling aspects of relationships).

  • A relationship between two individuals tends to exert control on the actions of those individuals. This is especially true in monogamy and especially true with sexual behaviour in monogamy.
  • Polyamory seeks to remove the (sexual) controlling aspects of relationships that restrict the individuals. The methods used to remove the sexual controlling aspects have the side effect of removing the nonsexual controlling aspects as well.
  • The net effect is that in polyamory, the individual's desires become more important than the relationship.
  • In summary, the rights of the individual are seen as more important in polyamory than the rights of the relationship. Polyamory achieves this by removing the controlling aspects of a relationship and placing the focus on the desires of the individuals within the relationship, even at the cost of experiencing jealousy.

Why poly people talk and process so much:

  • Jealousy can be viewed as an interpersonal control mechanism. When removed or delegitimized, a power vacuum forms in the way we manage relationships. This power vacuum is filled by new mechanisms of interpersonal control including explicit negotiation, new rules of behaviour and an emphasis on honesty and disclosure.
  • Another way of viewing this is that poly people talk and create boundaries in order to avoid triggering jealousy.
  • Another way of viewing this is that poly people attempt to transition from body-based emotional responses (like jealousy) into open discourse (interpersonal communication).
  • In its most complicated form that probably requires an entire essay to explain adequately, polyamory challenges a major aspect of the mind-body social power by forcing those who practice polyamory away from the physicality-centred arenas of monogamous power and jealous control and moving it towards a more discursive model of relationship dynamics.

<Disclaimer again: I really want to stress that I have no practical experience of this. I am a philosopher in my mind and wanted to explore the possibility of polyamory. I bumped up against jealousy. This is me trying to understand me. I would also love to hear your thoughts because most people on this forum would know so much about polyamory and jealousy. Thank you for sharing your replies.>

Thanks for taking the time and effort to post such a well executed summary. I look forward to spending some time going though it in detail - as well as the two articles that you have mentioned in recent posts. (The PDF is downloaded and the other web article bookmarked!)

I have been casually working on putting some ideas together for situations like mine - when one partner asked the other (mono-oriented partner) to go poly. First - things that are important for the partner who wants to go poly to say and do (based largely on the excellent job my own wife did in both making her case and helping me work through the processing). Secondly - and actually more difficult - what things the mono-partner can do to come to terms with the idea of poly (if s/he is willing to work toward accepting poly for the sake of their partner - or perhaps family stability in general). I was able to achieve a substantial paradigm shift that allowed me to come to acceptance of my wife's poly relationship and even experience a fair amount of compersion (even if poly is still not my first choice) - explaining how I got there is more difficult. But part of it did involve studying poly, listening to poly podcasts, participating on the forum - as something of a start toward cultural de-conditioning (if you will).

I am hoping that reviewing your summary and the source materials (related to jealousy) will add to the ideas I have already.


It seems like this is a common topic as of late. A lot of emphasis on jealousy, and a fair amount of shaming jealous natured individuals. While I do agree that there are lines that one ought never cross due to jealousy (murder, physical abuse, etc...), this notion that jealousy has virtually no justification is a bit naive to say the least. There are legitimate reasons for jealousy sometimes, just as there are legitimate reasons for sadness or anger. If jealousy is a fear of loss, how is one supposed to feel when that potential loss is very real? And in some cases, the loss has already begun, and one is worried about it escalating into further loss.

Speaking as someone who experienced this very scenario, I ended up being painted as the bad guy for being devastated at the concept of my wife essentially abandoning me at a rough time of my life, in favor of the pursuit of an extramarital relationship. And as clear as I was about never being comfortable with the idea well before the poly bomb, it became "my fault" for not being able to handle it once the bomb was dropped. Sometimes what we fear the worst actually comes true... and we're expected to take it lying down?
True. Plus, I just think it seems to be a bit naive, and condescending to assume that jealousy is never justified. It's not a pleasant feeling of course, but it's not always an irrational one. Honestly, I think that those who rail so hard against it, are usually people looking to alleviate themselves from the guilt of causing jealousy among others.
True. Plus, I just think it seems to be a bit naive, and condescending to assume that jealousy is never justified. It's not a pleasant feeling of course, but it's not always an irrational one. Honestly, I think that those who rail so hard against it, are usually people looking to alleviate themselves from the guilt of causing jealousy among others.

Thank you for standing up for people who feel jealous, and ram their heads against the wall in self hatred because they can't buck up and accept what "is". I am going through a very rough patch that has been chaotic, then very calm and supportive, then back to chaotic, since last July. To do things that incite jealous feelings and/or behavior, is just as fucked as becoming jealous.
In support of CTF's point about jealousy being a legitamate feeling, remember that children feel jealous when younger siblings appear and take up parental attention. For some kids no amount of parental effort to prepare them and include them fully assuages their hurt and anger. Further, many, if not most, people in childhood had jealousy when a friend favored some other child. Fear of the loss of all the emotional rewards that come from being essential to someone who is essential to us is not unreasonable. I suppose one just has to decide if it is worth spending the effort to learn how to cope with or lessen that fear.

Humans are designed to create new ways of thinking, new ways of being in the world, but we can see that jealousy is naturally occurring by looking to the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to matters of sharing mates. Most animals will fight and even die over it. Absolutely, humans can think about jealousy in new ways and seek to lessen its grip on our lives, but there's no doubt that it's pervasive and enduring in all mammals - and probably for good reason. I wouldn't say that seeking the absence of jealously is more evolved, it's just an option. In my experience, it comes up in equal measure in both poly and mono relationships, the only difference being that in poly relationships there is more openness to talking about it.
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Excellent posts Shaya. I am thinking I will reference them to folks who are struggling with jealousy.
So-called jealousy can also indicate that that there is an actual credible threat developing. This is particularly so when it's still at the "gut feeling" stage & there's little factual evidence (yet) to which the "jealous" person can point.

And putting someone down as "just being jealous" is a great way to bully an unsure person into silence, & even to prevent examination of actual looming difficulties (much less discussion, let alone taking steps to head off problems).

For years, I was involved with someone who had a recurring habit of hooking up with people who love-bombed her & soon tried to corral her into monogamy. As we weren't exclusive or even living together, there wasn't much "control" I had over her even if I wanted to exercise such. Instead, I said my piece, & pointed out that I had no particular interest in "fixing" any problems that arose between her & him, especially those I saw developing. If trying to avoid such "accidents" made me "jealous," fine -- I certainly didn't "struggle" with it.

Rather than doing the binary (all-OR-nothing, good-OR-evil, fight-OR-flight) thing, maybe people ought to learn how to examine jeaous reactions, rather than hiding primitive "solutions" behind a thin veil of rationality.
The reactions to my original thread have been a real eye opener for me. Thank you all for sharing. In particular, thank you to CTF, powerpuffgrl, Leetah and Ravenscroft for pointing out to me that jealousy is not always irrational and that most of the sources I have read so far seem to shame the jealous individual. I was ashamed of myself at the time I wrote the post and the flavour has clearly crept into my writings.

I started this thread at a time when I was struggling to work out why my first experience into polyamory failed. I was feeling ashamed that I was unable to transition from monogamy to polyamory. I felt guilt at my inability to allow my wife to fall in love again. There is no doubt that jealousy played a big role in our failure to transition from monogamy to polyamory. With your additional insight and further readings from an old post on jealousy by kdt, I realise that my jealousy was probably understandable in my situation.

Something I hadn't mentioned in my original story was that my wife's affair partner was actually on his 4th or 5th affair and had left a trail of destroyed friendships in his wake, with no intentions of keeping contact with his previous flings despite them possibly having burnt their existing relationships for him. He showed no signs of having learnt from his past mistakes. He started his experience with my wife as an affair as well. I felt sorry for his childhood traumas that had turned him into the man he is today. I was angry at him for treating my wife as yet another toy in his endless conquests, but wrapped up in NRE, she was happy to play that role for him. Grrr... She'd only known him casually for 6 months but had dated and lived with me for more than 10 years. So when she says with a dreamy look in her eyes that he understands her more than I do. Double Grrr Grrr... And when she says he's the most intelligent, most sociable most.... Grrrr Grrr Grrr... And with every morally dubious decision he makes, I say "Ahah! He's not perfect!" and she goes, "He's just got a different outlook on life. We could learn so much from him."


Jealous? Yes.

Thanks. I feel better making fun of him. But he's not really that bad a guy, and neither is my wife. It was just a very confusing time for all 3 of us, but I'm glad we no longer have contact with him.

EDIT: I'm just realising I might still be jealous. Making fun of a rival on a public forum. Trying to get you all to side with me through humour and ridicule of the third party. It's not something I normally do. I'm usually more respectful of others than that and yet I can't bring myself to delete this post. I'm probably still messed up. I'll leave it for you guys to analyze - both its actual content and my mental state.
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I say "Pshaw!" That was very light venting from what was a frustrating and worrisome situation. I suppose if your wife and the other fellow were to read it they might take some exception, though I hope your wife is philosphical about it now.

Shaya, we are all human, with sensitivities, and to be jealous is something that just.....happens. Being the jealous type that can't even hear about a partner's sexual past, or the like is over the top. When jealousy is incited in us, it's much more understandable. People being insensitive to the feelings of others and doing things that hurt, can make people jealous. Feeling jealous can be very painful. It hurts. It makes us feel bad about ourselves, often to shame ourselves. It's actually really fucking awful.
So, poke a little. :)
So when she says with a dreamy look in her eyes that he understands her more than I do. Double Grrr Grrr... And when she says he's the most intelligent, most sociable most.... Grrrr Grrr Grrr...
Um, if you two ever decide to continue with polyamory, you should definitelly have a talk about oversharing and comparing. Neither is very sensible to do, and these statements she was saying here to you are so unnecessary. I get that dreaming the new love is nice and it's very hard to avoid all overflow of the fondness, but there should be some effort to highlight the positives of your relationship and refrain from saying how much "better" the other person is.
Trying to get you all to side with me...
Doing a good job of that ;)
if you two ever decide to continue with polyamory, you should definitelly have a talk about oversharing and comparing.

Thanks Tinwen. I am uncertain if we can do it, though the philosophy is really appealing. My wife and I really just need more time to heal our current relationship and to think about how to do polyamory correctly. I don't envisage oversharing to be a problem, but I can certainly see how comparing lovers can be non productive.

Can you show me some examples of oversharing? I mean, if she wants to share with me more sexual acts than I'm comfortable hearing, I'm likely to just say no. In fact, in an effort to diffuse jealousy, I might want to know things they don't want to share. That's probably also a problem. Oversharing is not something I've considered in great depth. Can you help me with some examples? Thanks.
Can you show me some examples of oversharing? I mean, if she wants to share with me more sexual acts than I'm comfortable hearing, I'm likely to just say no. In fact, in an effort to diffuse jealousy, I might want to know things they don't want to share. That's probably also a problem. Oversharing is not something I've considered in great depth. Can you help me with some examples? Thanks.
I thought most of the "joking" paragraph was one huge example of oversharing. I mean, is it really sensible to talk about another person's childhood trauma, when it both a) probably descloses more than he would share with you naturally, and b) significantly affects your judgement of him without you really knowing him? Is is sensible to talk about his past affairs when they contribute to your jealousy? And (in my opinion) the "he understands me better quote" is oversharing her emotions from your wife - I mean, some jealousy triggers can be guessed and some feelings can be tracked back to NRE pretty easily.
I know there will be some oposition saying that nothing going on emotionally should be censored, but I mean, there are always more diplomatic ways of expression. So "he understands me better" could become something less treatening like "I feel a little misunderstood in this particular area of life, would you be willing to work on this?", or even "you know, in my infatuation I feel very understood by him. Did we feel this understood when we were madly in love?"

For me personally the most clear examples of oversharing I have in my direct experience is in regards to conflict. When Idealist is in conflict with his other partner and comes to vent with me, I learn how she acts when she's on her worst, and that puts her into a bad light. I don't want that bias so I had to put a stop on it. Also, there was an instance not so long ago when I was jealous and upset with her, and he passed this information on. I was very mad with him, because I knew my jealousy wasn't justified on that particular occasion and needed to be communicated differently than just passed on in it's bare form.

Anyway, the lines will be different for everyone. Of course it's a good idea to just communicate that you don't want to hear something. I just wanted to make you aware that this could encompass much more than sexual details.
You know, I've come to believe that it isn't communication or managing jealousy that makes poly go smoother.

It's partner selection. If you (generic 'you') select good, communicative, kind people, then while there may still be issues, generally things go better. And it's not just you. If your partner also has decent selection skills, then, again, things generally speaking, go smoother.

But if you or your partner either consistently picks destructive people, or toxic non-compatible people, then, yeah, watch the shit hit the fan, over and over again. (I make a distinction between those we are just not compatible with and those whose incompatibilities mesh with ours in ways that help create toxic patterns in the relationship.)

Seems like your partner picked someone who is destructive, and doesn't care or hide that they are destructive. Jealousy can be an 'early warning system' that something is wrong. Now that something could be internal (triggers of your own that aren't actually related to the situation at hand). But sometimes there is something going on that is wrong with a relationship. In this case, your partner's being deep in NRE with someone actively destructive. I don't think your jealousy was unwarranted or even irrational. Something was wrong.

I've run into people like this. Once you've had an encounter, they become much easier to spot. I hope you and your partner learn to discern when someone is destructive, even in the midst of NRE. Partner selection is really a critical skill and it is something that can be learned.
Good points, opalescent.