What is Jealousy?

Woman with short cropped hair looking across at her female partner jealously who is on her mobile

People… I don’t believe in jealousy. I know. It’s a bold claim. But hear me out. Jealousy is the label we give to the shit feeling we get when someone we care about is doing stuff without us. Or paying attention to someone who isn’t us. It’s a fucking horrible feeling. And it’s normally one of the first questions I get asked whenever the topic of ethical non-monogamy comes up. “How do I deal with jealousy?”

What if I told you that jealousy isn’t actually the problem? What if we’ve just been told for so long that this is the correct label for the thing that we’re feeling. And more than that, in a monogamous relationship we’re taught that it’s a ‘normal’ feeling. It would stop us from examining what ‘jealousy’ actually is, from understanding what we’re really feeling.

What is jealousy?

You’ll often hear the word jealous used the same way as envy. But the crucial difference is that envy applies to wanting what someone else has. Whereas jealousy is about being afraid of losing what you currently have.

Envy is when we lack something we desire that someone else has.
Example: Wednesday was envious of Pugsley because he got a new guillotine for his birthday.

Jealousy is when something we have is threatened by another person.
Example: Archie is jealous of Betty’s close relationship with Veronica.

Of course, it’s possible to have both feelings at once. For instance, your neighbour buys a fancy new horse. You envy your neighbour because you also want a fancy horse. But you’re also jealous, because your partner was saying only the other day that they’re super attracted to people with fancy new horses.

So having said all of this, why am I still saying that jealousy doesn’t exist? If you’ve ever felt jealous before, you probably experienced emotions like anger or helplessness, maybe you felt overwhelming resentment or you might have just felt really shit about yourself. Jealousy is the label we use when something we have is threatened by someone else. But at its core jealousy is about our feelings of insecurity and our lack of safety.

What your jealousy actually is

When you feel jealous, rather than labelling it ‘jealousy’ and then trying to problem solve that feeling, go deeper. Try to understand what you’re actually feeling.

If jealousy is the fear of something you have being taken away, what is it that you’re scared about losing? Is it time with a partner? Is it your relationship? Don’t just assume that it’s the obvious answer. Actually examine your feelings.

Once you know what you’re afraid of losing, ask yourself why you’re scared of losing it. Not what the consequences would be, but why you think it could happen. For instance, is it because your neighbour has a fancy new horse? Is there something that someone else has that you don’t?

When you start to understand why you think you might lose the thing you value, you can start to see that it was never actually ‘jealousy’ but something deeper. It’s usually our own feelings about ourselves that are the problem. We feel like we’re not good enough for someone to come back to. We feel inadequate in some way. Unworthy of the person we care about. Sometimes we might project these feelings onto someone else, telling ourselves we don’t trust the person our partner is dating because they’re going to ‘steal’ them from us.

What to do about it

I blame the culture of monogamy for this. It’s very hard to break out of the idea that someone has to ‘pick’ between two partners. Especially when we’re fed a steady diet of love triangles that aren’t even triangles, they’re just some poor woman having to choose between two equally generic straight white men before the end of the movie.

So when you first start practising ethical non-monogamy, it’s understandable that every time a partner is with someone else it can feel like a trial. Like they’re just road testing new partners until they find one that’s better than you.

Here’s the thing though - if someone is ever truly looking to leave, holding them tighter and torturing yourself each time you’re apart, isn’t going to change that outcome. The only thing that’s going to fix that is open and honest communication about what both of you want and need from a relationship.

Examining the feelings behind your experiences of ‘jealousy’ will help you understand what’s actually happening in your head and your heart. When we understand what’s actually going on when we feel ‘jealous’ it’s much easier to manage our experience. Instead of focusing on the hurt that our partner is causing, we can turn our attention to the narrative in our head and try to unpick why we feel unsafe. Where are the feelings of inadequacy or fear coming from? And how can we resolve them?

Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist or counsellor who is familiar with ethical non-monogamy. If you have supportive friends, talk to them about where your head is at and what you’re working through. Or if you prefer to work through things alone, try using a journal. Just start writing down what you’re thinking as you go.

The most important thing to remember is, you will survive this. And you’ll be stronger for it.


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  • StraightSwap4u


    More than a month ago

    I think jealousy is sometimes just a perfectly normal, fleeting feeling. For me, about 90% of the time I'm perfectly comfortable within my own skin and content with my curvy, big boobed, pale skinned self. I take good care of myself and present myself to the best of my ability. In that 10% though (usually hormonal/TOM related and if I've spent any amount of time scrolling stupid instagram) I can allow some insecurities to take a bit of a hold; that I could stand to lose some weight, wish my boobs were smaller, that I'd look more appealing with a tan, etc. I think so long as the balance is healthy, a little jealousy/envy is all a very human, earthly experience we all share in from time to time.

  • Tinglespromise


    More than a month ago

    I don’t know. From what I’ve experienced from jealousy and observed the social scene really carefully as a full time musician for 30 years….jealousy is a natural and normal reaction.
    That guy in the crowd who is watching his girlfriend eye off our drummer, with an absolute infatuated look that only he knows and recognises when she is feeling a certain way. He might be seeing the exact same look that she has only given him once in their relationship when ‘they’ were truly infatuated with each other.
    Not blowing our own trumpets, but there were heaps of boyfriends at our gigs that all had that slight worrying look about his girlfriend being so turned on by the band. I’m thinking that I would like to have his skills too. As sad as it is to say, whether that guy handled his jealousy really well, or turned a blind eye or cracked the shits….one of us eventually banged that chick….and if it led to more of a relationship, then the musician thing is no longer exciting to her anymore and the late night sneaky texts would come through from the ex….then he is the new excitement again.
    Jealousy has a lot of power because it just bounces from person to person to whatever will keep that addictive newly found excitement.
    The jealous guys and girls sometimes or a lot of the time would blow things out of proportion because of how they’re feeling….but if they’re not crazy, smart and onto it….there IS something going on or a long road of pain before they get this attraction out of their system.
    The only way I got over ‘my’ jealousy was to not have the expectations of feelings I used to have…which sucked, but I couldn’t live like that. This is for me here….but it’s almost like I couldn’t fall in love that deeply like I did before…for me it’s dangerous. So my new word in life became ‘ACCEPTANCE’.
    I clearly remember my dog Martha and my mum over at a friends house who had another cute dog. I really analysed this and watched Martha’s introduction to the feeling of jealousy when my mum picked up the other dog and cuddled it.
    Martha was looking at mum, the other dog then at me….I knew exactly what she was feeling,
    It’s a normal reaction that your brain is telling you….”Guard your heart on this one mate”.
    Remember in the movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ where Tom Cruise wasn’t a jealous guy….then Nicole Kidman completely turned Tom Cruise around by telling him that story…and he was a mess.
    Now today we have technology that is so scary….I’m not….we’ll try not fall again for the ‘Secret Conversations’ which Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and heaps of other apps all have. If you haven’t heard of it….it’s where you put a timer on what you or the person you’re typing to deletes for example everything after say 30 seconds….never to be seen again. If you two trust each other, just use normal Messenger.
    Social Media is going to really test us.

  • Kitybangbang


    More than a month ago

    I would strongly agree jelousy can sometimes arise when it's mistaken for envy but if you believe within yourself and have strong moral guidelines and are a genuine person you should have enough confidence to override the initial feeling of jelousy and look into the situation deeper.jelousy is often an initial reaction that can come from something we lack or something we deserve but jelousy can also be given to you when some one tells you you should have that instinct or emotional reaction .nothing good will arise from a feeling such as jelousy it may make you strive to be better or be a better person but if you tell another that they should be jelousy or make them feel asthough they are missing out or are excluded or not worthwhile then you are just reflecting how insecure you are by having to single out or show how extravagant or extra special you are.It not who wins or loses sometimes it's just who is participating and personal preference can play a big part in partnerships we need to realise it takees more than two to ta go and three not more than a crowd be in it for all and always stand proud

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