"Why Do We Get Jealous In Non-Monogamous Relationships? 5 Theories, Explained"
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Why Do We Get Jealous In Non-Monogamous Relationships? 5 Theories, Explained
By Rachel Krantz
Recently, I've become very acquainted with a feeling that I didn't even know I had the capability to feel so strongly: jealousy. Before I decided to try non-monogamy with my current partner, I'd only experienced the feeling in fleeting moments. ... But now that my partner has gone on a few dates with someone else, I feel like I know what jealousy really is. It is a physical sensation as much as an emotional one, manifesting in the pit of my stomach and the middle of my throat.
You might wonder why, if jealousy is so intense and uncomfortable, I've been choosing to experience it. ... I suppose the short answer is that I want to know whether non-monogamy is for me, and there's no way to know except to confront these uncomfortable feelings head-on. I already know having the freedom to go out with other people has made me less afraid of commitment and more in love with my current partner. It's only when he exercises that same freedom that I find I come up against the main emotions that comprise jealousy: fear, anger, and grief.
I'm not going to lie — it's painful. But it's also been incredibly fruitful, too. I've learned a lot about my own insecurities and triggers in the last few months, and feeling myself begin to unlearn certain fears has actually been incredibly empowering. One thing I've found especially useful as I navigate this unfamiliar territory is reading some of the excellent writing that has been done about jealousy and non-monogamy. By far my favorite book has been Kathy Labriola's Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Advice on Open Relationships, as well as her accompanying The Jealousy Workbook: Exercises and Insights for Managing Open Relationships.
...Here are five theories about why we get jealous that Labriola lays out in Love in Abundance, summarized.
1. Freud's Theory: Because Mom Didn't Love You As Much As She Loved Dad
Not surprisingly, Sigmund Freud believed that the root of jealousy could be found in The Oedipal Conflict. He believed that every child "fell in love" with their parent of the opposite sex, then felt betrayed when they realized that Mom actually loved Dad, or vice versa. ...
Freud viewed jealousy as a nightmare driven by our most primal fears of inferiority, loss, and abandonment. As much as Freud may have been off about some things, I have to say, that all sounds eerily familiar to my experience of romantic jealousy.
2. Darwinian Theory: Because Jealousy Is Evolution, Baby
This is probably the theory you're most familiar with, because it tends to drive the popular narrative as to why monogamy is the "natural state" of humans. ... The basic idea behind the Darwinian theory of jealousy is that "the feeling is evolution's way of getting us to pay attention to a potential threat to the family unit," as Labriola puts it.
...We're all familiar at this point with the idea that men "naturally" want to spread as much seed as possible, while women always want to "protect" the fidelity of men, since it's far more risky for a woman to "invest" in sex.
Again, not only does this theory not account for non-hetero couples or birth control, but it also doesn't seem to account for the reality that women cheat and crave multiple partners just as much as men do. ...
[But] basically, everyone is different, and when it comes to reinforcing gender stereotypes, Darwin can be hella problematic.
3. Dr. Hupka's Theory: Because Jealousy Is A Social Construct
Dr. Ralph Hupka is a cross-cultural psychologist who has studied jealousy in societies around the world and has found that the prevalence of the feeling in a culture varies widely. Hupka found that there were certain patterns in societies like ours where jealousy was most prevalent. ...
4. Dr. Pines' Theory: Because We Have 5 Main Fears
Dr. Ayala Pines is a psychologist who specializes in studying jealousy, mostly as it pertains to monogamous couples. ...Basically, she believes the feeling is based on a unique combination of your childhood, your previous relationships, and the dynamic of your current relationship — making no experience of jealousy the same in any relationship.
Pines suggests that at the core of your jealousy lies in the trait that attracted you most to your partner in the first place. ...
5. Kathy Labriola's Theory: Because Jealousy Is A Useful Alarm System
As a counselor who works primarily with non-monogamous couples and a polyamorous person herself, Labriola says she's come to believe that jealousy is not inherently a negative emotion that we have to suppress or learn to get rid of. Instead, it is a natural response that serves the purpose of alerting us to when we don't feel safe, and drives us to pay attention to and protect our relationship, especially as other outside factors are introduced that change the dynamic. She likens jealousy to a smoke alarm — it's alerting you to potential danger, and it's telling you that you need to check whether your relationship is actually on fire, or whether it is just a false alarm. ...
That last in particular has become Accepted Poly Wisdom.
This is just a precis. Go read the whole article (August 23, 2016).
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