This week on the podcast we tackled the issue of jealousy in answer to the following question…
Is jealousy healthy in a relationship? Or else, is the absence of jealousy unhealthy or even possible? If it is, how do we get there? If it’s not, what do we do to manage it? And how do we know whether it comes more from us or the behaviour of other person?
Here’s a summary of what we had to say:
Staying with feelings
The main thing with any emotional response – as we’ve talked about several times on the podcast – is to stay with the feelings. We often have a narrative – or storyline – about our emotions, and the idea is to try to let go of that as much as possible and to actually feel the feelings in our body. Narratives generally involve blaming outwards (the other person) or blaming inwards (yourself) in an attempt to escape, avoid, or eradicate the feelings. If we can drop these stories and stay with the feelings we learn more about what the feelings are (e.g. there may be insecurity, loss, rejection, fear, or anger in there) and what the experience means to us. There’s more about staying with feelings in this zine by MJ.
Spot the cultural scripts
The usual wider cultural script about jealousy is that it’s a response to another person’s bad behaviour and – if we feel jealous – it shows how much we love them and they should stop doing whatever it is they did to ‘make us’ feel jealous. Alternatively, in some non-monogamous and polyamorous communities – the script is that jealousy is a bad thing that we shouldn’t feel, and if we do feel it we should ‘own it’ as our own feeling and work on it rather than blaming anybody else for it.
Again, both of these approaches – ‘you made me feel jealous’ and ‘own your jealousy’ – are a way of trying to escape the feelings. An alternative approach is to see emotions as being relationship – as happening between people and within a certain culture – rather than viewing it through the binary of ‘their fault’ or ‘my fault’.
Stay with each other’s feelings
Perhaps even more challenging that staying with your own feelings is staying with another person’s feelings, especially when they are about an issue between us. Again we have a strong cultural script that if someone we’re in relationship with feelings ‘negative’ feelings because of something we’ve done then either they should stop feeling those unreasonable feelings, or we should stop doing the thing that’s hurt them.
If they don’t feel able to express their feelings we’ll probably pick up on them anyway and this will cause problems between us. If they do express their feelings we may override our own needs and boundaries because we feel to blame and like we have to fix it, and that could also cause problems as we’re not treating ourselves consensually.
The challenge is to be with each other, to express our feelings, and to show that we hear each other’s feelings, without closing anybody down. If we can welcome all feelings instead of seeing some as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’ it is easier to do this. Make the aim of the conversation to hear and understand each other, rather than to fix anybody or solve a problem.
Treat emotions as sensible
To do this it’s important to welcome all emotions to the relationship rather than only some. As Justin said on the podcast, happiness is overrated. A relationship where only happiness is allowed will probably become quite bland or difficult over time. Can you welcome the ‘difficult’ emotions when they come up as inevitable and helpful rather than trying to shut them out or seeing them as a huge problem? It might be useful to check in regularly about which emotions are allowed in your relationship, and which not so much. Might you welcome in the ones that aren’t present a bit more?
Consider relationship patterns
So never having any jealousy in a relationship could be an issue as it may mean you’re not allowing all emotions to flow freely. But feeling it a lot over many relationships could be a sign it’s something you struggle with in particular. If that’s the case it might be worth doing some work around it – e.g. with a therapist or supportive friend – considering your relationship patterns through childhood and adulthood.
If jealousy does come up for you it can also be a good moment to revisit relationship agreements. Did a boundary get crossed? Are you still on the same page? Is trust shaken in a way which needs some rebuilding? Our Relationship User Guide zine can be helpful for figuring out your agreements. Remember that jealousy happens in friendships and other kinds of relationships as well as erotic and romantic ones, so these conversations are just as relevant there.
In this episode we started off a little twitter competition (we’re also now on Instagram). If you retweet any of our tweets about this podcast and say why it is you like listening to us, we’ll put your name in a prize draw. You could win all of our zines, signed and coloured in (a bit).
© Meg-John Barker & Justin Hancock, 2018