How your Happy Ending got derailed by a moment of connection

You’re a luminous being. You come to Earth and have a body of whatever size, shape and color. You live in a dwelling with furniture and faucets and family. You acquire political and religious beliefs, cuisine preferences, rules of etiquette.

You go to school/work, have friends/colleagues, and acquire more opinions — clothes you like and bands you hate and places you hang out. You go online or watch TV, and your preferences really kick into high gear.

From all this you start to form a vision of the life you want. The one where you’re living “happily ever after.” You compare your Happy Ending to the life you have, and set out to close the gap. You may spend the rest of your life at this.

Your identity is formed from the stuff of your environment, but no one else has had precisely your family, your friends, your browsing history, your baby temperament, your fractured finger at 7, your broken heart at 17, your role in the school play, your promotion at work. You are complex, quirky, unique, and evolving.

Likely your Happy Ending doesn’t just involve you alone. You see couples in love and want that, or you see playas playing and want that. And before long you’ve fleshed out in great detail the person or people in your Happy Ending —your attractive, successful, charming spouse, or the endless train of hotties in your bed, or whatever your vision is.

Now you compare everyone you encounter to your Happy Ending. No one fits perfectly. Nor do you fit theirs. Everyone is complex, quirky, unique, and evolving. Like elaborate jigsaw puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit together.


Then something unexpected happens:

Your Luminous Being has a moment of connection with someone else’s Luminous Being.

And all of the accumulated layers that you call you fall away, and the two of you, who have known each other forever, have a crazy, funny-meeting-you-here moment of familiarity and communion. And you know each other the way twins sometimes do. And you have a good chuckle together about everything that’s not working in the world and how tortured you are about it. And for the first time since you landed here you feel like you’re home. For the first time ever, you are not alone. You, the luminous being, have another luminous being there with you.

Then you pop back into your body and your list of preferences and your life, and you look over at the complex, quirky, unique person over there and think, that person does NOT match my Happy Ending. Everything about them is wrong. I have a trajectory, dammit, and it certainly isn’t embodied by that over there.

And then you think, what the hell am I supposed to do now, just abandon my Happy Ending altogether in order to build something with this person?

Or do I say, thank you very much, that was one helluvan experience we shared together, now I’m returning to my regularly scheduled programming, my pursuit of my Happy Ending?

If you are facing this dilemma in your relationship — Do I continue down a completely wrong path with this person, or do I get on with the enactment of my Happy Ending? — I have something for you to consider.

The importance of connection

The experience of human connection is distinct from every other experience that’s available to us. Even the very best four-star dining experience, deliciously and beautifully prepared… Even the very best downhill ski run, with pristine powder and azure blue sky… While wonderful, and peak experiences of their own, these are never going to be a substitute for human connection.

We are built for connection. It’s what we come to relationship for. It’s the reason we have others in our life. Everything else there is, we can experience alone. Did you know you can now have a beautiful dream wedding without a groom or bride if you want. That is an actual thing. You can have a once in a lifetime honeymoon vacation, without a partner. Our hunger for connection drives us to want to share life’s moments with another person. Our bucket list is populated with our best excuses to experience connection.

In fact, much of our Happy Ending is made up of ingredients that we decided at some point would be ideal for fostering connection.

Let’s have a conversation

Here’s a conversation I have had more than a few times with people looking for clarity on their rocky relationship.

Let’s say it’s a guy for pronoun purposes, but it doesn’t matter. I invite him to begin by telling me whatever he thinks would be useful for me to know about his situation. He starts to list problems they’re having. I listen to everything, and take notes. He wonders if he’s talking too much; I encourage him to keep going. Eventually after a detailed recounting of all of their challenges and struggles, he says, “I think that’s about it.”

He figures he’s probably buried any glimmer of hope I may have had for the success of their relationship, and is surprised to see I’m not not worried. Honestly, nothing he’s said is a deal breaker. But we haven’t gotten to the most important topic yet.

“So you’re still hanging in there. How come?”


“What do you like about her, what’s good about the relationship? That kind of thing.”

After a brief pause, he starts to say something positive but it quickly devolves into more complaint. Something like, “Well… she treats me well when she’s not [blah blah blah] — ”

“Hold on!” I interrupt, clapping my hands for emphasis. “Tell me why I should care about your relationship.”


“I know there’s something special between you. You just gave me a pretty good laundry list of reasons to break up… but here you are. Talking to a relationship coach. Hoping beyond hope for it to work out. Obviously there’s a reason for that. But I’m about to become emotionally invested in you two thriving and having a fantastic relationship together. So you need to put into words, as best you can, what about her makes it all worth it. Because that’s what this relationship is going to be built on — why you two are actually together in the first place. So. Make a case for why you’re with her. What has it be worth continuing. Tell me why I should care. Because obviously you do.”

At this point, one of two things happens.

Either he starts to give me The Checklist — all the ways she’s so perfect for him, and everything he was searching for, and he’s everything she was searching for too, and how ideal it all seemed in the beginning, and how he doesn’t understand why he isn’t happier, why they aren’t happier, and it just doesn’t make any sense….

If that’s his response, we’re in trouble.

Because if they’re each other’s ideal Checklist partners but they don’t have connection, it’s going to be tough. They’ve created a perfect recipe for an affair later on down the road, or working out an “arrangement,” or settling into a passionless marriage of companionship and convenience and appearance for the career and the PTA, or getting divorced. If I work with them it’s likely to look a lot like the work I do with someone who’s not in a relationship at all, looking at the blocks to intimacy and getting each of them, as individuals, to open up and be connectable. Then there comes to be the possibility of actual relationship coaching.

The Commitment Threshold

But the second possibility is that, after my question, there’s a long pause….

…And then finally he says, “I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to answer you. I just know I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

To which I reply, “Good enough for me.”

That I can work with. Because connection, the very thing he’s struggling to put words to, is what relationships are made of.

And if I work with this couple, first thing we do is to delve deeply into why they’re together, what the nature of their complex, quirky, unique connection is. Why — out of all the billions of people on the planet — why him, why her What arises between the two of them that exists nowhere else.

And all of the things they love most about each other are precisely what they hate most about each other. And all of the differences between them that complement each other so beautifully are also what they clash over the hardest. And all the ways they’re like two peas in a pod are also how they live up to the phrase, “You wouldn’t want to date you either.”

We keep going until we have it in our bones what the connection is between them that underlies the relationship.

I’ll be honest: some couples decide to break up at this point. If that happens, unlike the typical break-up, they usually split amicably and with mutual clarity, a ton of gratitude, and renewed optimism about what the future holds. The love between them is restored, not lost.

If they stay together — the more common case — they do so with a renewed sense of commitment. They have crossed a threshold. Three things are true now that weren’t true before.

First, they have no fear. They’re still facing the same problems, but their doubt, hesitancy, and ambivalence about the relationship itself is absent.

Instead of thinking, We have major challenges and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to work, and I’m trying to decide whether to keep trying or just give up… now they’re thinking, We have major challenges and so help me we are going to work it out. You’re the one I’ve chosen to share this life with. That’s not even a question.

Second, they have a rudder. When they disagree or don’t know how to proceed, they know the best answer will be the one that honors and cultivates the underlying connection they have.

And third, they have a fresh start. They’re well set up to reconstruct their relationship from the ground up, based on who they are and the nature of their connection. A relationship unique to them — one that’s not going to look like any other relationship on the planet — and more importantly, a relationship true to them.

Magnetic Puzzle Pieces

And so we might be complicated puzzle pieces but we have magnetic cores. And our connection doesn’t care whether our edges fit. I’d sooner put my money on the incompatible couple whose cores are bound to each other, than on the perfectly matched couple who have no magnetism between them.

So take a moment to think about your partner and ask yourself: of all the billions of people in the world, why them? What exists between the two of you that wouldn’t exist between one of you and anyone else on the planet? Because that is going to be your guide to how to have your relationship thrive.

This is a start. If you’d like to continue the conversation, contact me at


Comedienne Rosie Wilby tours a one-woman show titled, Is Monogamy Dead? As background research for the show, she conducted an anonymous online survey, “asking what behaviors would be considered infidelity. Seventy-three out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 percent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 percent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable.”

Over the last few months I’ve asked people similar questions. If you are monogamous, where do you draw the line, and why? If you are in an open relationship, where do you draw the line, and why? And my conclusion is that… the question is irrelevant.

One easy way to think of relationship rules is as a slider that marks the dividing line between things your partner is free to do with anyone and things they are expected to reserve for you. Run the slider one way for more freedom, or the other way for more security. In truth it’s two sliders — one for your rules and one for your partner’s — and they’re held together with a stretchy rubber band. Because of course if they’re set too far apart, well, that wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be reciprocal. (Right?)

With this metaphor, the concept of monogamy vs. open relationships lives inside the bigger question of where we set the slider on, as Wilby put it, “behaviors that would be considered infidelity.”

Only one stipulation

I called that an easy way to think of relationships rules. But it’s not how I think of it. At all. I’m in a committed relationship. We have boundaries for each other, but not about exclusivity. We communicate and we’re responsible. My girlfriend being the passionate, fiery human being she is, our relationship has a lot of intensity but little to no bullshit drama. We’re quick to apologize, and we’ve got each other’s backs.

My best gauge for how things are between us is… how things are between us. Outside of that, I’ve really only been able to come up with one stipulation.

If she’s doing something that consistently has her come back to me in bad shape, or worse off than she was, then I’d ask her to stop doing it.

That’s it.

The intent of most people’s exclusivity rules is to prevent their partner returning in significantly better shape.

Wow. How does that kind of thinking affect your relationship with someone?

Desperately turning the knobs

Ok, I get it. I totally get why people would think open relationships are difficult, dangerous to the heart, hopelessly complicated, and impossible to maintain. I get why they might think open relationships lack depth, intimacy or commitment.

I watch people testing the waters, “opening up” their relationship. I watch them adjusting and re-adjusting their exclusivity slider, multiplying it into a complicated panel of knobs and buttons, trying desperately to dial in the settings that will maintain their sense of security while adding richness to their lives.

“NO, I wanted to be told BEFORE you did it! We agreed to that. It’s not enough to technically send a text just before you’re about to do it — you didn’t even wait for an acknowledgement from me or anything! So I get out of my meeting and I’m reading about it while you’re in the middle of doing it! I felt totally sideswiped, dishonored and violated! Honestly, what were you thinking?? I’ve been going crazy! From now on, I want at least a 6-hour window. Oh, and if I text you, I don’t care what you’re doing, you better make it a priority to text me back within 5 minutes! Understood?”

It’s hard to convince them that the exclusivity slider is the problem, not the solution. They can adjust all they want. It isn’t going to adjust their sense of security. Or their partner’s level of commitment. Or the quality of their relationship.

Relationship without control

At this point you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. In order for this to make sense, we have to travel back in history. To a time when I’m young, successful, riding the tech wave in Silicon Valley… and completely clueless about women or relationships. I haven’t been with very many women, and I’m basically terrified of them. (Give me a break, ok? I was a nerdy software engineer.) The path from that man to who I am today is long and storied but for the purposes of this conversation I want to introduce you to Jennifer, my first experience stepping into the emotional firestorm that is non-monogamy.

To put it in the archaic language of the man I was: this woman is way out of my league. Confident, beautiful, charming, generous with her smile, completely comfortable with her sexuality, great in bed. I wasn’t really sure what she liked about me, but she did. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, I wasn’t the only one.

She spent time with me when she wanted, and with someone else when she wanted that. Time and again, I would be overwhelmed in her presence, in heaven, hearing the angels sing, more blissfully happy than I’d ever imagined… and then crushed, heartbroken, devastated, and left in a broken, sobbing pile on the floor. And each time I was faced with the choice to see her, or not. And I always chose to see her.

Our time together was the most fulfilling, gratifying, healing experience I could imagine, and made me feel alive. And the reality of our relationship was that I would never control her to meet the demands my long-standing connection deficit, or shrink her to placate my insecurities.

After riding that emotional roller coaster numerous times, I learned something. There would be no threats or extortion to get what I wanted. No molding and shaping her to meet my expectations. Instead I started to discover what it takes to build a relationship with another human being.

I began to realize that it didn’t matter what she did with other men. Our relationship was either doing well or it wasn’t, and that depended solely on us. Since it hinged on how I felt, how I was showing up and how I treated her, I found I had a great deal of say in the relationship indeed.

This was my first step in learning how to forge a truly great, unshakable relationship, one that didn’t need a rickety fence around it to ward off marauders. We were together for a number of years. And, crucially, when in time we saw each other less and less frequently, it wasn’t because of some other guy. It was because our relationship had evolved, we had each evolved as people, and it was time for the relationship to take a different form.

Build a strong relationship

So that’s why I don’t think of my girlfriend having a rich, happy, successful, abundant life outside of our relationship — a life full of connection and intimacy and love and sex — as infidelity.

It’s why I see no clear relationship between exclusivity and commitment. I’ve seen monogamous relationships that fail, and open relationships that are resilient and solid.

So my advice is to set aside the exclusivity slider and build a great relationship — one that’s better than anything you or your partner can find elsewhere.

Because freedom and security aren’t opposites. A great relationship, even one that includes a great deal of freedom, can create the kind of deep security that shackles never can.

The part of monogamy that I was completely missing.

This year many of my friends and clients are newly monogamous, after single life, dating, or being in an open relationship. My conversations with them have had me realize that I’ve been ignoring something important about monogamy. It’s as if I had only considered half of the equation.

In the past I’ve written about monogamy in terms of fidelity, because that’s how I’ve always understood it. There are some things you can do with anyone — like commute to work — and some things your partner will want you to do only with them — like have sex.

In other words, the purpose of monogamy is in the effect it has on the partner. You are monogamous so that they feel secure, safe, committed, etc.

But what about the effect that monogamy has on the self?

I don’t believe that exclusivity is a fundamental requirement for love, or sex, or intimacy, or commitment. I see all of those things in abundance with and without exclusivity.

But recently when my friends talk about monogamy, they talk about letting go of their addictions —  to sex, to love, to novelty. Or about ending their eternal search for something that they are sure to find in the next lover, something that will sate the hunger — something that deep down they know they have to find within themselves. They talk about breaking their cycle of escapism and avoidance. Or about losing their taste for drama or intrigue.

And so they are choosing to be monogamous not just volitionally, but out of self-interest. Their reasons often have little to do with their partner’s comfort level or emotional needs, at least not directly. For them monogamy is a practice of cultivating connection and intimacy and depth with another human being that requires them to “play against type”, to break their patterns.

Speaking with them has given me a different kind of appreciation. Since I’ve never been one to exhibit addictive personality traits or compulsive sexual novelty-seeking, it’s all the more valuable for me to experience it through their stories.

It’s also given me a new understanding of my own relationship to monogamy. Being someone who was once plagued by low self-esteem and low self-worth… as that changed, there came a day where I said to a girlfriend — lovingly, honestly, and with no lack of commitment or investment in our relationship — “If you can find someone who’s a better fit for you than me, I want you to be with them.” It wasn’t cocky — it was more humble than anything else — but it was spoken from a newfound confidence and groundedness in who I was, as a person and in relationship. In that liberating moment I shed doubt, fear and clinginess. And I was able to step into the relationship in a whole new way.

Since then I have come to believe that third parties don’t break up relationships. Relationships thrive or fail because of what happens in the relationship. That flies in the face of all the beliefs of the fearful, clingy ones (like I once was), but it’s something they desperately need to know.

And to the same degree that the old me was threatened by my partner’s amazingness, the new me decided never to ask a woman to shrink or diminish herself in order to fit my tiny box of comfort. I don’t require her to have less, or be less, out in the world in order to have more with me.

So my relationship to monogamy is this: I don’t demand it from my partner.

And I’ve adopted that stance for myself, volitionally, because of its deep ties to my own sanity, my own clarity and solidity. Something I had to find within myself after years of searching for it in others. And what was initially my practice of playing against type has made me a much, much better boyfriend.

And in that regard… I am very similar to my newly monogamous friends after all.

This is the single most frequent topic I talk about whenever I give a talk or a workshop, because it ties in with so many other things that I teach.

If you want to see more videos like this, please leave a comment below.

Schadenfreude — taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune

  • Three Stooges; Wile E. Coyote
  • Smiling when your ex gets dumped

Empathy — the ability to feel and experience another person’s suffering

  • Rushing to the hospital when your ex gets in a car accident
  • If Moe actually blinds Curly, it’s not funny anymore

Mudita / Compersion — taking pleasure from someone else’s happiness

  • Mudita — enjoying other people’s happiness in general
  • Comperson – enjoying your partner having fun outside the relationship

Jealousy / Envy — at what point does your capacity for compersion lose out to jealousy or envy?

What if Jealousy isn’t a bad thing. What if it’s too much of a good thing.

Like your favorite song cranked up so loud that it hurts your ears.

Because, let’s be honest, your goal isn’t to be with someone that no one is attracted to.

Or someone who has no life outside the relationship whatsoever.

No friends, no sex appeal and no life.

So at what point does your capacity for compersion — your ability to be happy for your partner’s happiness — lose out to jealousy, envy, insecurity, or possessiveness?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

I was asked this in a forum. I thought about it for awhile and my answers surprised me. Here they are.

Q. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. For a man, what makes or allows him to be confident, especially as a lover/partner?

A. Great question. Here’s how I went from zero confidence with women to a great sex life, a fantastic relationship, and a career training other men how to do it:

I did things I feel good about. Things that boosted my sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Whether it was bravely having an uncomfortable or nerve wracking conversation, or accomplishing a difficult task, or “doing the right thing” even when I’d much rather take a different route….these things gradually had me come to like myself and think of myself as a good, worthy and capable person.

I began to trust my intuition, my gut feelings, and my ability to sense others. Sometimes I took risky chances, following an inkling that wasn’t exactly by-the-books. And sometimes I was wrong. But I was right often enough to start to believe my own personal wisdom. And all of my mistakes taught me something and made my intuition more accurate. I was able to be a skillful instigator, an initiator, a leader in the dance, not just an eternal follower or willing participant.

I learned how to forgive myself. I noticed where I was being hard on myself with regrets and comparisons that served no useful purpose and were harmful to my psychic well being.

There were times when my ego took a major pounding and I began to let go of it. Without a fragile ego to protect I suddenly found a new freedom—to be vulnerable, to let someone else win an argument, to stop worrying about looking good, to be wrong about something, to apologize, to receive feedback, to recognize that someone else is better at something, etc. Where my ego had been threatened by these situations, my confident self wasn’t.

I got to the bedrock of why I put soooo much weight into women’s approval of me. I got to a place where I could see my upbringing, my teen and adult years, and how it came to be that I placed so much credence over there rather than over here. And in seeing it, something dissolved. And I could let go of approval-seeking tendencies, performance anxiety, trying hard to impress rather than being authentic, etc. and I could just relax and enjoy. This made me way more fun for women to interact with. With this came other changes as well. I stopped the habit of giving-giving-giving while being a doormat. I also stopped depending on women to bestow my rightness; I showed up with my own rightness, which women found attractive.

I stopped believing in the existence of a formula or algorithm or technique that would tell me the right thing to do. I started to see that everything I needed to know was right there in the actual moment of interacting with someone, and that all of my attention should be there, with nothing wasted mentally sifting through matching templates or similar situations. I came to see that the worst thing I could do was drag my success with someone else, or my success yesterday, or my success 5 minutes ago, or someone else’s success story, into the current moment with all of its nuances and complexity. Everything I need to know is right here, right now, with this person.

I asked and listened and learned. Without a fragile ego needing to be told I was doing it right, I had a ton of leeway to learn how to actually do it right. To learn what she likes and doesn’t like — in touch, in relating, in all aspects. I made women my teachers.

Those are the biggest contributing factors I can think of on my road to confidence as a lover/sex partner and as a man.

[Contact Ken for a PDF of the entire 6-part series.]

The word Jealousy is great for labeling an intense emotion that everyone recognizes.

It’s pretty much useless in providing insight into what’s actually going on or what to do.

Jealousy is an oversimplification of something that’s actually complex and nuanced. It’s an umbrella term for a whole constellation of different thoughts and feelings. It comes in distinct flavors that need to be distinguished.

Compared to what’s there, Jealousy is more of a dismissive wave of the hand. Oh, you’re just jealous, that’s all. Case solved, nothing more to say about it.

So Jealousy runs cover for other, deeper feelings.

And Jealousy tends to offer really crappy advice. Basically, “Get over it,” if it’s someone else’s jealousy — with no insight into how to go about that — or if it’s your jealousy, the solution is for your partner to immediately and permanently stop doing all activities that make you jealous. Now. Period. End of story.

Often Jealousy’s advice is just to throw the bastard out.

We need something a little more nuanced. And a little more useful.

In this six-part series I’ll be offering you some other ways to understand what we mean when we use the word “jealousy”, what’s underneath it, and what to do about it.

[Next up — the emotional vs. the rational side of Jealousy. Contact Ken for a PDF of the entire 6-part series.]

[Contact me for a PDF of the entire 6-part series on jealousy, plus a few bonus articles.]

Jealousy is a two-headed, green-eyed monster. It’s got an intellectual side and an emotional side.

People often attempt to have rational conversations about it but let’s be clear: the emotional side runs the show. Jealousy absolutely, positively will not be reasoned with.

Even though rational dialog would seem to be pretty pointless, it still needs to happen — in fact Jealousy will insist on it, and has a tendency to hijack the conversation to further obscure what’s really going on.

Here is Jealousy, trying to sound like it has the intellectual upper hand:

  • Divine morality: “______ is a sacred thing to be shared between two people.” (could be sex, intimacy, friendship, dinner or even conversation, depending on who you ask)
  • Pragmatism: “What about safety?” / “You have no time as it is!” (a.k.a. “You could poke your eye out!”)
  • Character assassination: “Don’t you know he’s ______! Why him, of all people?!” (insert any negative quality)

I’m not arguing any of these points in the least.

But these beliefs are not running the show.

Emotion is running the show.

These beliefs aren’t the reason or cause or source of Jealousy, they are the justifications. The raw, intense feeling comes first. Then all these beliefs pop up in support of it. So any debate at this level isn’t touching the real thing that’s there. Emotion certainly isn’t going to budge from a debate around these beliefs.

The only real way to address Jealousy is from the emotional side. Visceral, intense, irrational.

So here’s a question. Are you telling your partner basically the equivalent of, “God doesn’t want you to do that…” because it doesn’t seem sufficient that you don’t want them to do it? Like somehow, that in itself does not seem enough?

Because in my book, that’s the only reason that matters. It’s the only relevant fact. If I’m sending my girlfriend into the Red Zone with jealousy, the quality of our relationship is going to suffer.

And the quality of our relationship is very important to me. Because when it’s good, it’s really fuckin’ stellar. So I have a powerful incentive to use how-it-feels as my guide — to put feeling in the driver’s seat of my actions and decision making.

Wait. Didn’t I make this big case earlier that emotion is “visceral, intense, and irrational”? Yep. It’s oblivious to fairness, or reciprocity, or rules, or (ironically) agreements. And now I’m saying to give weight, to have it guide the relationship?

Actually I’m going further than that. How you make each other feel is precisely the reason you’re together. Relationship is an emotional thing. It’s supposed to be, that’s the whole point. The experience of human connection is different from any other experience we have in life. That experience — what it feels like to be in each other’s presence — is what draws us together. It’s the reason the relationship exists.

So if you’re going to have a conversation about jealousy, have a conversation at the level of how it feels. Stop having a fake, futile, intellectual dialog about something that’s intrinsically an emotional issue.

Because your relationship is intrinsically an emotional issue.

[Next up — the good hidden within Jealousy. Contact me for a PDF of the entire 6-part series, plus a few bonus articles.]

[Contact me for a PDF of the entire six-part series on jealousy, plus a few bonus articles.]

Here’s something to consider.

You did not set out to find a partner that no one is attracted to.

You do not have a goal to be with someone who has absolutely no life whatsoever outside the relationship.

Or who is completely repulsed and disgusted by anyone other than you, while adoring and lusting after you.

Believe me, if you were dating or married to that person you’d have much bigger relationship problems to worry about than jealousy.

And I’m assuming this is also true:

  • You basically believe in being honest and open with each other. If there’s a conscious decision to keep secrets or maintain a falsehood, there is definitely still a conversation for us to have… but it’s not about jealousy. (Contact me.)
  • I’m also assuming that, aside from jealousy and safety, you basically enjoy your partner being happy. You would like them to have what they want in life, in general. In theory, at least. This is called compersion, and we aspire to live there, but sometimes get derailed into envy, insecurity or possessiveness. We want our partner to do well, but get uncomfortable when they’re doing too well.

The point here is, in a healthy, living, thriving, committed relationship, jealousy is going to arise. You are not going to avoid it.

I know that it’s likely none of this is news to you. I also know that none of this matters in the slightest when you’re feeling the sting of jealousy.

But I want you to see that jealousy isn’t about bad things. It’s about good things with the intensity knob set too high. It’s like a song you enjoy, except played through a megaphone at maximum volume right next to your ears. Our own envy, insecurity and possessiveness makes it so.

So keep that in mind as you get clear on what kinds of things you are OK or not OK with.

[Next up — the different flavors of jealousy: envy/desire, insecurity, and possession/ownership. Contact me for a PDF of the entire six-part series, plus a few bonus articles.]

Let’s recap:

  • Jealousy is an oversimplification of something that’s actually complex and nuanced.
  • Jealousy has an intellectual and an emotional component. The emotional component runs the show.
  • Jealousy runs cover for other, deeper feelings.
  • Jealousy offers crappy advice. “Get over it,” if it’s someone else’s jealousy. If it’s yours, your partner must immediately and permanently cease all activities that cause you to feel jealous.

Types of jealousy

Jealousy comes in a few basic flavors. Resolution comes from going beyond “jealousy” and seeing what’s really at play in your relationship. That requires the more difficult work of coming to terms with how you feel about yourself, how you feel about each other, and the quality of the relationship. The three things we refer to as “jealousy” most often are Envy/Desire, Insecurity, and Possession/Ownership.

Each type is a lock with its own key.



What it can feel like:

Angry, indignant, ripped off, cheated of something that’s rightfully yours, betrayed, righteous, envious

What it can look like:

  • Becoming tight when your partner has happiness, enjoyment, fun or success in general outside the relationship.
  • Acting jealous over things you don’t even want (or at least claim that you don’t want).
  • Something arises between your partner and someone else that you wish existed between the two of you.
  • Jealousy showing up in a relationship that has other problems or issues.

What’s underneath it:

Envy — and at the root of that, desire.

What you need to know:

When the relationship is great, people tend to feel less jealous.

When the relationship is crappy, people tend to feel more jealous.

When their relationship “satisfaction rating” is through the roof fantastic, when they are in abundant surplus, they’re less apt to be tight around what their partner does outside the relationship. In short, great relationships lead to more compersion.

(…so long as what they’re doing isn’t harmful or impacting how they are in the relationship.)

What can we learn about jealousy from people in so-called “open” relationships? This is kind of like getting a lesson on fear-of-heights from a TV tower repair guy, or a skyscraper window washer. You may have no desire to follow in their footsteps… but they certainly know a thing or two about your topic and can probably shed some light on your struggles.

And one of the biggest predictors of whether an open relationship is going to be jealousy-ridden or happy and supportive is whether both people are getting everything they want within the relationship.

As for my own relationship… I often give this example. If my girlfriend were, for example, running drugs for the Mafia or trafficking in child labor… I’m not ok with that. But going out and enjoying herself and having a great time? I’m all for it! Why — because I have nothing to envy. I’m extremely happy with our relationship.

Let’s be clear, I do not think open relationships are for everyone! Far from it. Monogamy is wonderful. But in the context of jealousy, I am inviting you to take a look at this far end of the relationship spectrum in order to see what it can tell us about how jealousy works.

Because transformation is going to require a shift of attention from jealousy (what’s going on outside the relationship) to desire (what’s going on inside of it).

Revealed: naming the desire

Now there’s a particular flavor of jealousy that arises, that sounds like this:

“No I don’t want that, and I certainly don’t want you having it with anyone else either.”

This is the exception that proves the rule. This type of jealousy sometimes painfully exposes a place where someone has been, shall we say, a bit stingy in the relationship, and now it’s coming back to bite them.

There’s a world of difference between a genuine lack of desire, vs. withholding (intimacy / connection / love / sex / etc.). When you’re just not feeling it — assuming the relationship is otherwise healthy and doing well — you generally want your partner to be happy and almost secretly wish they would go out and have a little fun. It would at least take some of the burden off.

But when you’ve got it on lock-down… you’re actually starving both of you. And in your starving state you have very little tolerance for your partner having fun or happiness of any kind outside the relationship. Everything that is good in their life that does not involve you, makes you jealous. You would much prefer them to suffer, because otherwise they’re never going to give you the thing you want, the ransom you’re holding out for.

So, we can just know the desire is particularly loud on this one. People aren’t jealous of something they have no desire for. Jealousy is irritatingly great at exposing desire and flushing it to the surface. And this jealousy is driven by an unmet desire for something.

So what is it that your partner’s actions that sparked envy? A kind of attention you’re not getting? A certain feeling you wish existed between the two of you? If this jealousy is a flare-up of unmet desire, what is it?

Because whatever that thing is, that is where your attention needs to go.

What to do about it (a.k.a. Hard Truth for you to wake up to):

Jealousy is resolved by improving the relationship.

It’s resolved in the way the two of you relate with each other. It’s resolved within the relationship itself, not outside of it.

Here’s your mantra:
How can we make our relationship better?
How can we make our relationship better?
How can we make our relationship better?