Recap: To get anywhere with jealousy you have to know what’s behind it. And there isn’t one answer to this. That’s why labeling the situation “jealousy” and stopping there leads to problems. There’s a few basic flavors. What people refer to as “jealousy” is most often one of these: envy/desire, possessiveness/ownership, or insecurity.

Insecurity

 

What it can feel like:

Fearful, anxious, protective, a need to constrain or control, insecure, threatened, nervous

What it can look like:

  • Fear that your partner is going to leave you
  • Needing lots of reassurance
  • Feeling threatened when your partner interacts with others
  • Having ever more complicated rules for your partner to follow, to avoid your anxious feelings
  • False or exaggerated accusations
  • Projection: seeing attractive qualities in someone and believing your partner is attracted to them

What’s underneath it:

Self-doubt, low self-esteem or self-worth, lack of confidence, or behaving in ways you don’t feel good about.

What you need to know:

People who are confident, who like themselves, and who feel good about how they treat their partner tend to be less jealous.

Relationships are the perfect echo chamber for your own sense of attractiveness, performance anxiety, self-esteem, etc.

So you’d better believe the relationship is solid, that you’re worthy and worth it, that you’re the best match for your partner.

If you have doubts about those things, that is where to put your attention.

When people don’t feel good about themselves, this cycle occurs:

1. They feel unlovable, abandonable.
2. Their partner’s love, as a stand-in, becomes ultra-important…
3. …which leads to them being over-protective, or controlling, or needy…
4. …then their own behavior has them feel even more unlovable and abandonable.

And if you really want to feel insecure, threatened and jealous in the relationship… treat your partner poorly. Do that, and you will be eternally on edge and constantly accusing them in your head of being on the brink of leaving you.

I’ve written about the connection between self-worth and having a good relationship with the opposite sex before, and how I got there myself.

Revealed: Projection

There’s a very particular flavor of jealousy that leads to false (or exaggerated) accusations. It actually has little to do with your partner at all. They’re pretty much caught in the crossfire of how you feel about yourself, inflamed by something you see in this third party, this other person you’re convinced your partner has the hots for. You see something you like in them, something you admire. You see positive qualities, something you think is attractive… Then you compare yourself to them and feel inadequate…. Then you project all of that onto your partner, accusing them of wanting to run off with Third Party and leave you in the dust.

Actually, the only one who’s abandoning you in this scenario is you. You’re basically cheating on yourself in your mind, and then trying to frame your partner for the crime.

This is basically the same as envy/desire but derailed into self-loathing rather than inspiration.

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

The opposite of security is insecurity.

Read that again and think about it.

Read it again and think about it.

“The opposite of security—“ (that thing we desperately want and are trying so hard to get from our partner)

“—is insecurity.” (Something we know can only be resolved from within).

No amount of reassurance from our partner is going to help. Nor is it going to lead to a healthy, happy, resilient, or long-lasting relationship. It’s just going to cover up the real, biggest threat to the relationship and make things worse over the long run. If you want a good relationship — with anyone — there’s some internal work you’re going to need to do.

Here’s a good place to start. First of all, give yourself a break! Secondly, what ever happened to being inspired by someone’s example and striving to emulate their good qualities? Third, try and remember that your partner has their own reasons for loving you. And most importantly, stop with the false accusations! Let it be legitimate that this is about you, and commit yourself to doing the work to get to a different place. Let it be that your partner, and this relationship, are worth it and valuable enough to you to do it.

For fun, here is a peek into what things I had to do to feel more confident in relationships.

Recap: Jealousy isn’t a very useful word. It’s an oversimplification of something that’s actually quite complex and nuanced, covering a whole constellation of different thoughts and feelings. “Jealousy” as a concept doesn’t give us very good advice on what to do.

What we refer to as “jealousy” is most often a case of either envy/desire, insecurity, or possession/ownership, and each of these has its own set of circumstances and its own path to resolution.

Possession / Ownership

 

What it can feel like:

Sad, heartbroken, possessive, territorial, shattered dreams, disappointed

What it can look like:

  • Starting to feel jealous or territorial early on — maybe even with a crush or someone you’re not in a relationship with yet (it’s just a technicality! They just haven’t figured out I’m The One yet!)
  • Having very different ideas about how “serious” or “committed” you are
  • Having a relationship template — should’s, supposed to’s, etc. — that don’t match the actual relationship you’re in

What’s underneath it:

Fear of falling.

What you need to know:

Imagine handing someone the keys to your Maserati. Then panicking over whether they’re going to take good care of it. So you ride shotgun, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the shifter, barking a constant stream of driving instructions, pointing out road hazards, etc.

Now, imagine that what you gave them is the keys to your heart. That should give you a sense of what’s going on here. You’re worried about whether they’re going to handle it properly, you’re trying to manage the whole thing and it’s coming out in a controlling way.

Revealed: fear of falling

Here’s a pretty common version. Here you are, saying, “Until death do us part… forsaking all others…” while your partner seems to be saying: “Hey, if you love someone, set them free; if they come back, they’re yours.” (Or maybe there’s some other way you just don’t seem to be singing the same song.) And your actions are making each other ever more uncomfortable, leading to increasing polarization.

So now you’re stuck in a deep inner conflict. A conflict between:

  • The spark that drew the two of you together in the first place… vs. your relationship goals, desires, and beliefs.
  • A real-life connection you experience with this real, living, breathing human being… vs. the “checklist” they’re not fitting into.
  • Your natural impulse to love… vs. your tendency to treat love as a bargaining chip.

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

Our need to own someone
~ equals ~
our natural impulse to be owned by them
~ times~
our fear of relationship conditions not getting met.

What??

I’ll say it another way. That tendency we have to be possessive and controlling? It’s actually driven by a deep desire to give ourselves over to them fully…. colliding with all of our own conceptions and criteria and preconditions for relationship bliss.

We want to own because we want to be owned, and we’re scared.

This of course is pretty much the grandaddy of all relationship decision points. So let me go straight to the heart of what might be going through your mind right now:

Don’t settle!!!

Don’t give up your relationship goals for someone who doesn’t seem to live up to them.

Great. Fine. Case closed.

Seriously, I’m totally good with you stopping right here and calling it quits if you are.

But while you’re composing that “Dear John” letter in your head, gearing up to get on with your life and resume the eternal search for Mr./Ms. Perfect… let me give you a little something to think about.

The very best, the richest, the most profound, the most amazing relationships — the ones that crack us open and rewrite our beings down to the DNA — these relationships tend to look nothing like what we imagined. They are a complete surprise. They tend to shatter our most cherished expectations.

Why? Because we’re pretty clueless about what’s really possible between two people — how potent connection can be — until we experience it. Then when we do, it’s often both different and better than we were expecting.

We are built for connection. All of us. And all of our plotting and planning and efforts to get it to happen don’t really prepare us for what it’s really like when it arises.

And the biggest thing that stops connection from happening is… we’re not open to it. Because of our tendency to make the template more important than the connection. We are living under the tyranny of all the conditions we are placing on others in order to love them.

Which brings us back to the topic of Jealousy.

When we love someone as they actually are without a lot of conditions, we tend to feel less jealous.

We’re not afraid that they’ll leave us… we’re afraid that we might leave them.

Here you are urgently trying to twist their arm to surrender to you fully and commit to you eternally. But let’s be honest, to what degree are you on the fence? How often do you have second thoughts about whether this is The One?

.

So I’d like to suggest a different approach.

Instead of working so hard to get this relationship to go in the direction you want it to go… why don’t you just set your checklist aside for long enough to see what’s there between you. See what arises. Let your connection evolve organically. And, without comparison, just see if you like it. Do you like the connection that you have with this person?

Because, regardless of whether you end up with this one or someone else, this is how the relationship is going to develop if it’s going to be strong, resilient, happy, intimate, passionate, fun and long-lasting.

 

Monogamy that works.

Let’s survey the landscape: “Serial” monogamy. Affairs. Monogamish. Famously high divorce rates. Friends with benefits. Is true, lasting monogamy a fading institution?

I’ve worked with individuals, happily married couples, people on the dating scene, marriages on the rocks, new relationships, poly-amores, and everything in between. And I’m going to speak a brutal truth. Monogamous relationships are harder to really pull off well than “open” relationships.

The trajectory I set for my clients is fantastic relationships, and at that level monogamy simply doesn’t arise as an issue. Seriously, people who are in a fantastic relationship aren’t coming to me to discuss monogamy. It’s a non-issue.

That said, here is what we know about monogamy that works:

Working monogamy is monogamy in practice. It’s not conceptual. It’s not a personality type (as much as one might insist that it is). Monogamy is a relationship state. It involves being monogamous to a real live human being, with all of their quirks and gifts and uniqueness.

If you’re currently in search of your ideal soul-mate, your perfect match on this Earth…
If you left a partner who cheated on you…
In short, if you are not in a relationship…
Then I hate to break it to you: you are not monogamous.
You can’t be monogamous without the who that you are monogamous to. What you are instead is what we call monogamous to monogamy. You are monogamous to an idea. It’s simply not the same as being monogamous to someone.

Why?  Because it takes a lot to connect with another human being. All the more so, to connect in a way that eclipses all others. If you’re not actually in such a relationship—if you’re not doing what it takes to connect with someone at that level, grappling with the beautifully messy realities and complexities of human relating—I’m sorry but you have no claim to monogamy. There are plenty of people out there who use their laundry list of ideals, monogamy among them, to avoid relationships rather than to get into one.

So get all up in there with someone. Then maybe we can have a meaningful conversation about monogamy.

Working monogamy is organic monogamy. Monogamy that arises spontaneously because the relationship really is that good. Where the thought of being with someone else draws a rather blank stare and a “…Why?”  Organic monogamy is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It requires no effort and draws little attention. It isn’t so much chosen or negotiated as discovered. “Monogamy” is a convenient label for what you’re naturally doing, left to your own devices. Just as the Moon travelling freely through space orbits the Earth. There’s no resisting temptation because there isn’t anyone funner, sexier, more attractive, more alluring, or better in bed than the one you’re with.  There isn’t any wandering because there isn’t anywhere to go. Any step away is a step down from what you’ve already got.

Working monogamy is being monogamous to someone (as opposed to demanding monogamy from someone). It doesn’t work that way. Monogamy has everything to do with your behavior and nothing to do with your partner’s.

Sure, you can extort / demand / insist on your partner’s monogamy. Perhaps indefinitely. But it will never get you a good relationship if you don’t already have one.

I frequent a Facebook group for singles who are all followers of a certain very popular motivational speaker. Recently a woman posted that she met a great guy. She described his many wonderful qualities and how well-suited they were. But he “refuses to be monogamous,” and she was asking the group for thoughts on what to do.  I read through the many responses, most of them some variation of telling her to dump the scoundrel and run as fast as she could, since he’ll never change. Until we got into a discussion of what she really wanted, what monogamy represented to her:

Exclusivity isn’t the same as longevity. Exclusivity isn’t the same as depth, or intimacy, or commitment. If your desire is to have a committed, long-lasting, passionate, deep, intimate relationship with someone, the only way is to build that kind of relationship with someone.

As for monogamy itself, the only kind of monogamy we really care about is the organic kind, where the relationship is so fantastic that nothing out there compares to what you’ve got at home. But that too has to be built. If you demand it, you end up with monogamy without longevity, without passion or intimacy or depth.

So having a monogamous relationship does not consist of finding a “monogamous” partner. Crappy relationships are the birthplace of all the affairs of the monogamy-minded. Newlyweds are generally not planning their future affairs.

By the same token, building a fantastic relationship can render “open relationship” status functionally irrelevant.

But in all my years of coaching/teaching—and living, for that matter—I’ve never seen monogamy, in and of itself, make a crappy relationship fantastic.

Focusing on monogamy as an issue won’t improve a relationship, but focusing on improving the relationship can neutralize monogamy as an issue.