The last Poly 101 discussion had a record number of people in attendance. To make sure everyone who wanted to had a chance to speak, we broke into four smaller groups after a general discussion about jealousy and compersion. The following are notes from three of the groups. It was a VERY productive session!
We spent a lot of time elaborating on a vocabulary to describe the elements surrounding jealousy. This is an outline of that vocabulary and some of the discussion items around combating jealousy. I've added some of my own ideas to complete the notes.
Jealousy and Envy
While jealousy is anxiety over an anticipated loss of something, envy is anxiety over the desire to have something that someone else has. (So we may feel jealous about our partner's relationship with another, and envy about that other's relationship with our partner.)
Trust and Acceptance
Trust with a partner can make a significant impact on whether either party feels jealous. If you feel that you can trust a partner, the risk or feeling of anticipated loss is much less. Trust means that you feel that you can honour each other's agreements, that you will be honest with each other, etc.
Part of the problem with trust is that we feel we can trust someone if they act exactly in accordance with the rules or boundaries that we are comfortable with, or at least have agreed to. A higher ground than trust is acceptance. If we can accept someone for who they are, then we are more resilient (and less inclined to be jealous) at times when he or she cannot be trusted as much. This requires knowing someone very well. For example, accepting a compulsive liar means understanding when they can be trusted and when they can't, and being okay with this. Accepting someone as they are is also an important component of love.
Reassurance, Disclosure and Check-Ins
Offering reassurance to a partner helps to combat jealousy by lessening the threat of a situation that they have no control over. Reassurance includes reminding a partner how you feel about them; or planning a date on the day after a date with someone else.
Disclosure is more proactive than reassurance. Volunteering information helps to remove some of the mystery and anxiety that can develop if a partner begins to make their own assumptions about what may or may not be happening outside of their control.
Check-Ins are periodic communications between partners to confirm feelings, share information, and proactively double-check that assumptions and prior arrangements are still working for both parties. Checking in regularly can help greatly with trust and overcoming jealousy. You can't check in too much.
Other Tools to Combat Jealousy
1) Partners meeting each other. This can result in the lessening of anxiety, removal of assumptions and also genuinely liking the other person, which makes it much easier to wish them and your partner well.
2) Discussing feelings together. By processing feelings as a team, you can become aware of each other's priorities, anxieties, discuss new boundaries, and offer reassurance before feelings get unnecessarily out of hand. This also helps build trust and acceptance.
Processing Alone or Together
Some people prefer to process their feelings alone, for several hours or sometimes days, before discussing them with a partner. They want to keep the processing part private and avoid premature conclusions or the risk of sharing unfinished or uncertain thoughts. Once finished, they want to share their conclusions, needs and wants. Others feel more comfortable sharing their processing, with the advantage that feelings can be dealt with more quickly. This requires a greater amount of trust and a willingness to make mistakes.
Ownership of Jealousy
Jealousy is a feeling that is owned by the one that experiences it. If you are jealous, you cannot blame another for that feeling. You can discuss that person's behaviour, but the feeling remains your own. Just like anger, jealousy can be destructive and it helps to be able to do the inner work so it can be dealt with -- not externalize it or project it. Clarify that jealousy can and should be discussed and shared. Ownership of the emotion doesn't mean keeping it to yourself, but accepting responsibility for it.
Compromise and Negotiation
Compromise is when both parties give something up. This is not always ideal, since it means a loss to both, but in many cases it's not necessary for both to give something up. For example, if I like cheese and you like bananas, mixing them together is a tasteless compromise. But if we have cheese today and banana tomorrow, I have what I want today and you have what you want tomorrow.
One advantage of negotiation in love, when compared to negotiation in most other scenarios, is that, because you love someone, you are willing to encourage them to start the negotiation by expressing ALL of their needs and wants. You actually are interested in trying to meet as many of them as possible.
Another group discussed the following ideas:
Not keeping score
Looking for complementary benefits of other relationships
Understanding your own needs and needs of others and that don't always
mesh, and having realistic expectations of needs being met
Communication - OPEN - accepting feelings, clear communication about
Not obsessing about future but still processing / not denying worries
Finally, the group I was in had these points to add to the general wisdom of the evening:
A memorable quote from my group in relation to encouraging compersion to blossom: one must "feed a culture of compersion".
This can be done in several ways, but mostly by communicating and reflecting compersion back to your partner on a regular basis by telling them when you feel happy for them or asking for reassurance that they do feel happy for you. Cultivating friendships with partners of partners (metamours) also helps feed compersion. Demystifying sex can also be helpful (because we communicate sexually as well as verbally!).