Is Jealousy Ever Healthy in a Relationship?


The above image was posted on a poly board I am a part of and it started a short conversation. I had more to say about it than a Facebook post, so I am opting to post it here.

For people who practice poly or non-monogamy (not the same thing) jealousy can be an issue. It is the same in monogamous relationships, except in monogamous relationships jealousy is seen as both normal and desirable. Jealousy, in the broader culture, tends to represent desire to be with someone, intense love, and “true love.”

Unpacking Jealousy

Let’s unpack jealousy, and by that I mean let’s look at its symbolic meaning versus what it really is.

In the predominant American culture, jealously symbolizes love. Think about popular scenes in movies, television, and music. Here are a few to consider. The moment one partner realizes their other partner has things in their house/apartment from prior relationships: books, throws, pictures, memorabilia. The first partner then demands the second partner rid the house of everything from former relationships. There is a crisis, but about 90 percent of the time, the items get discarded.

Or, look at the scenes where partners interact with the larger world. There is the version where the guy checks out another girl when the couple is out and the partner female gets irate that “her man” could “even look at another girl!” Or, there is the version where there is a harmless work flirtation. The partner not being flirted with freaks out and bans the partner being flirted with from being alone or around that other person. The jealousy and possessiveness behind these scenes is supposed to represent what happens with people fall in love and become insanely possessive of their partner.

Then, of course, there is the glorification of stalking techniques. There are hundreds of popular scenes where one partner secretly goes through the other one’s phone and finds messages or texts or calls from another person and then has to find out if their partner is cheating. Or there is the “follow that cab” version, where a partner sneaks around to follow their love to see what they are “really doing” and if they are cheating. This again, is not portrayed as unstable or creepy behavior, but appropriate for a relationship.

The message people are sent about love and relationships is that it is typified by jealousy, possessiveness and irrational behavior (as seen in the meme at the beginning of this post). But is this an actual sign of love or is it behavior we are taught to manifest as part of being “in love?”

Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Lo ve

For many, many people, there is a strong connection between feeling jealous, possessive and in love. The three emotions are deeply rooted together for some individuals. They develop fond feelings for someone, then want exclusive access to that person and become jealous and suspicious.

I am willing to believe that some of this is based in evolution. After all, in the Darwinian model of evolution, the people who reproduced most win. So, a man would have an advantage if he protected his mates from any other potential mates (at least until his mates can no longer bear children). Women, on the other hand, would benefit from a partner who stays around to protect the offspring until they are old enough to fend for themselves and having a man who was not running hither and thither on the savanna would be an advantage.

This is only one evolutionary model, however. There are other social models that would allow men to procreate at high rates and having a village invested in protecting children would also help them reach a point where they could then fend for themselves. So, until I see more evidence, I will not pick one model over the other. I am just willing to allow that some level of jealousy and possessiveness may be pretty innate.

For me, however, jealousy and possessiveness have never been the markers of a healthy relationship. These emotions stem from other things, primarily insecurities. For me, love cannot flourish in the presence of jealousy and possessiveness.

I have been in some form of open relationship most of my adult life. I am in one now with my primary and I am experiencing a lot of compersion. This is the idea that a partner can be happy for another partner in a love and sex situations. When my guy gets to see another woman he cares about and enjoys spending time with, I am a little excited to hear about their night when he gets home. I like seeing him happy. I know he has spent a lot of his night getting hot and sweaty with this other girl, but he comes home happy and relaxed and that makes me feel good.