I feel a red hot itching in my lungs. My spine is aflame. My head is buzzing with pressure and electric waves of doubt, fear and anxiety.
I have just received a text from my fella and I am suddenly in a world of sh*t.
Two years ago, I agreed to be in an open relationship. I had been seeing a man who I liked very much, but we were casual and not committed, just like I wanted it. He offered me the opportunity to be in an open relationship with him, and I figured, why not? I am not into the monogamy thing, so this might be exactly what I am looking for.
I have to say, it has been perfect for me, if by perfect you mean exactly what I needed to trigger all of the abandonment and neglect trauma I have ever experienced in my life. But, I am one of those people who believes that in order to heal, one must deal with their fears and anxieties, so, I went head-long into it, even after I had some pretty severe meltdowns, believing that it would be good for me.
This of course, was not the only reason I kept at it. This relationship was giving me many other things too.
My fella was infinitely patient with my meltdowns, and had the ability to talk me through my feelings of insecurity and jealousy. It made me love him all the more, every time he forgave me. Additionally, I was able to meet new people with the possibility of having sex with them, which has always been a spectacular way for me to connect with people and discover parts of myself I had not known existed. My fella has introduced me to new and wonderful things and experiences. He is one of those people who lives his life with an engagement that is both exciting and frankly, somewhat exhausting. In a good way.
But the biggest and most important thing I am learning from this relationship is about jealousy itself, the nature of it, why it happens, and why it is so hard to work through. I have lived with the emotion all my life, have attracted people to me who would bring it out, but have never taken the opportunity to work through it before this. Why?
I was so ashamed of my jealousy, I could not even talk about it. I could not even admit to it. My jealousy made me feel like a horrible, hateful person, and I could barely contain myself when I felt it.
At different moments in my life Jealousy controlled me due to the shame I felt around it. The problem was, at times, jealousy was a perfectly normal reaction to what I was experiencing. Boyfriend hitting on other girls in front of me? Check. Boyfriend cheating on me with women I knew? Check. Boyfriend behaving as if other women in the room were more important to him than me? Check. Girlfriends hitting on my boyfriend in front of me? Check, check, and double check.
Back in my 20s, when I was experiencing all of this stuff, I hid it. I didn’t show it. I wanted to appear as if this stuff didn’t bother me. As if I was ultimately cool by not showing my jealousy and rage about the betrayal. What this ended up doing was damaging me. By not copping to my emotions, I was telling myself I had no right to feel them. By feeling ashamed of some pretty rational reactions, I was treating myself like I was not important, like other people should take precedence in my life.
So flash to my open relationship and I am reacting in the same ways to things that used to feel threatening, only now, they aren’t. Because we agreed that this is what would happen and I know my fella loves me unreservedly.
There is a lot of jealousy in open relationships. I have had the great opportunity to be with several couples since I have been living this fantastic life, and in almost every situation, there is jealousy in some form to be dealt with, mostly by the woman, mostly surrounding how much attention/compliments/focus her partner is giving to me. Which, I am happy to say, I never judge—because I know how that feels.
Of course, I never see that. The jealousy, that is. It is usually reported back to me later, and I just withdraw until I am invited back again. By the woman.
I had a friend a while back who asked me why I put myself through it. Why would I want to bring up my feelings of insecurity and mistrust over and over again? Why would I put myself and my fella through that?
Well, I can say, now that I am just about on the other side of it, is because it held me back. My jealousy only served to push people away from me, when I most needed them to be close. My shame kept me from looking at myself. My life-long history with this problem kept me from living a much better and more full life.
Yes, going through it was pretty torturous, but I have come to see that dealing with it, admitting it, and working through it has taught me not only that I can deal with jealousy, but that I can deal with anything, that I don’t have to be ashamed of anything I feel, and that I have the right to ask for what I want.
These are all things I knew intellectually, but until I was in that place of shame, and could pull myself out of it by my force of sheer will, I didn’t really know it. I had to move through it to truly know. So, this, in detail, is how I handle my jealousy and the shame I feel around it:
- I admit to my jealousy when I am feeling it. This helps break the bubble of tension that surrounds my heart and helps me open up to my fella
- I say exactly what my fear is around my jealousy, which immediately makes me feel better because it usually sounds ridiculous
- I ask for what I need to not feel jealous. It is usually something like needing to hear that I am loved.
- I tell or show my great love for my fella. I let him know how much I appreciate him.
Over time, as I have done this, my jealousy has evaporated, I can trust my fella more with my feelings, and feel more like I have a right to feel them. Our relationship has deepened, and all of my other relationships have improved as well.
I have come to realize that jealousy has been effecting every relationship in my life. Not just the one with my fella.
Jealousy at its core is the experience of feeling unlovable or unloved. Once I re-trained myself to ask for the love I believed I was not worthy of, things really transformed for me. I started to see myself as loved and lovable.
Of course, this sounds far easier that it is. To ask for love, to believe you are worthy of love, when so much in your life has shown you that you are not, is a test of will and presence. It is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do, and I still do it. I have been in the position of convincing myself that I must ask for love. That I must demonstrate that I need it.
The excuse I used to have, that I shouldn’t have to ask for what someone should automatically want to give me, was a way to keep me a victim. Because my biggest fear, which I also could not name, was that I would ask for love and not get it. That all my greatest fears about myself would be realized.
And what if it was? What if I asked for love and I did not get it? What then?
That was the last bit I felt I had to work on. The answer came easily, but is much harder to put into practice: Love myself anyway. In the end, I need the love of one person, me. If I don’t have that, all that love that others have for me falls on deaf ears. All the gifts, compliments and treasures laid at my door might as well be made of soot. If I cannot feel them, they do not exist.
Yes, I still work on my jealousy and shame and my ability to receive and feel love. I work on it every day. But it is different now because I understand it and myself a lot better. I have improved from this work, as have all of my relationships. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding.
That is why I love my jealousy. It led me back to me.
Author: Sara Young
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: gksfk0309 at Flickr