Looking At The Narratives Of Jealousy

Jun 03, 2021

Hi. My name is Martha Kauppi. I’m an AASECT-certified sex therapist and supervisor. Thanks for joining me on my vlog. Today, I’m talking about jealousy, particularly jealousy in open relationships like polyamory. Watch the previous vlog to catch up here with where I’m starting from.

Today, I want to talk about jealousy as a way of experiencing some narrative assumption. Let’s imagine that your partner is out on a date that they’re romantically involved with and sexually involved with. You’re at home thinking about it and you’re experiencing something like jealousy. First of all, I want to just parse that out a little bit. Jealousy has a bunch of little sisters. There’s envy and a whole constellation of emotions. I just lump them all in together: jealousy and other related uncomfortable emotions. Whatever your semantic preference is, I don’t care. All of them can be worked with in similar ways.

What I think is that when you experience a feeling, an emotion, of jealousy, probably you are also telling yourself some stories that are either helping you feel more jealousy or helping you feel less jealousy. Those stories are narratives. A narrative is just a story we tell ourselves. From the department of happiness, you being a happy person, it’s really important that you start to be aware of the stories that you tell yourself that affect your emotional experience. Are you telling yourself a story that helps you feel better or are you telling yourself a story that helps you feel worse? You get to choose the story that you continue to tell. Bringing it into your conscious awareness—”What stories am I telling myself?”—is the first, really important step.

I also think it’s important to forgive yourself for having the tough emotion in the first place. Everybody has tough emotions. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re doing polyamory wrong. It doesn’t matter that there’s anything wrong or broken about you and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner is doing something wrong. Emotions come. It’s ok. Let it happen. Love yourself anyway. Then, figure out how you want to show up when you are experiencing this jealousy-labeled constellation of uncomfortable emotions.

Here’s the narrative way to look at it. I feel the feeling. I am aware of an emotion. I ask myself, “Gee, I wonder what I’m thinking that is affecting that emotion?” Then I realize, “Oh, ok. I’m telling myself a story.” The stories that go with jealousy tend to be either stories about a dire future like, “My partner being romantically-involved with this other person is just their other way of trying to move towards a breakup with me.” Or, it might be a comparison story: “My partner’s romantic and sexaul attraction to this other person is a sign that there’s something unattractive about me,” or, “Our relationship isn’t satisfying and therefore, my partner is going and doing this thing.”

Look for narratives that are telling a story about you, a story about what’s wrong with you, something about you, in the present or in the future. A dire future is a common narrative. “This is just a sign that we’re headed for a breakup.”

Or, it might be a narrative that’s telling a story about someone else. “My partner prefers-,” “My partner wants-,” “My partner doesn’t want-,” “My partner doesn’t like-.” Yourself, others, and the future: those are the categories that narratives generally fall into.

Now, the cool thing about it is that once you realize the stories you are telling yourself, first of all, you can gain conscious control over them. One way to do that is to decide to check some of those narratives out with a person who would know. If you’re telling yourself a story that involves your partner’s life goals or your partner’s attraction to you, you can actually check that out with your partner and say something like, “When you were on a date with so-and-so the other night, i realized that I was having a whole bunch of fears about this, this, and this and I want to check some of those out with you. Would you be willing to talk to me about that?” You can actually find out how your partner views this, how your partner makes sense of having more than one partner, and how your partner views you and their relationship with you through their eyes.

Now, of course, if you want to let somebody into your narrative like that, you have to have an opening for hearing their perspective. You have to get grounded and be like, “Tell me how you see it from your eyes,” and then really try to put yourself in their shoes and see it the way they see it. “I don’t compare the two of you. When I’m with you, I’m with you. When I’m with them, I’m with them. These relationships aren’t in competition with one another.” Whatever it is that your partner is telling you, let it in. I think we’re not always so good at receiving so just breathe, get grounded, and receive what your partner is telling you. Let it shift your narrative.

Then, of course, the next time you’re thinking that same story, you want to use that information to debunk the myths that you’re telling yourself. “Oh wait, no. I checked with my partner and my partner told me this. This is what my partner told me. This is what is true for my partner.”

Now, I can almost hear you saying, “But what if that isn’t true for my partner? What if they’re lying to me?” Ok. It is possible to have an actually bad relationship. If you’re in a bad relationship, you’re going to want to get out of your bad relationship. What I want to tell you is that if the way that you are imagining that it’s a bad relationship is because you’re experiencing jealousy, it might be worth running some experiments for figuring out how to tell yourself more positive stories that help you feel better and use your partner’s understanding and narrative to teach you a different narrative.

I understand if you’re “bullshit meter” is going off and this just isn’t for you. That’s ok. Go talk to your partner about ending your relationship. But if you’re curious about this, I want to tell you that it’s possible.

By the way, this technique works for helping identify the narratives that help you feel good or bad in any sphere. This isn’t just for jealousy. It’s also relevant to anxiety. It’s relevant to all kinds of different emotions. Mostly, we tell ourselves a story that makes the emotion either stronger or less strong.

Let’s imagine what some narratives you might choose for yourself could be. You could get a new narrative through your partner’s eyes. You could get a new narrative through your own imagination like, “Am I sure that’s true? What would I prefer to believe?” Well, I would prefer to believe that my relationship stands on its own and that no other relationship that my partner might have is in competition with my relationship. That’s how I want to see it. That’s the story I’m going to start telling myself. “Nope, I’m not in competition with another person. I just am myself. My partner’s relationship is with me and I’m just going to hold steady here.”

That’s just a little snapshot of how you would use a narrative approach to look at what’s happening with your experience of jealousy. In my next video, I’m going to talk about a whole other aspect of working with jealousy: if you’re experiencing it or if your clients are. Talk to you soon.

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