Jealousy and Open Relationships

by Husband on June 9, 2009

In our years of living openly, I’ve heard some speculate that non-monogamy seems more consistent with the hardwiring of human beings than monogamy. I don’t believe it’s that straight forward. I feel like we struggle against two competing instincts: on the one hand, the desire for variety in our sexual and romantic lives, and on the other hand, jealousy.
This is a longish blog post, because the subject is complex. But to summarize: open relationships are not for the emotionally weak.

Another misconception people have is that Wife and I don’t experience jealousy. We’re human. Of course we do. True, we’re not inclined, as some are, to fits of blinding jealous rage. But we are familiar with the general concept. We just choose to manage those emotions instead of being consumed by them.

To summarize the definition of “jealousy” (Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia), it seems to be the fear of losing something or someone that you desire to possess. Perhaps that’s the secret to the open relationship, at least with respect to jealousy. We don’t greatly fear that we will lose each other. We trust in the strength of our commitment to each other.

People often ask us whether we’re not tempting fate by romancing others. It seems a naive question to me. What percentage of marriages fail? What percentage of “monogamous” couples stray? You hardly have to adopt an open marriage to be tempted. Rather the opposite, I find much greater confidence in knowing whom she’s with and the quality of her feelings about him than were I blindly trusting she had romantic notions for no one but me.

As I’ve noted before, our open marriage doesn’t simply mean the occasional hookup. We form emotional bonds and ongoing relationships outside of our marriage. We both have had relationship with others that have lasted a year or longer. This gives rise to jealousy in several dimensions.

The obvious interpretation is that I would feel jealous over her relationship with another man, or she over mine with another woman. We’ve experienced that, for sure. Honestly, it hasn’t troubled me much in recent years. I’m usually mostly pleased for her that she’s enjoying herself. I’m very secure in her love for me, so there hasn’t been another man in her life in a while who threatened my confidence that she’d stay with me. I’d like to say the same is true from her side, but I’d rather she speak for herself, if she ever gets around to joining this blog. Her feelings towards my girlfriends over the years have spanned cattiness, indifference and friendship.

It’s also important to distinguish between jealousy and envy. Early in the open relationship, when she was much more successful at finding willing partners than I was, I’d sit at home stewing in an emotion I realized was more envy than jealousy. It wasn’t that I wanted her to be back home with me and the guy she was out with to be dead and buried, it’s that I wanted to be experiencing the same thrill she was having. I was resentful because she had something I couldn’t so easily attain. (Thankfully, I’ve since found my inner-stud and have more luck with the ladies.)

Similarly, a girlfriend told me she was jealous of me, meaning she envied the fact that I could have my cake and eat it too: a stable relationship and the freedom to date.

Which brings us to the emotions not between me and Wife, but between me and my girlfriends. That’s where things get really complicated. Women I’ve dated over the years have been in a variety of romantic states themselves. A few have been married, including quasi-open relationships, or alternatively married and cheating. (A complicated question perhaps for another time.) Others have been single but taking me very casually. Another couple have been single and in the market for love, passing time with me in the meantime.

The last category is most complicated. It takes a very free spirit on her part to be able to engage with me emotionally yet not grow frustrated that my primary relationship is elsewhere. Definitely fertile subject for a later blog post in itself.

What set me to want to write this post however (ah, the point at last!) is the uncomfortable situation of my jealous feelings towards her other love interests. I mean, where do I get off feeling defensive about whom else she pursues? And yet I do! One lover in particular puts this in mind. During our relationship, she’s indulged in promiscuity and sexual adventurism, which itself provokes in me conflicting feelings of excitement on the one hand and what is really probably knee-jerk judgmentalism on the other (I blame society!), masquerading maybe as concern for her well-being. Like I am one to judge.

Moreover, to my mind, she’s made some regrettable choices in boyfriends. As I watched a new romance bloom, and her suffer his petty cruelties, I felt compelled to warn her off the guy. Part of this feeling I believe is objective, the good friend who you wish would say, “Honey, the guy’s just not right for you, and you’re too caught up in the passion to see that clearly.” But, I can’t be objective. I adore her.

I only know him through tidbits she shares (including references to their great sex, which doesn’t exactly help me keep a neutral opinion). Am I condemning him only out of my self interest, my desire to keep her single longer to be my part-time lover? Maybe what seem to me to be warning signs are only silly bumps in the road on their way to lasting love. I really do want her to be happy and in my rational mind think that should extend to my supporting her in her own pursuit of love. But maybe I, open marriage guy, am really not much more than a meddling, possessive, jealous jerk?

I told you it was complicated.

Corny, but a guiding principal in all this: “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”