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Kit Q&A: Is Jealousy a Red Flag?

Posted in Kit Q&A, Polyamory, and Sex & Relationships

On Saturdays, I answer questions from my readers or respond to frequent web searches.

Is Jealousy a Red Flag?

Jealousy, and its relatives like envy, can be difficult for any relationship to survive. Is it worth the effort? Photo by Craig Loftus of Model Nataly Raab.

When talking about relationships or potential partners, we often refer to “red flags” — behaviors or incompatibilities which should keep us from dating a person, or lead to break ups if we discover them too late. Jealousy is a particularly difficult issue, especially when it comes to polyamory — how much is too much? Is it always a sign that the relationship is a bad idea?

While mainstream culture sometimes celebrates jealousy as a sign of the strength of attachment, the polyamorous and those seeking alternative relationships often vilify it. I think both sides are wrong — jealousy, though potentially destructive, is an emotion like any other. Any emotion — from happiness to anger — is destructive if handled badly. Exploring the roots of our difficult emotions, including jealousy, can often lead to personal growth and better understanding between lovers.

Books like The Ethical Slut and Opening Up have some advice and exercises to help with jealousy, but in general the best way to deal with this is through uncovering the roots of jealousy — the insecurities or baggage which so often cause it — through self-exploration and open, honest communication with partners. Very often, through time and experience, people learn that what made them jealous is not so bad and the strength of the emotion fades or even vanishes completely.

It is hard for those who are rarely or never prone to jealousy to empathize when a lover reacts badly. Obviously, everyone has to decide how much is too much. To me, a lot depends on the degree to which my partner takes responsibility for their emotions and their actions. Some behaviors are just too much to bear — such as getting extremely jealous of platonic friendships.

I am happy to do what I can to offer extra support when someone does not try to change me, communicates clearly about what is happening, and shows progress toward becoming more secure and less jealous over time.

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