Thanks to CR for encouraging me to turn our conversation into a blog.
The word 'Jealousy' is a nominalization. (That's the act of naming a dynamic multi-faceted experience, and by doing so oversimplifying and overgeneralising it.) 'Jealousy' is not one thing, does not have one cause, and does not have one simple way of getting a handle on it.
What I offer here are inter-related perspectives that significantly changed my life for the better, and I've been told were useful to clients I've worked with. Maybe you (the reader) will also find some or all of them helpful, or maybe you won't. This piece, like every other, is a collection of my thoughts, reflections and experiences. Not every individual's 'Truth'.
A Self-Generated Experience
Some years back I attended an ecstatic dance class with a woman I really liked, a new friend I was getting to know. I had a strong intuition we had powerful potential in terms of an intimate relationship (which turned out later to be true, but at that point we'd only just started hanging out). I noticed her dancing with someone, and was struck with powerful unhappy feelings that I labelled as 'jealousy'.
I've always been quite pragmatic, and rather than getting lost in that unpleasant experience or dwelling on it (which to me would have felt like a waste of time and energy) I decided to 'dance it out'. Coincidentally within 10 or 20 seconds a song came on that was a big personal favourite, and I went off on a trip with that. After less than a minute (let's say another 30 seconds) I noticed that I wasn't feeling jealous any more. In fact every last hint of jealousy had vanished from my body.
A pivotal moment of learning happened. As soon as I noticed the jealousy had gone it came flooding back. Literally reinventing itself. But it was too late. I'd seen it for the false thing it was. Rather than being something I couldn't avoid – something that 'just happened' – I'd experienced the truth of it. Jealousy was something I'd generated in my body. I did it to myself! It wasn't something my friend or the person she was dancing with had done to me. I was the one responsible for it. The song that came on was one that I loved dancing to so much that my body literally forgot I was supposed to be 'jealousing' myself!
This was a turning point that massively reduced and contextualised any similar experiences from then on. I have never experienced jealousy again in the same ways I used to before that moment. This revelation didn't make me immune from jealousy. Again as a pragmatic person I continued to use other tools too. In dance I used to go to a different part of the room if I was being triggered, so that I could process without distraction. I would also ask myself the very useful question: "Am I jealous because this is something I would like to be doing? And if so, can I do anything in the short or longer term to make that more likely?" (With the extra bonus question: If this exact thing isn't possible for me, what is sitting deeper behind that experience that I'd like to achieve?)
A Warning about Emotional Over-Investment
Now I'd had that reference, and had clearly experienced myself as the one who created the jealousy in my own emotional body, I decided to investigate what exactly my unconscious was doing. I wanted to uncover and identify the processes. Luckily I'd already had some excellent NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) training, so I had good basic ideas of the unconscious patterns we run, and how we run them.
(As the merest super-simplified hint towards NLP 101 and to neuro-psychology... We unconsciously create patterns all the time. EG: 'Life Experience A' happens. Then our unconscious imposes 'Conclusion B' onto that experience. Followed by creating default 'Emotional Experience C'. Bang, bang, bang. One switch tripping the next. Except that most people don't know that this is a learned pattern rather than an inevitability. With the biggest challenge being that it 'feels' like an inevitability.)
So I did some research and found some smart commentary in different places. One was an article or podcast or possibly a book on Polyamory. Or it may have been a Menswork perspective on relating. Sadly I can't recall. Whatever the source was, it explained that a lot of jealousy stems from our emptiness when it comes to deep intimacy. Most people don't receive healthy fulfilment around close relating when they are growing up. Our culture teaches us very poor lessons in that regard. So we unconsciously look for someone else to fill those developmentally significant spaces.
That all means it can be very easy to want too much too soon from a relationship. It's a culturally accepted dysfunction, and the source of many soap opera plots. I talked about this in another recent blog, so won't say much more. I'll only clarify that in this context some people unconsciously (sometimes consciously) invent a future with someone before actually knowing someone well enough for this to have any grounding in reality. As opposed to getting to know that person and waiting to see if a healthy and appropriate relationship emerges as a possibility. The energetics that accompany such an invented future are what I call 'emotional over-investment'.
Over-investment can happen at different stages of getting to know someone too. You might be immune from doing it when you first meet a person. You might be quite happy for all manner of things to go on between them and their friends. Then once you're actually 'going out' - 'oh oh' the challenges start. Activities that you were completely fine about before are suddenly no longer so fine.
A Sign-Post that Relationship Agreements are Inauthentic, Inadequate or Unconscious
Jealousy at low and relatively low levels to do with someone you are already relating intimately with can sometimes be (and in my opinion I feel very often is) purely and simply an indication that something hasn't been discussed/clarified. Something that needs to be discussed/clarified in order to have the deepest and most authentic relational journey together.
I'm pretty sure the general source of one piece of information was a book on conscious polyamory. The information went something like this: 'You might not like the idea of creating relationship agreements. Maybe it seems too formal. However, whether you are poly or monogamous, the unconscious assumptions you already have around relating and about your partner's beliefs/values towards relating are EXACTLY the same as relational agreements. So the actual choice is not whether you want to have such agreements or not. It is whether you want to make them conscious or whether you want them to control your life without your input.'
Another intelligent source made a similar point: 'People want and expect different things from intimate relating. There is a crazy assumption that we all want the same thing, or even broadly the same thing. In some areas many people may be close as regards what they want, but never underestimate human diversity. In many areas even small variations can be 'make or break' differences, especially if they are not brought to consciousness and discussed.'
Another pervasive myth is that there is a binary distinction between one clearly definable relational structure named 'monogomy', and another clearly definable relational structure named 'polyamory'. Bullshit! Polyamory is a vast collection of different relational structures. To place them all under one heading and try to discuss that heading as if it's a discrete single concept is a deluded act. (EG: Someone with 12 lovers is polyamorous. Someone with 2 lovers is polyamorous. Do those two situations carry the same challenges, structures, rewards, and dynamics? Absolutely not.)
Likewise with monogamy. It's less diverse, but is still very much not just one definable experience. For instance, in Monogamous Relationship Example Number 1 (MRE1) partners can dance intimately at Five Rhythms (or wherever) with attractive people, and hug their attractive friends. This is fine in the context of MRE1. Nobody blinks an eye about it. Whereas in MRE2 even hugging another person more then momentarily is an unthinkable act. One that's absolutely forbidden in one partner's unconscious relational agreements. Dancing with any degree of intimacy with another person than your partner in MRE2 might in fact be considered the very definition of infidelity, even though it's never been discussed. And don't even get me started on the hypocrisy inherent in the massive proportion of monogamous relationships where one or both partners have secret affairs.
Final myth of the piece: That having any relational agreements mean an automatic loss of spontaneity, excitement and fulfilment. They can do if you're with an unsuitable partner. If you're with a suitable partner then they are tools to assist everyone involved to go even deeper, and explore even more adventurously, than would otherwise be possible.
Another blog in the not too distant future will contain further commentary on the value and creation of relational agreements. For now I'll just close by clarifying the relationship between jealousy and relational agreements. The act of co-creating a few key agreements and doing some future-pacing risk management on potentially tricky situations opens up a wonderful dialogue. Discussion around what all the participants are OK with. This allows people (a) to make sure they're all roughly on the same page about what they want and expect from intimate relating, and (b) creates the opportunity to manage situations that are likely to trigger jealousy before they even happen.
For some people jealousy is a great trigger for self-awareness leading to potent evolution. Wide-open polyamory might suit them well. For others, jealousy is an overwhelming and trauma-related experience that blocks any possibility of evolution. In fact, leading to retraumatisation. For them a more committed and clearly defined conscious relationship may well offer the most potent pathway for expansion and fulfilment. Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, people are very different. For instance I've met more than one person for whom a committed 3-person relationship provided the most satisfying dynamism and the most opportunities for growth. As opposed to a monogamous relationship which proved to be an invitation for unhealthy co-dependency. It's a diverse world.
Arven Alexander is a self-development enthusiast, currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.