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Some People Truly Don’t Feel Jealousy

SDC Dr Eli Sheff Polyamory Jealousy Open Relationship Therapy Mental Health
SDC Dr Eli Sheff Polyamory Jealousy Open Relationship Therapy Mental Health
Until they do.

In the more than 20 years that I have been researching polyamorous relationships, I have encountered numerous people who have reported to me in interviews that they do not experience jealousy. Initially quite skeptical that these folks felt absolutely no jealousy ever, I would pay special attention to them in public settings to observe how they would interact with their lover and metamour (the partner’s partner). While some of them would act in ways that appeared possessive to me as an observer, others would appear completely unruffled by situations that would most likely have encouraged jealousy in a non-polyamorous situation — or even in most polyamorous people.

One of the benefits of a longitudinal study is that because I can stay in contact with people who change over the years, I can track their evolving ideas. When it comes to jealousy, people’s experiences tend to change over time. Most respondents in happy polyamorous relationships reported that their feelings of jealousy tended to wane over the years, except when new people or situations popped up that provided fresh jealousy triggers.


No Jealousy?


In my 20-plus-year study of polyamorous families with children, some of my respondents reported that they did not experience jealousy. Generally, these respondents also reported that polyamory, or a desire for multiple partners, was a core element of their relational and/or sexual orientation. Many of them said they could relate to the idea of jealousy, but they did not understand the visceral experience, because they were not “wired that way.”


So THAT’S How That Feels


As I have re-interviewed people for my current fourth wave of data collection, I've noticed a trend in respondents who previously thought themselves immune to jealousy: They now admit to having encountered a person or situation that spurred their own feelings of jealousy. A common response for these polyamorous individuals is to have much of their conscious thoughts taken up with the jealousy of the moment, but a part of their brain notices the experience and thinks: Oh, so that’s how jealousy feels. Now I understand! Once they experienced the searing pain of jealousy themselves, several of these formerly non-jealous people expressed a new or deeper sympathy for their current and former partners who had struggled with the emotion.


Inevitable Jealousy?


All of this indicates to me that while people feel jealousy to different degrees and in response to different stimuli, everyone has the capacity for jealousy. There are differing circumstances that could make anyone jealous, though some people are lucky enough to have few jealousy triggers and do not encounter them very often. A very few may make it through life without ever encountering a jealousy trigger, but the vast majority of humans will have to face jealousy at some point in their lives, whether they are in a consensual nonmonogamous (CNM) relationship or not.


Dealing with Jealousy


So if jealousy is inevitable for humans, and consensual nonmonogamy rubs jealousy triggers in your face, what is a polyamorous person to do? In my research, suppression does not appear to work. Jealousy can be such an intense emotion that suppressing it is generally ineffective. The jealousy often comes out in other ways but does not actually go away. Rather, dealing directly with the jealousy appears to be a far more effective — if potentially terrifying — strategy. Kitty Chambliss wrote The Jealousy Survival Guide (2017). a book designed to help people in CNM relationships deal with their jealousy. Chambliss, who reports struggling with jealousy herself and working to master it over time, recommends that her coaching clients learn to “turn towards emotional discomfort with curiosity.” To manage feelings of jealousy, she provides steps clients can take towards that goal and suggests exercises clients can use, including defusion, compassion, commitment to core personal values, and communication.


Dr. Elisabeth "Eli" Sheff

"Dr. Elisabeth “Eli” Sheff is a researcher, expert witness, coach, speaker, and educational consultant. With a PhD in Sociology and certification as a Sexuality Educator from the AASECT (the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), Dr. Sheff specializes in gender and sexual minority families, consensual non-monogamy, and kink/BDSM. Sheff is the foremost academic expert on polyamorous families with children and her 20+ year Polyamorous Family Study is the only longitudinal study of poly families with children to date. Sheff’s first book, The Polyamorists Next Door (2014 hardback and ebook, 2015 paperback and audiobook), details the findings of the first 15 years of her research on polyamorous families with children. Her second book, Stories from the Polycule (2015), is an edited anthology of writings by polyamorous folks. When Someone You Love is Polyamorous (2016) is Sheff’s shortest book that guides family members and significant others who are trying to understand a polyamorous loved one."
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