So, you’ve decided to have (or are considering) an open relationship. Many people, myself included, prefer CNM (consensual non-monogamy) over more conventional ways of dating. For varying reasons, this can be the healthiest and most productive way to govern your relationship. But with an open relationship, there are lots of insecurities that are bound to come up. Jealousy is a hell of an emotion. Thankfully, with some effort from both you and your partner, there are ways to handle this insecurity when it sneaks up on you. Here’s how to deal with this arrangement.
Set firm boundaries. The only way to successfully navigate an open relationship is by setting rules and boundaries that are unique to your relationship. What are you comfortable with and what’s crossing a line? What needs to be disclosed and what do you prefer to keep private? Agree upon some rules that need to be adhered to. Setting boundaries allows you to feel more at ease with how your relationship is going to operate. Neither of you wants to misrepresent yourselves, so make sure that you’re clear and firm with your wants and needs.
Avoid social media “stalking.” Social media can breed insecurities within us regardless of relationship status. We often compare ourselves to others. When we hear about someone that our partner is talking to or hooking up with, it is incredibly tempting to hop onto social media and check them out. I, myself, am way too guilty of this one – but try your best to resist this urge. No good comes out of social media stalking other people like this. Though I try to validate my impulse to do this as curiosity or nosiness, I know the outcome will always be comparisons. “Does he think she’s prettier than me?” “Do I think she’s prettier than me?” “What exactly does he like about her?” “Why does he like every single one of her pictures?” Questioning yourself and your partner like this is toxic and unproductive.
Don’t make assumptions. Especially when we feel anxious or insecure, it can be easy to assume the worst in any situation. However, these assumptions aren’t always accurate. Don’t jump to conclusions about what your partner may be doing or how they’re conducting themselves with others. This will only lead to fear and distrust. If you’re feeling uneasy about something, or wonder what your partner may be doing, just ask them! It’s the easiest way to minimize your worries.
Communicate exactly what you need. In any kind of relationship, good communication is essential. Talk about the difficult things, the taboo things, and the things you might not even think are important. If you find yourself feeling crappy about something, make sure you’re telling your partner exactly what you need. Insecurity inevitably creeps in when your needs aren’t being met. Talk to your partner about what makes you feel better. Some people want their relationship shown off to feel valid. Others prefer to meet their S.O.’s other sexual partners to feel more comfortable. Don’t be ashamed of these things! Let your partner know what helps you feel solid.
Be open to talking about your exes and your traumas. Discussing your past informs your partner of what may be triggering for you. If your S.O. gets familiar with your insecurities and where they stem from, they can be sensitive to them. You don’t want to use your past traumas to excuse poor behavior or justify toxic reactions – but rather to explain your trigger responses so that your partner can avoid inciting them. Additionally, being open about your previous relationships will make both you and your partner feel okay and comfortable about being honest and forthcoming.
Be mindful of hypocrisy. If there’s something you know that you wouldn’t be happy with your partner doing, make sure you’re holding yourself to the same standard. Conduct yourself in the way that you expect your partner to conduct themselves. Often in open relationships, both partners are kind of figuring things out as they go. Thus, your partner is going to take into consideration what they see you doing and mimic those actions because they’ll assume it’s how it’s supposed to be done. However, don’t assume what your partner needs or feels comfortable with based solely on your own values. Even if there’s something that you may feel okay with, your partner could feel differently. Make sure you talk to them about what they need from you and what they feel okay with so that you’re not crossing any lines that you didn’t even know existed.
Respect, respect, respect. Respect yourself, respect your partner, and respect your relationship. One of the key elements necessary for a healthy open relationship is respect on all fronts – and this includes self-respect. Any and all interactions inside and outside of your relationship must hold space for respect. As long as you are maintaining this practice, know that it needs to be reciprocated. A key component of respect is equality. Both parties must feel equally respected. Power imbalances can aggravate jealousy. The comfort of knowing that you’re being respected by both your partner and by anyone that they may be in communication with brings confidence to your relationship.
Establish and uphold a strong bond of trust. Open relationships require a heavy level of trust. As long as your partner hasn’t done anything untrusting, you need to stay confident that they are abiding by your boundaries and staying true to their word. If you’re having issues maintaining that confidence, it helps if you both start small. Ensure each other that there are no secrets in any facet of your relationship. Stay open and honest about everything. Even the littlest of white lies can waver your foundation of trust. Follow through with the things you say, even if it’s as simple as showing up at the time you say you’ll be somewhere.
Reframe your narrative of jealousy. What we call “jealousy” is usually just another emotion in disguise (or a whole bundle of them). Jealousy arises as a reaction to a perceived threat. Our “fight-or-flight” response can make us have both mental and somatic reactions (like feeling your body get hot). The nasty thoughts and impulses that pop into your brain when you experience jealousy are your messed-up, learned survival tactics against these unpleasant feelings. These impulsive thoughts or behaviors (rage, resentment, disdain, revenge), are inappropriate in this kind (or any kind) of relationship. To change the way you experience jealousy, you have to reframe the way you think about it. Unlearning old thought patterns and instilling new ones is a process, and it requires practice. But, when we re-evaluate our jealous compulsions, the discomfort created by envy can result, instead, in self-awareness and compassion.
Honor your emotions. It’s easy to feel like just because you’ve agreed to open up your relationship, that means you aren’t allowed to feel jealous or upset at times. This is not true. When a negative feeling arises, it’s important to recognize it instead of repressing it. You are entitled to your feelings regardless of how your relationship operates. Perhaps you need a little extra attention and you’d like to be the only focus of your partner for a bit. Maybe you’re feeling like you need something extra. Admit your emotions to yourself and express them to your S.O. As long as your feelings are expressed healthily and constructively, you and your partner can find out how to rectify what’s happening as a unit.
Revisit your reasons for opening your relationship. Especially when choosing an unconventional way of dating, it can be easy to lose sight of why we opted for it in the first place. Because we typically grow up with and are surrounded by more conventional monogamy, the old paradigm beliefs about love and relationships are so deeply ingrained in our consciousness. You may be prone to think things like, “If my partner really loved me, they wouldn’t have the desire to sleep with other people,” or “Since my partner has other interests, I must not be good enough.” These thoughts, in many ways, are dated, and they stem purely from insecurity. We go to them as a safety blanket because we’ve been so familiar with them throughout our lives. If we ever hope to enjoy relationships free of jealousy, we have to challenge these thoughts and beliefs whenever they start to come up.
Check-in regularly. Regular check-ins are crucial in remaining confident in your open relationship. When you routinely check in with one another, you can ensure that you’re both still feeling comfortable, respected, and valued. Checking in can give both you and your partner a chance to express any insecurities or concerns that you might be having. Have discussions and make adjustments when necessary to make sure you both stay happy, satisfied, and secure going forward.