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Learning about jealousy from open relationships is a bit like learning about fear of heights from this guy.

Envy/Desire — Jealousy Part 3

Ken Blackman
Jan 23, 2016 · 5 min read

(See the full six-part series here.)

Jealousy comes in a few basic flavors. To resolve it, you first have to recognize that the word “jealousy” is an oversimplification. Underneath it are things like how you feel about yourself, how you feel about each other, and the quality of the relationship.

Is it envious jealousy? Insecure jealousy? or Possessive jealousy? That’s critical because each of these is a lock with its own key. So let’s consider the first of them, envious jealousy.


Angry, indignant, ripped off, cheated of something that’s rightfully yours, betrayed, righteous, envious

  • Becoming tight when your partner has happiness, enjoyment, fun or success in general outside the relationship.
  • Acting jealous over things you don’t even want (or at least don’t think you don’t want).
  • Something arises between your partner and someone else that you wish existed between the two of you.
  • Jealousy showing up in a relationship that has other problems or issues.

Envy — and at the root of that, desire.

When the relationship is great, people tend to feel less jealous.

When the relationship is crappy, people tend to feel more jealous.

When someone’s relationship is through the roof fantastic—fulfilling, passionate, intimate, connected, what have you—and they are in abundant surplus, they’re less apt to be tight around what their partner does outside the relationship. They experience more empathetic happiness with their partner’s happiness overall.

(…so long as what they’re doing isn’t harmful or impacting how they are in the relationship.)

What can we learn about jealousy from people in so-called “open” relationships? This is kind of like getting a lesson on fear-of-heights from a TV tower repair guy, or a skyscraper window washer. You may have no desire to follow in their footsteps… but they certainly know a thing or two about your topic and can probably shed some light on your struggles.

And one of the biggest predictors of whether an open relationship is going to be jealousy-ridden or happy and supportive is whether both people are getting everything they want within the relationship.

I’m in an open relationship. But that doesn’t mean no boundaries. If my girlfriend were, say, running drugs for the Mafia or trafficking in child labor… I’m not ok with that. Those are deal breakers. To use a less extreme example, if she drives drunk or gambles away all her money, I’m not ok with that.

But going out and enjoying herself and having a great time? I’m all for it! Why — because I have nothing to envy. I’m extremely happy with our relationship.

I do care about how we are with each other. I care that our relationship is happy, fulfilling, intimate, loving, supportive, committed. I care that our love life together is enjoyable for both of us. I care that we’re able to be honest with each other, and can talk about things. I care that we get along well, that we’re thriving in our professional lives, etc. etc.

Let me be clear, I do not think open relationships are for everyone! Far from it. Monogamy is wonderful. But in the context of jealousy, I am inviting you to take a look at this far end of the relationship spectrum in order to see what it can tell us about how jealousy works.

Because resolution — whether you’re monogamous or not—is going to require a shift of attention from jealousy (what’s going on outside the relationship) to desire (what’s going on inside of it).

Now there’s a particular flavor of jealousy that can arise, a kind of subgenre of Desire/Envy, that has a particular sound:

“No I don’t want that, and I certainly don’t want you having it with anyone else either!”

This is the exception that proves the rule. This type of jealousy sometimes painfully exposes a place where someone has been, shall we say, a bit stingy in the relationship, and now it’s coming back to bite them.

Here’s what I mean. There’s a world of difference between a genuine lack of desire, vs. withholding— whether it’s intimacy, connection, love, sex, basic approval, or something else. These are two very different things.

When you’re just not feeling it — assuming the relationship is otherwise healthy and doing well — you still generally want your partner to be happy. (And maybe secretly kinda wish they would go out and have a little fun. It would at least take some of the burden off.)

But when you’ve got it on lock-down… you’re actually starving both of you. And in your starving state you have very little tolerance for your partner having fun or happiness of any kind outside the relationship. Everything that is good in their life that does not involve you, makes you jealous. The dark truth is that you want your partner to suffer, because otherwise they’re never going to give you the thing you want, the ransom you’re holding out for.

See the difference?

Here’s an example. My partner likes to hold visionboard parties. I’ve participated a time or two, mostly it’s just not my thing. Neither am I envious or resentful about her doing them. That’s

But if I felt a big gaping lack in our relationship, I might be resentful of her attention there, envious, and jealous.

So contrary to appearances, this flavor of jealousy isn’t about a lack of desire. People aren’t jealous of something they have no desire for. Jealousy is irritatingly great at exposing desire and flushing it to the surface. And this jealousy is driven by an unmet desire for something.

So what is it about your partner’s actions that sparked envy? A kind of attention you’re not getting? A certain feeling you wish existed between the two of you? If this jealousy is a flare-up of unmet desire, what is it? And how are you trying to extort them—what are you withholding from them, how are you making them suffer, as a result?

Because whatever those things are, that is where your attention needs to go.

Jealousy is resolved by improving the relationship.

It’s resolved in the way the two of you relate with each other. It’s resolved within the relationship itself, not outside of it.

Here’s your mantra:
How can we make our relationship better?
How can we make our relationship better?
How can we make our relationship better?

(Next up: Insecurity.)

© 2016 by Ken Blackman. All rights reserved.

About the author:

Ken’s passion topic these days is how women’s empowerment intersects with intimate coupledom. A former Apple software engineer turned international sex and intimacy educator turned relationship coach, Ken is in his 20th year helping couples co-create, bond, have great sex, thrive, and live happily ever after. His work has garnered mentions in Business Insider, Playboy, Cosmo, Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour series and elsewhere. Find out more at

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