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

Envy/Desire — Jealousy Part 3

(See the full six-part series here.)

Types of jealousy

Jealousy comes in a few basic flavors. Resolution comes from going beyond the oversimplification of “jealousy” and seeing what’s really at play in your relationship. That requires the more difficult work of coming to terms with how you feel about yourself, how you feel about each other, and the quality of the relationship. The three things we refer to as “jealousy” most often are Envy/Desire (today’s subject), Insecurity, and Possession/Ownership.

Each type is a lock with its own key. Let’s consider the first of the three.


Some examples of what it can feel like:

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

Some examples of what it can look like:

  • 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.

What’s underneath it:

Envy — and at the root of that, desire.

What you need to know:

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.

As for my own relationship… I often give this example. I do have 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 for me. 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.

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).

Revealed: naming the desire

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?

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.

What to do about it (a.k.a. Hard Truth for you to wake up to):

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.

Intuition is a relationship superpower. “Relationship ESP” is a free five part mini-course on intuition for both partners. Grab it here.

About the author:

Ken Blackman has worked with hundreds of couples from San Francisco to Paris to Sydney, and trained thousands of students in his workshops on intimacy and connection. His work has received attention everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Business Insider to Playboy. With nearly two decades of experience, Ken’s powerful, unapologetic break from conventional relationship advice is shifting the world conversation around love and committed coupledom.