In Case of Emergency

In my last post, I mentioned that I wrote myself a note to read when I am having a crisis over jealousy. I’ve found it to be very useful even when I’m just a little jealous and want to feel better. This isn’t the original, but it’s a modified version made for general use. I hope you find it helpful, either as a guide to writing your own or just to use as it.

Hello future person,
If you are reading this, you are miserable and panicking because of jealousy. Take a deep breath. It will be OK. I know that in the moment it is almost impossible to remember why you are in an open relationship or polyamorous and you are too upset to distract yourself, but I promise it is possible to control your feelings and calm down and start to accept the situation.
First of all, remember that your partner loves you. He sleeps with other people because he is nonmonogamous as a philosophy. He is in love with you. You are the one he wants to spend his life with. His interactions with other women are in no way a reflection of you or your relationship. [IF OPEN: Sex with other people is purely recreational for him.] Sex [IF POLY: and love] that he shares with other people does not erase his feelings for you. If you are starting to doubt his feelings for you, think back on all the sweet things he has said. He was nonmonogamous when he said those things, so nothing has changed. This is not an earth shattering event.
Second, remember that your worst fear is your partner leaving you or not loving you or preferring someone else. But if you can’t accept an open or poly relationship, your jealousy will consume the relationship and it will end anyway. If you are able to calm down and trust her love for you, you will have a better chance of the future you both want together. I know your mind is racing with scary possibilities of ways she could hurt you or make this harder, but don’t worry about that now. Trust her. Wait. Be calm. Act like everything is going to be OK and that this is no big deal and it almost certainly will be. If she does do something that upsets you, you can address it then. But if you are on high alert and expecting it, she is more likely to disappoint you and less likely to see your side of it. Approach this as if you both have the best of intentions, because you do.
Next, I want you to forgive yourself for being jealous and scared. I know that it is throwing up roadblocks to your life and your relationship, but it isn’t your fault. You are sick. You are so strong just for still being here. The important thing is that you get control of yourself. Cry if you need to, but find a way to tolerate the feelings that are welling up. Remember that even though you have a long, hard road ahead of you, it is possible. You can be happy in an open relationship, and if you doubt that, you need to decide if leaving your partner is worse.
Now I’m going to deal with a few different options. You can pay attention to the ones that apply to you right now. Ignore the ones that aren’t immediately helpful. This is about taking care of yourself right now, not being the perfect primary partner. You are already good enough and just need to get healthier for yourself.

Are you comparing yourself to another partner?
Try to change the subject in your mind when you hear yourself thinking negative thoughts about you. You are attractive. End of story. There is no need to compare yourself to someone else. Your partner would not be with you if you weren’t special. Think of all the ways you fit together well and have fun together. Other people may be fun for a while, but you have staying power. He would get sick of them soon enough. And if you still feel like you don’t deserve your partner, embrace it. He is with you of his own free will and you should enjoy that. Remember what Mrs. Jennings said in “Sense and Sensibility” about how she was never much of a beauty but still managed to get a great husband.

Open the Cage Door
One of the great things about these relationships is the sincerity of them. You don’t want someone to be with you if they don’t genuinely want to. If your partner wanted to be with someone else, she would leave you regardless of the openness. This arrangement just lets her (both of you really, but you don’t need to think of that now if it’s stressful) act on natural urges for variety and casual fun without sacrificing an important connection between you. For her sake and yours you have to open the cage door and let her come back to you. It will be so much more honest and meaningful when she does. You have to just roll with the punches sometimes.

Be Your Best Self
An open relationship should inspire you to be your best self, not paralyze you into a big ball of crazysadscared. Your negative emotions are a part of you and that’s alright, but for both of your sakes you need to control them and give them less reign over your life.This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time. He is an adult and knows that you are a human being. Take good care of yourself. Think of how you can turn this into an opportunity to better understand yourself and to become stronger. Then you will be happier and you will have more to offer your partner in the long run. And besides, if you feel good about yourself, you start to realize that other people get little pieces of him, but you get to share his life. Those other partners should be jealous of you!

Are you going through scenarios in your head?
This is a hard one. Maybe you’re thinking of worst case scenarios in which your partner does something that makes you feel like she doesn’t care about your relationship, or maybe you are having imaginary snotty conversations with a girl you’re jealous of. It can be hard to stop this, but try. Remember that you are the only one who is living in this situation in your head. It doesn’t change what will happen or is happening. All it is doing is making you crazy. Be the bigger person. Remember to assume that both of you are competent, trustworthy adults who value and love and respect each other. She will not intentionally hurt you, and if she does accidentally, you will be in a better position to fix the situation if you are calm and not already angry. And as for the other woman, maybe she’s sweet and awesome or maybe she’s sketchy and smells bad, but it doesn’t matter. She is not a reflection on you. If there is conflict between you and her, think how much better you will feel about it if you are the bigger person. You will like yourself so much more if you are the nice, calm one and she is the crazy one. So work on that. If the thoughts are persistent, try to imagine them as words in your head that are floating away from you until you can’t see them anymore. Then keep busy to distract yourself from them and keep them from coming back.

Are you feeling resentful?
You chose this. Your partner has been open and honest and you can choose to leave at any time. But there are things you love and like about him, so you choose to stay. And that is fine. It’s nothing to be angry at either of you about. You can deal with this and get through it. And if you can’t, the correct response is to let him go without anger or blame. If there is some specific issue that is bothering you, let it wait until tomorrow. Be as OK as possible tonight and then bring it up when the emotions aren’t running high.

Worried about waiting anxiously for her to come home?
Not all the time is going to be spent playing. Part of the time they are just talking or getting food. Try to relax and do what you normally would. If you have trouble, imagine your partner is out of town visiting her parents or a platonic friend. The most important thing is that you are calm when he comes home so he wants to come back. You get way more time with her than anyone, just spread out. [IF OPEN: You have to trust that recreational time with others is not serious.] She makes you a priority in her life, so she should be able to go have time with other people. It doesn’t cheapen the time you spend together; if anything it will make her appreciate it more.

Having a panic attack?
Take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Listen to the breaths and count them. Try to relax every muscle in your body one by one. If you are on prescription medication for panic attacks take the appropriate dose. Try to move. Get up and pace or get water or go to the bathroom. When you are panicking, it can feel like you are trapped in a torturous situation. But just remember: This is temporary. This is a small moment of time in your life. Try focusing on other moments that you like better. Most people who get panic attacks have personal ways of dealing with them, so take good care of yourself and do what you need to do to stay healthy and OK. Just remember that this is not the end of the world. It is just a moment and it will be over eventually and then things will be better.
Are you sort of OK but feeling generally shitty?
That’s understandable. Sometimes the best thing to do is just not dwell on it. Go do something fun, whether that is watching Netflix by yourself or going out with a huge group of friends. If you are stuck at work, throw yourself into your work. If you are stuck somewhere and bored, try writing yourself a story either in your head or on paper. The important thing is that you turn this from a length of time to endure into a period of time you can use or enjoy for yourself.

My jealousy just about killed me

I have depression. I fully expect to be on medication for the rest of my life. Right now I’m on a drug cocktail that is helping control my symptoms, but the depression is always there, lurking and waiting for me to miss a therapy appointment or skip a pill or just let the bad thoughts in. I also have anxiety, which can make me leap to rather alarming conclusions with no reason.
Being non-monogamous has played out in really difficult ways with my depression. When I was in the thick of it, I Googled the shit out of “Depression and non-monogamy” and “anxiety and open relationships,” but everything is about one or the other. In poly/open circles you just hear “Jealousy is toxic. Buck up and purge it from your life.” In depression help circles you hear “Well of course you’re depressed if your partner sleeps with other people. Get yourself in a proper, monogamous relationship.” Neither of these views was at all helpful. When I’m depressed, my brain and my emotions are very hard to control. It’s like I can’t trust my own thoughts. I knew that I couldn’t blame others for my jealousy and had to take responsibility for it, but i was paralyzed. Simply not being jealous felt like an insurmountable task. And why would leaving my primary support system, the person who hugs me until I stop crying and says silly things to coax me to smile, help me at all?

For a while I felt lost. My partner would sleep with someone else or flirt or make plans to play and I would experience the normal twinge of jealousy. But then my depression would kick in and I literally could not figure out how to process my emotions and so my thoughts would spiral out of control until I was in crisis mode. It took a huge toll on our relationship. It was emotionally draining and scary for my partner. It kept getting worse and worse, and I was so ashamed. I worried that if anyone knew how jealous I got no one would want to touch my partner, even though I never blamed the women he played with. I was afraid that people would think I was a crazy bitch and not like me anymore. I thought people would say to themselves “Why is he with someone who holds him back from having fun?” Those feelings of shame and failure only made things worse.

Now I’ll fast forward to the present. I’m not perfect, but my jealousy is well controlled. I can watch my partner flirt and can smile about it. I can hear him tell me about his plans to play with someone and feel neutral on the matter. I can watch him walk out the door to a play date and think “now I can play loud music that he doesn’t like and dance to it!” I still have flare ups, both of depression and jealousy, but now I have much better coping mechanisms to deal with the latter.
The real reason I’m writing this is to share how I got to this point from where I was only a few months ago. If I had been able to find some sort of advice I would have felt a lot less lost and lonely on my journey. If someone in my former situation came to me and asked me what to do, this is what I would tell them had helped me.
Step 1: I wrote a letter to my future self. It’s a very long letter that I wrote when I was calm. I have it saved in several places so I can pull it out and read it to myself when I start to get jealous. I started by reminding myself it will all be OK, segued into the reasons I am in a non-monogamous relationship and then ended it with a list of specific things I worry about and reasoned my way out of them. The goal of this letter is to take myself from panic mode to feeling calm and able to distract myself.
Step 2: I found a new therapist who understands non-monogamy and is kink-friendly. I feel comfortable talking to her about any aspect of my life, and she has helped with my self-esteem and taught me different ways of looking at situations. I know some people either can’t afford therapy or don’t feel comfortable with the mental health profession, but if you can do therapy, I highly recommend it.
Step 3: I bought a therapy workbook. I know this sounds redundant, but it was very, very helpful for me. I had heard good things about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and was curious about it, so I went on Amazon and ordered something. It gave me something to do that felt like I was proactive in tackling my problems and taught me a lot of good coping mechanisms and ways to calm down. And I can pull it out when I am feeling bad.
I know this has been a long post, but I hope that people read it. I want depressed people who struggle with jealousy to know that there is a way out and you are not broken. If my way doesn’t work, you can still find something that works for you. And I want non-depressed people to understand that this is an illness. It can be very hard to deal with, but it doesn’t disqualify us from having healthy relationships.