I love the idea of non-monogamy, but jealousy is preventing me from enjoying it

Question

I'm a 22-year-old straight-ish female furry, and I am currently struggling with some jealousy issues. My boyfriend and I have been trying to explore non-monogamy together recently, but I am having some problems with it. Intellectually, I am totally cool with him being with another girl, and I really love the idea of us being able to experience other people sexually during the course of our relationship. However, right now, emotionally, I am having a hard time with it all. The last time my boyfriend and I had a threesome, with another girl we were both into, I enjoyed myself a lot until I saw him put his hands on her and embrace her intimately in a way he usually does with only me, and I just snapped and hated the rest of everything that happened. I didn't really let on that I was no longer comfortable or enjoying myself so as not to ruin their time, but I ended up hating myself both for having that reaction to begin with, when it's something I should be okay with, and for not speaking up for myself. How can I move forward as an ethically non-monogamous person, when that's really what I want, when I am experiencing such crippling jealousy issues?

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Answer

Thanks so much for writing in with what I think is one of the more common questions surrounding the whole process of getting started with ethical non-monogamy, whether that be monogamish relationships, open relationships, or full-blown polyamory. Many, many people (myself included) first become intellectually okay with the concept of being something other than monogamous, before their hearts and lizard brains (sorry if that offends any scalie readers) catch up. What sounds like a good idea in theory can be scary and traumatic when you actually experience it; unfortunately, it seems you had such a traumatic experience during this last threesome that you describe in your letter.

Fortunately, I think you are very well positioned to overcome the emotional block to enjoying non-monogamy that you are currently experiencing. You’re intellectually committed to the idea that non-monogamy is right for you and your boyfriend, and you seem to firmly believe that the benefits to non-monogamy outweigh whatever unpleasantness it is you’re experiencing right now (a position I am again sympathetic to, as an actively non-monogamous dog-person). If instead your boyfriend were trying to drag you into non-monogamy kicking and screaming, we’d be having quite a different discussion.

Now, how are you supposed to overcome jealousy to the point that you’re finally able to let yourself enjoy non-monogamy with your boyfriend? It isn’t easy, but neither is it impossible to do. I am speaking from personal experience here, as this is something I have had to do myself (I wasn’t always polyamorous! Crazy, right?).

The trick to overcoming jealousy is to first realize that jealousy is, at its core, based in fear. Exactly what that fear might be can vary from person to person, but it is usually something along the lines of fear of losing one’s partner to someone else, fear of being left alone, fear of inadequacy, or fear of losing what it is that makes your relationship with your boyfriend special and unique. I recommend that you do some introspection and try to figure out exactly which of those fears is motivating your jealousy (it can be more than one — collect them all!). Sometimes, putting a name to your fear and looking at it intellectually, rather than just dealing with it as raw emotion, can reduce the hold it has on you.

Either way, it’s incredibly important that you not let your fear and the jealousy it produces control you. Do not allow fear to run your life, or you will miss so many amazing and wonderful experiences — sexually, romantically, and otherwise. You must instead strive to “move in the direction of greatest courage,” as Franklin Veaux, co-author of my favorite practical guidebook to non-monogamy, More Than Two, puts it. He’s written a wonderful blog post on the topic of courage as well, and I’d strongly encourage you to read it here.

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Moving in the direction of greatest courage doesn’t mean you need to throw yourself headlong into every threesome, orgy, and underwear party your boyfriend suggests; rather, it means committing to making forward progress in order to achieve your goals, and doing so even though it’s scary and not entirely risk-free. In your particular case, moving in the direction of greatest courage might mean striving to understand your jealousy and the source of the fear that drives it, then trying to work on and address that fear.

How do you address a fear and reduce the power it holds over you? Most research in the area of treating phobias and anxiety disorders suggests that exposure therapy is the most effective way to chip away at a fear and reduce the emotional impact that it has on you. One of the keys to effective exposure therapy in this context is that you need to remain in some semblance of control over the exposure, at least the first few times that the exposure takes place. What exactly do I mean by exposure here? Although exposing yourself to another hottie your boyfriend is taking to bed might be a component, that isn’t exactly what I am talking about. Rather, it’s putting yourself in a situation that might trigger your fear and inspire a jealous response from you.

Let’s go back to the threesome scenario you described before. In that situation, it doesn’t sound like you had very much control at all. Indeed, it sounds like you ended up just watching your boyfriend and another girl going at it, while feeling miserable and helpless, much like watching a slow-motion trainwreck. What if instead we were to inject a bit more control into that situation? Would it have been as scary if you’d been directing the scene? What if your boyfriend and the third you were sleeping with agreed that you’d direct the action, telling your boyfriend and the third where to place their hands, how to touch and stimulate each of you, and what was and was not okay to do?

Borrowing from the BDSM community and introducing a power dynamic into a first-time threesome that works in your favor can actually be a very powerful tool, allowing you to expose yourself to non-monogamy in a context that makes you feel empowered and in control, rather than powerless and helpless. Another way to feel empowered during your first forays into non-monogamy might be to select who it is that you and your partner play with, making sure it is someone with whom you are comfortable. You and the third might agree to tie your boyfriend up, removing him from the equation while both of you work on pleasuring him, under your ultimate direction. Perhaps instead you and the third interact directly, but your boyfriend is only allowed to touch and be intimate with you the first few times you all meet.

Whichever of these approaches you choose to take, try to keep it fun and sexy for everyone involved, while looking after your own emotional needs. A light BDSM scene might not work for you and your boyfriend; in that case, a form of exposure therapy can still be effective here (note also that communicating as I am about to suggest is always a good idea, whether you end up going the BDSM approach or not).

Focus on building rapport with the third you invite into your bed, and make it clear to both your boyfriend and to your third that you aren’t feeling 100 percent comfortable, but you really want to try. Tell both of them that you’d like to have a “yellow light” safe word, which you can use to signal that something is making you feel negatively and you’d like to pause the action to talk through it. You can also ask for a “red light” safe word, which means you’re feeling too stressed and the intimacy is over for the time being. These safe words can give you back some of the control and empowerment that otherwise might be lacking from the threesomes you have with your boyfriend, and this in turn can really help with fear and jealousy, especially as you and your boyfriend build trust in the context of your now non-monogamous relationship.

Hope that helps! If you have any follow up questions or think we missed the mark, feel free to leave a comment or contact us via our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.