The Problem with “You’re Just Jealous” as a Conversation Ender

a photo of a tabby cat in the close foreground with an out of focus black and brown dog wearing what appears to be a leopard print blanket in the background
Image Source by Jason Riedy

“I wish you’d just own up to what’s really going on here,” he says.

“What?”

“You don’t really think it’s a bad idea. Admit it,” he says. “You’re just jealous.”

I don’t know what to say. I settle on, “That’s not what this is about.”

Because it’s true I’ve had my insecurities in the past regarding him but not to an unusual magnitude. I’ve come a long way on the worst of them. And sitting here in my own body, feeling my own emotions, I know that at this moment I’m not feeling panicked or harried. Not sad, threatened, afraid. At all. My head is fairly cool right now. Rational.

Plus, I’m not saying that he can’t do what he suggested doing — just that I think it’s a bad idea.

“And besides, you did ask me my opinion,” I say. Because he did.

“True,” he says. “I guess that was my mistake.”

Not Every Negative Feeling a Polyamorous Person Has Is Jealousy

While there are definitely times when jealousy has the potential to get the better of us, and strong emotions can temporarily interfere with our ability to reason or be patient, jealousy is not the only force at work in polyamorous relationship systems. Or in any relationship system.

Polyamorous people, just like anyone else, can be annoyed or frustrated with someone for any number of reasons. I find that I’m frequently irritated when people are inconsiderate or inconvenience me or others. A few examples (drawn from actual things done to me and/or things I’ve done to others):

  • Being late
  • Double-booking and having to cancel a date
  • Dishonesty
  • Not doing one’s share of the chores (for cohabiting partners)

And if any of these scenarios are even remotely linked to another person your partner is dating, it’s very easy for your partner to turn around and say, for example, “You’re not really upset about the state of the house. You’re just jealous.”

When actually you might just be tired of scrubbing all of the dirty dishes for the past month. And it doesn’t have a lot to do with the fact that they’re dating someone else. You’d feel that way even if they were, say, sitting on the couch playing video games. Or out socializing platonically.

I usually find two tools helpful for separating and sorting out the romantic piece from concerns involving basic consideration:

  1. The Friend Hat
  2. The Good Roommate Standard 

Even If Someone Is Jealous, That Doesn’t Automatically Invalidate Their Argument

Another issue is, of course, that a person can be having jealous feelings and also be correct in their belief that something’s rude or a bad idea.

The fact that someone is experiencing jealousy doesn’t automatically invalidate any arguments they make.

Jealousy Can Also Be a Signal That Gives Valuable Information

Researchers have found that jealousy isn’t really an emotion but is instead a system of emotions. Furthermore, jealousy is usually something else in disguise: Envy, a sense that you or your needs are being neglected, feeling left out, a fear that you’ll lose someone or something that’s important to you, or feelings of demotion or displacement.

Jealousy is a lot like a check engine light — in that it’s a strong signal but not a very specific one.

And yes, some cars (especially older ones) have a check engine light that’s on all the damn time, when absolutely nothing is wrong. A partner who is constantly insecure and on the alert can well seem like this. Their pervasive hypervigilance makes it quite difficult to take any single concern seriously. But even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, and ignoring them simply because they are frequently jealous can be especially damaging when major issues arise and, like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, they’re not taken seriously because of their history.

But there are many others whose check engine light comes on only occasionally. And that alert can be extremely valuable information. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a critical relationship failure — but the jealousy event can be a valuable opportunity to check on how smoothly everything is running. And what can be done to improve it.

But sadly, there are people who dismiss jealousy events (even with partners who experience them only rarely), just as there are folks who ignore the check engine light only to find that their car is actually out of oil and about to blow up.

The Reason Why “You’re Just Jealous” Is Such a Common Retort

I think there’s a very simple reason why people often say “you’re just jealous” dismissively when things get heated: It ends the conversation and therefore the immediate stress.

Telling someone that they’re just jealous is a very effective redirection tactic, especially among polyamorous people.

Jealousy is often taboo. And so there isn’t a good opportunity to respond with “So what if I am?” Because a fair number of polyamorous people consider jealousy an extremely undesirable trait. I’ve even had some folks tell me that they consider jealousy a sign of emotional immaturity or a “less evolved” nature.

Under these terms of engagement, to admit feeling jealousy is to admit to being deeply flawed. And under these conditions, any conflict born from jealousy is considered tainted and baseless.

The Problem with Dismissing People Based on Jealous Feelings

In the distant past, I was part of a polyamorous web where jealousy was definitely not something that was okay to admit to or acknowledge. I had multiple partners who claimed to never experience jealousy, but I couldn’t help but notice they showed all the signs. Denying those feelings hadn’t caused them not to have them. Instead, the jealousy often came out sideways, marked by indirect misbehavior and cloaked by complex rationalizations after the fact.

In essence, outlawing jealousy had created a kind of criminal underworld for it.

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In addition to the above, the other problem with using “you’re just jealous” as a conversation ender is that by making jealousy an enemy, we squander its potential.

Jealousy can offer as a valuable window into our inner life, our concerns. And just like the check engine light, it can alert of us of important problems.

We ignore those signals at our own peril.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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