It’s been an awfully long time since I’ve had it said to me, but I can still remember the first time I had a partner say “you’re just jealous” in a dismissive way.
At the time, I’d been concerned about something very important. I could see my metamour wasn’t treating our partner very well. Had ways of cutting them down that weren’t playful but instead exploited deeply seated traumatic roots. Insecurities that deeply wounded my partner. And it bothered me to see someone I loved treated that way.
My partner, too, had expressed some concerns to me. And so I took a risk and finally agreed with their concerns. When I did, they said, “You’re just jealous” back, dismissing what I had said to them in good faith.
Even though I was only agreeing with doubts they had just voiced, my partner decided I was effectively concern trolling out of jealousy. They accused me of pretending there was an issue because I wanted an acceptable reason to doubt the relationship, instead of the “hidden truth” — that the fact that they had this other relationship activated insecurities within me. And that I was threatened as a result.
Jealousy-Based Concern Trolling
Now, I wasn’t concern trolling due to jealousy. But the hard part is that this behavior is something that does happen. People have indeed concern trolled while motivated by their own jealousy. I’ve worked with clients who have admitted they’ve done it. I’ve felt the urge to do it myself (but thankfully resisted, knowing I wouldn’t want it to done to me were our positions reversed).
So it can be pretty difficult to tell on the other side of things when someone is concern trolling or has a valid voiced concern. (Incidentally, this is something difficult in all of human communication and all over online communities — not just in this specific context.)
In that link I just posted, there’s actually a bulleted list that has guided my intuition when I’m in the other role, when I’m assessing the validity of a voiced concern:
- How often this partner complains in general and about what sorts of things (scope, the values that seem to be related to those concerns, etc).
- Whether the current concern seems consistent with their usual pattern. Are they pointing at something really small for them? Really big for them?
- If there is evidence for what they’re saying. This can be tricky since we tend to be bad at challenging our own beliefs. Understanding the Ladder of Inference is your friend here.
- Have they been someone who has easily admitted jealousy or insecurity in the past? Or do they tend to stay in a kind of jealous closet? The assessments of jealous closet dwellers warrant extra scrutiny. Whereas people who are more open about jealousy or insecurity when they feel it are less suspect but not completely off the hook. Because you can have jealousy “domains” that are more touchy than others.
How to Avoid Jealousy-Based Concern Trolling
Whew. That sounds a little exhausting, doesn’t it? It would be better to not even have to think like that. To not have to wonder at all.
The good news is that there are some steps you can take that make it less likely that the other person will engage in this behavior.
I’ve found that jealousy-based concern trolling tends to thrive in relationships where — for whatever reason — the people involved are ashamed of admitting when they are feeling jealous, insecure, and/or envious. When feeling those things became taboo, the emotions can start manifesting in indirect and harmful ways.
The easiest way to avoid jealousy-based concern trolling is to create a dynamic where there’s nothing shameful about feeling those things. And an environment where when someone shares those feelings, they are rewarded for their honesty (by thanking them, talking through it with them, etc.) — instead of punished.
You can’t control what the other person does of course (and it’s questionable at best to try to control other people)– in this relationship or in any other — but it’s a way you can influence the situation and steer it in a slightly healthier direction.
When Jealousy Becomes a Reason to Dismiss
But the first time I ever expressed concern about a metamour and was accused of jealous concern trolling, I had none of that insight. None of those tools. And due to a rougher childhood and some attachment issues, I did have a rough introduction to polyamory. I did get jealous and had to intentionally learn how to be jealous in a productive way.
In my first polyamorous experience, I was in a triad with a polyamorous female friend who had initiated a relationship with my husband and me (yes, we were hunted down by a single woman; I know it’s not normal but has happened to me a few times now).
And during that time, I experienced far more jealousy than either one of the other people in my triad. I felt like there was something wrong with me. Even when I was totally falling apart, I generally behaved very, very well. But I judged myself for the feelings of insecurity that it seemed like no one else around me was having.
I worked hard to get through that and took steps to ensure that it was never taboo to talk about things. Because if it were taboo, my jealousy would come out in other, indirect, nastier ways. It could, in fact, put me in danger of jealousy concern trolling. I saw it very clearly.
The trouble was, however, when I began to get more open with partners about it, telling them when I was having a reaction out of jealousy, envy, and/or insecurity then I was suddenly branded as a jealous partner — and I found that when I did have serious concerns that weren’t jealousy based that my partners would jump very quickly to assuming I was concern trolling.
The pattern held even as I became more secure in myself and experienced far less jealousy at baseline. Talking about it still freaked partners out.
This was soooo frustrating at the time. Because the work I was doing to NOT do things like that was backfiring.
But I stayed the course. Kept talking about it openly. And I’m happy to say that life is good now. I just published my first novel, which has polyamorous and queer main characters. And these days I’m in relationships where people understand where I’m coming from. Where we can speak about our insecurities openly — which means that our partners trust that when we’re acting in good faith when we voice a concern about a situation. No need for any bullet points.