The cover story of the November 2016 issue of Psychology Today caught my attention in the grocery store yesterday: Listening to Jealousy, by Sara Eckel.
This lengthy feature explores several research-based insights into how jealousy works in the context of intimate relationships — and how the people who experience jealousy, or deal with its effects, can better manage this notoriously powerful and unruly bundle of emotions. Much of this information is very useful.
However, there is one glaring omission: It completely overlooks the wealth of experience, insight and skill that many people who practice various styles of consensual nonmonogamy have developed for addressing jealousy in their relationships — something that the Off the Escalator book series addresses directly. This is information that anyone might benefit from, even people who strongly prefer traditional monogamy.
There is a myth that people who consider themselves polyamorous or otherwise consensually nonmonogamous don’t get jealous (or at least, that they’re not supposed to feel jealousy). On the contrary, many people who practice consensual nonmonogamy have learned a great deal about handling jealousy constructively — precisely because it’s an issue that any human being might encounter. However, people who choose consensual nonmonogamy generally have decided that the potential benefits of exploring more kinds of intimacy, with more partners, is worth the effort of learning to work through outbreaks of jealousy.
Given this context, it was especially disappointing that the sole reference to consensual nonmonogamy in this article was this:
“After a lot of fighting—and a broken engagement—the couple decided to have an open relationship. That only accelerated the drama, with both partners acting on their feelings of jealousy. Sandy broke into Katie’s apartment and stole her laptop while she was on a date. She retaliated by sneaking into his apartment and, seeing his computer displaying a dating site and messages with several women, proceeded to break a few bowls and ransack his closet. But as she hurled dress shirts and slacks onto the floor, Katie had a moment of clarity: Her jealousy had turned her into someone she didn’t know.”
Offering only this anecdote of nonmonogamy perpetuates the stereotype that diverging from traditional monogamy is inevitably crazy and dangerous. This directly reinforces social stigma against unconventional relationships. I might be going out on an editorial limb here, but that’s probably not the best use of Psychology Today’s resources and visibility. This was especially surprising, coming from a magazine that has published a regular column on polyamory.
I sent a response to Psychology Today about these problems with this article. I explained why the perspective of people in polyamorous and other types of consensually nonmonogamous relationships is especially relevant to this topic, and suggested some resources such as More Than Two and Polyamory Weekly. Hopefully this context might encourage Psychology Today to be more inclusive and less prejudicial about the topic of consensual nonmonogamy and jealousy in the future. Fingers crossed.
As a journalist and editor with 25 years of experience, including in mainstream media outlets, I understand the origin of such myopia. When covering a topic of popular interest, editors generally tend to focus on what most people consider “normal,” in order to not “distract” readers from the point of the article. Occasionally this is appropriate, as in not giving climate change deniers equal weight with scientific consensus. However, as this article demonstrates, the “keep it normal” approach can make it hard to help audiences understand the spectrum of useful, relevant options and perspectives.
In my survey on unconventional relationships, on which the Off the Escalator book series is based, many of the 15o0+ participants discussed jealousy at length. Consequently, I discuss healousy in several places in the first book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator, to be published in January 2017. The second book, What’s It Like Off the Escalator? (due out in Spring 2017) devotes a full chapter to how people in unconventional relationships experience and address jealousy.
Incidentally, the third book in this series, The Closet Off the Escalator, will focus on the strong social stigma widely associated with unconventional intimate relationships (including its perpetuation through media), and how this affects people’s choices to be closeted or out about their relationships.