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So, in my last entry about jealousy, dealing with the emotional responses that deal with jealousy, and developing the fine art of fixing refrigerators, I said "there's more to say on the subject." And indeed there is. I would've said it then, except that (a) I had to run out the door to see a client--I can't spend all my time on LiveJournal, as much fun as that would be--and (b) we all know that nobody'll read a seventy-six-page LiveJournal entry, anyway. So, to save my bank account and your patience, I didn't get into everything that really needs to be got into about fixing refrigerators.

If you don't have the faintest idea of what I'm talking about, you need to read that post first. Really, you do. Go ahead, I'll wait.




Anyway. You wake up one morning and discover that something's wrong in your relationship; something your partner is doing is creating an emotional response in you that cascades, like those little metal balls in a pachinko machine, until you feel jealous. Metaphorically speaking, your refrigerator is broken; you can fix it, you can replace it, or you can pretend that nothing's actually wrong and just make up a rule that says no refrigerated or frozen food in the house. After all, if you can avoid the thing that makes you confront the broken refrigerator, it's all good, right?

Now, I would argue that fixing the refrigerator--identifying the things leading to the jealousy, identifying the fears or insecurities that underlie the jealousy, and then dealing with the jealousy at its root--is the best course of action. I would also argue that the most common response is ignoring the problem and banning any kind of frozen food in the house.

But these two things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. If you're on your hands and knees behind the refrigerator with a flashlight in your mouth, you probably don't want your partner trying to pile more food into the fridge while you're working on it, right? So it seems reasonable to say "Honey, don't put any more food in there until I fix the problem, 'kay?" And this is exactly what many people will tell you they're doing when they say "My partner does something with someone else, and it makes me feel jealous, so I told him not to do that thing any more--but only until I get to the bottom of it and deal with the jealousy."

All well and good, but you have to be really careful with this approach. If you're not, then what happens is that days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, you're still uncomfortable with your partner doing whatever it is, months turn into years, and what's actually happened is that you've said you're going to fix the refrigerator but it's still sitting in the corner dripping water all over everything and, effectively, you're just not buying any refrigerated foods any more.




When dealing with a jealousy or insecurity issue, it's important to differentiate between not wanting to do something because it's uncomfortable, and not wanting to do something because it's actually harmful. Some things are a no-brainer.

People often accuse me of being against rules of any sort in a relationship. Actually, this isn't the case at all; I have rules in all my relationships, and certain standards of behavior which are essential and non-negotiable for anyone who wants to be partnered with me. I do not intend to come across as saying that there should be no rules in a relationship. Quite the contrary; some rules are reasonable and prudent, and some fears are rational and justified.

A trivial example is sexual health. STDs are real. they exist, and they can kill you. Anyone in a sexual relationship of any sort, especially multiple sexual relationships, is well-advised to keep that in mind, and design a minimum standard of behavior for himself and his partners to deal with that risk. In fact, you'd have to be a fool or a madman not to think about STDs when you create your relationship arrangements, and fear of STDs is not only rational, it's downright prudent. Creating rules to protect yourself from this risk is a damn good idea.

Things aren't as clear-cut when you're dealing with emotional risk, however, Fears and insecurities are very, very clever at protecting and justifying themselves, and separating something that is actually harmful from something that's merely uncomfortable isn't always easy. It requires work. It requires examining, with an unflinching eye, what it is you're afraid of and what it is you think will happen if your partner continues doing the thing that makes you jealous. And above all, it requires that you ask yourself, on a regular basis, What is the point of all this?




Many people in the poly community seem to be inherent pessimists, and to have a worst-case scenario of relationship.

What I mean by that is that many people start their polyamorous relationships from the perspective that polyamory itself is inherently destructive, you can't reasonably expect your poly relationships to be healthy and positive, and if you don't ride herd on them all the time and manage your relationships and your partner's behavior strictly, all that will happen is you'll lose everything.

You see this in the language that people use to describe their relationships. "Well, we do primary/secondary in order to protect the primary relationship." Protect the primary relationship? Protect it from what? The basic premise is that if you DON'T do primary/secondary, then you'll automatically find yourself in a situation that destroys the primary relationship; after all, if that were not the case, why would you need these structures to "protect" the existing relationship in the first place? If you believe that you need these rules in order to make sure your needs are met, then what is it that makes you think that another person's needs must automatically come at the expense of your own?

When you start from the default assumption that other relationships are a threat, and you need to manage and control that threat, then of course it makes sense to assume that part of managing that threat means passing rules that place strict controls on your other relationships. But if you start from the default assumption that polyamory is implicitly threatening to your existing relationship, then what the hell are you doing poly for?




But wait, it gets worse! You see, people's behaviors don't spring from a vacuum. People act the way they do for a reason. If your partne's behavior, left unchecked, is disrespectful to you and recklessly disregards your needs, then you don't really solve the problem by placing controls on his behavior. The problem runs deeper than that. And contrawise, if your partner loves and respects you and wants to do right by your relationship, then you don't need to place controls on his behavior; his behavior will reflect the fact that he wants to do right by you, and does so because he chooses to, not because you make him. As Shelly wrote elsewhere, behavior is an emergent phenomenon. You don't actually control your partner's heart by controlling his behavior. If your partner's heart is not really with your relationship, making rules won't protect your relationship; if your partner's heart is with your relationship, making rules to protect the relationship is unnecessary.




But back to not putting vegetables into the fridge while it's being fixed. Yes, this is a very, very good idea. It is not always true that a person who says "not now" actually means "not ever." There are many people who say "not now" because they are, in fact, working on the problem, and sometimes working on the problem takes time.

Here's the thing, though. Working on the problem means working on the problem. It means taking affirmative action toward addressing the underlying jealousy. It means making progress.

What can sometimes happen is that a person can sincerely believe that he wants to address the underlying insecurities or fears behind his jealousy, and he can genuinely imagine a time when he does not have those fears and his partner can do whatever it is that triggers the jealousy. But you aren't going to get from here to there without discomfort. If you wait for a time when you no longer feel uncomfortable, then you'll be waiting forever, and that time will never come, because the very act of working on the fears and insecurities means being uncomfortable. You cannot challenge a fear without exposing yourself to it. You cannot fix the refrigerator until you actually get on your hands and knees and crawl around behind it and start tinkering with the guts of the thing with a flashlight in your mouth, and that's uncomfortable. If you say "Don't do this until I feel comfortable with it" and then you don't challenge your discomfort, you are saying "Don't do this" and sneaking the rule in the back door. If your relationship is broken and three weeks later you're still saying "No, honey, don't bring any frozen foods home yet, it's still not working," what kind of progress are you making?




Things can get a little trickier still (this business of romantic relationship is messy, isn't it?) when your partner has done something, intentionally or unintentionally, to damage your trust or to mistreat you in some way. When this happens, it takes time to rebuild trust and to repair the damage, and it's reasonable to expect not to keep doing things which are threatening until you get enough time and distance to separate the damage from mere discomfort.

Of course, i say "mere discomfort" even though I know full well that that "mere discomfort" can be an overwhelming tidal wave of jealousy that so completely washes over you that it leaves you shaking and twisted up in agony and unable to do or say or think about anything save for making the feeling go away. Hey, I never said it was easy--only that it's possible, and necessary.

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Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
minniethemoocha
Aug. 26th, 2005 03:50 am (UTC)
This stuff is the real stuff. Do go on, if you have more to say.
toki_warax
Aug. 26th, 2005 09:23 am (UTC)
A current topic for me. My question is, what's in your toolbox, metaphorically speaking, and how do you tell when the thing is fixed?
virtualmel
Aug. 26th, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC)
Well said, and I whole-heartedly agree.
I've been seeing your posts on sextips for a while now, and I really like what I've been reading. Do you mind if I add you to my friends list?
pyrategrrl
Aug. 26th, 2005 01:15 pm (UTC)
::applause for all the well written insightful stuff::

I'm linking to these from my journal for my benefit and for the benefit of my F-list, if that's ok?

its an ongoing issue, at various intensity levels, in my and my spousal units explorations in the poly zone, so more maps and guides are always useful.
fireandearth
Aug. 26th, 2005 01:51 pm (UTC)
Having now read both your "refrigerator" entries, I'm really enjoying what you have to say. Do keep talking.
dilletante
Aug. 26th, 2005 02:55 pm (UTC)
But if you start from the default assumption that polyamory is implicitly threatening to your existing relationship, then what the hell are you doing poly for?

dude, juggling is implicitly threatening to my relationship. video games are implicitly threatening to my relationship. books are implicitly threatening to my relationship. it's all about time and attention, and those are finite quantities.

i've never had a partner who said "don't have hobbies" or "don't play games." i do these things because they're also important to me-- but it's vital to strike a balance. i have had partners say "don't play video games past 1 am when i'm in bed waiting for you," or "don't play video games when i'm in the room." i think it's perfectly fine to set such rules.
zotmeister
Aug. 26th, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC)
i have had partners say "don't play video games past 1 am when i'm in bed waiting for you," or "don't play video games when i'm in the room." i think it's perfectly fine to set such rules.

No games with partner... what is partner thinking... choosing games over partner... what are you thinking... can't... mentally... resolve...

I don't think I could wear your shoes. I guess you can take that as a sign of respect, really. - ZM
datan0de
Aug. 27th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC)
I spent almost three hours this morning composing a lengthy, witty, insightful reply that complemented you on your useful refrigerator and also took you to task for some of its shortcomings and false assumptions.

I lost my internet connection just as I was posting it, and it wasn't retained in my browser's history or cache. I'm much too upset to try to recompose it right now, so just pretend I was brilliant while I go get drunk. :-(
datan0de
Aug. 27th, 2005 02:48 am (UTC)
WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
Look! LOOK!!! I recovered it!!! HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY DANCE!!!

Oh, and look below for my comment which now doesn't seem nearly as epic as it did when it was gone. :-)
wilson_lizard
Aug. 27th, 2005 02:37 am (UTC)
If your partner's heart is not really with your relationship, making rules won't protect your relationship; if your partner's heart is with your relationship, making rules to protect the relationship is unnecessary.

The thing that it does do is it gives them a clue about what is likely to cause problems. It's not necessary, but it sure saves a lot of trouble. Since everyone is has different standards about what's appropriate behavior in a relationship, one has to make one's boundaries clear. What's fine with one person can cause another a lot of pain. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
datan0de
Aug. 27th, 2005 02:46 am (UTC)
After giving it some thought I have some problems with your metaphor, though a little adjustment seems to fix most of them.

My biggest issue is that it forces one into the mindset of looking at insecurities as problems rather than as personal traits. Even when all parties in a relationship are perfectly happy making allowances for the insecurities of one (or possibly all) of them, by applying your mindset the relationship is "broken" and must be fixed.

You'll grant, of course, that some people simply aren't poly. We've all met folks who's reaction to our lifestyle is "that's great for you, but I could never handle it", and we rightly take no issue with that. But how is that significantly different from someone who does identify as poly but still finds that they're not okay with their partner, for example, getting gang banged every Wednesday and Saturday night at the Bukkake Shack (assuming safe sex practices, of course)?

Looking at it another way, if I'm a fan of the shock-rock group Gwar but my partner finds them disturbing and unpleasant, which makes more sense- my partner making a herculean effort to try to force herself to try to come to terms with her dislike or me simply choosing something else to listen to when she's in the car? I know that you see that and working around relationship insecurities as two completely different things (one is a matter of something being 'broken' and needing a fix, and the other is simply my partner having better taste than I do), but I think your distinction is somewhat arbitrary. I know you probably completely disagree with me or see my perspective as being somehow defeatist, but I don't see either of us convincing the other any time soon.

However, if we're willing to disregard that point then your metaphor is largely workable. I have one suggestion, though. As was brought up in the other thread, comparing a relationship with insecurities to a refrigerator that doesn't get cold creates the implication that insecurities negate the entire purpose or benefit of having a relationship in the first place. I don't think that that's your intention, so I submit to you that it might be more useful to compare it to a refrigerator with a broken freezer. It acknowledges that the relationship still has value and provides benefits to all involved, but that there's something to be worked on.

So let's say that my refrigerator has a broken freezer and my partners and I are all less-than-satisfied about it. K and J can't store frozen meals for work, M's frozen pizzas have all thawed, and I can't have ice cream. So we all decide that it'll be a fun, exciting, and educational group project to try to fix it together as time permits.

Down the road a ways we look back at our adventure so far. It's been a lot of hard work, a few fingers have been singed, there have been cuts and bruises here and there and maybe even a scary trip to the emergency room, but no permanent harm has come to anyone, we've had a bonding experience, and now the freezer works. Everyone is happy, however the ice maker is still broken.

Applying our new knowledge of refrigeration technologies, we then all come to the conclusion that fixing the ice maker would be a royal pain in the ass. We only use ice once in a while in mixed drinks, and at least three-quarters of us have the culinary wherewithall to successfully operate a simple ice tray. As a group then, we decide that it's not worth the trauma, hassle, expense, potential broken relationship, and certain swimming pool of tears that go along with fixing an ice maker (okay, maybe the metaphor breaks down here just a bit. You still get my point). When the cost/benefit analysis is so clearly stacked against it, and everyone involved is happy to maintain the status quo, how can you still call that a problem?
tacit
Aug. 28th, 2005 03:32 pm (UTC)
My biggest issue is that it forces one into the mindset of looking at insecurities as problems rather than as personal traits. Even when all parties in a relationship are perfectly happy making allowances for the insecurities of one (or possibly all) of them, by applying your mindset the relationship is "broken" and must be fixed.

To quote someone else I know and respect greatly in a different conversation on the subject of insecurity:

"Insecurity would be more like the anchor tied to your leg, in that it does neither of the above and doesn't even provide the appearance of being beneficial on any level.

To my knowledge, I've never met anyone (myself included) who experiences insecurity and sees it as a positive in any way, or in any way seeks to maintain or foster it."


I don't think that you can really support or defend an insecurity or a jealousy as a positive, beneficial thing. I think the analogy of musical tastes doesn't work; someone who likes Gwar might say "I like the music" or "it's fun to watch them in concert" or "I like the theatrics," but I doubt you will find many people who say "I like insecurity" or "it's fun to feel insecure and then plan ways to work around it" or "I enjoy being jealous."

Insecurity is a problem. Nobody is going to say that insecurity is fun, or adds value to their lives, or insecurity makes them feel better. People will, however, seek to find ways to defend their insecurities and rationalize holding on to them, when push comes to shove. :)
plymouth
May. 29th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC)
In the analogy though the jealous person is the person who DOESN'T like Gwar. They would similarly probably not say "I like hating music". They'd much rather the music simply wasn't there to hate, the same way the jealous person would much rather the jealousy trigger simply wasn't there. I think the analogy works pretty well.
nesteddoll
Aug. 28th, 2005 07:39 pm (UTC)
Your response got me thinking about the different choices we make in relationships, and the different places those choices emerge from. I see three loose catagories: Choices made from simple preference, choices from an awareness/avoidance of danger or choices made from insecurity. One really can't be exchanged for another as I think each occupies a distinct psychological space.

We've all met folks who's reaction to our lifestyle is "that's great for you, but I could never handle it", and we rightly take no issue with that. But how is that significantly different from someone who does identify as poly but still finds that they're not okay with their partner, for example, getting gang banged every Wednesday and Saturday night at the Bukkake Shack

It's not significiantly different, and I don't think that Franklin is implying that any sort of discomfort one feels at any point during a relationship necessarily implies insecurity or jealousy. Some things are a matter of preference. I often talk about my boundaries regarding casual physical affection or interpersonal flirtation. I know what I like, I've learned what wears me out, and I know what I don't like and don't want to be a part of. This comfort level extends to some extent to my partner. I would rather not go to a party and have my partner make out with half the people there - because of the way I feel about physical affection, it would require a great deal of emotional juggling and processing on my part (though I'd be willing to do it if it was really important to said partner).

But I think there's a distinction between choices made from preference and choices made from insecurity. Preference says "I find this unpleasant," "this makes me tired," "I would enjoy something else better" etc. Insecurity says "I'm not good enough," "I'm going to be replaced," "I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life." Preference says "I don't like reggae dancing so why don't you go out with your friends and have a good time tonight" - Insecurity says "I don't like reggae dancing but I'm afraid if you have a good time without me you'll discover you don't need me - so I don't want you to go reggae dancing."

Then there's damage avoidance. I don't want to be damaged and I think it's perfectly reasonable that other people might want to avoid that too. I know, for instance, that if my partner and I are going to play in a BDSM context, that they need to be available to me directly after. I know that I need dependability. I know that I need to have certain expectations and commitments of time. I become dependent on a certain level of availablity and support. If my partner lets me down, it will damage our relationship and it will damage me emotionally. This necessitates that my partner keep their time commitments within a reasonable level - so there's usually an upper limit on the amount of relationships that can be pursued at any given time.

Damage avoidance says: "I know what I need to have a healthy relationship, and so I'm going to set certain limits." Insecurity says "You're going to leave me or I'm going to lose something if I let you cross these limits." Sometimes insecurity will masquarade as damage avoidance and sometimes you have good reason to feel insecure. It's not always clear what it is you're supposed to do with the choices given to you.
nesteddoll
Aug. 28th, 2005 07:40 pm (UTC)
(cont'd)
The only person that can tell you why you make the choices you make is you. When I'm not sure what to do, I tend to try to figure out which path requires the most courage. Sometimes I damage myself by doing that and I realize I had good reason to be afraid of the minefield. But at least I know that fear is not my master (heights and spiders are a whole different ballgame, however :P).

Here's an interesting mental sidetrack.. How do you tell the difference between something that's necessary for your happiness, and something that's an addiction? Generally the way you identify addiction is when it starts adversely affecting your health or your relationships and you continue with the behavior anyways. Often those that are addicted don't want to be addicted but continue the behavior anyways because the physical or psychological withdrawal would be so much more miserable than the misery they are in..

I think you have to go through a similar checklist in your head when it comes to insecurity. Furthermore there's often an element of both healthy and unhealthy fear in any limit - I've found that it's really easy to do the right thing for the wrong reasons..
datan0de
Aug. 28th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
Nicely put, and your clarification certainly makes Franklin's observations more palatable. Your three categories make sense, and I think it's important to understand that rules and boundaries need not always spring from the "insecurities" category.

When I'm not sure what to do, I tend to try to figure out which path requires the most courage.
That's a bold way of dealing with uncertainty, and I admire that you're able to do that. I've found that that tactic doesn't work as well for me, however. Instead, at least in relationship situations, I tend to use rules as a scaffold to initially hold things as they are, so that the boundaries can be tweaked, tested, and stretched in a slower, more controlled manner. By allowing the boundaries to shift slowly, rather than all at once, I find that, consistently, I end up with the boundaries moving to an enormously less restrictive place than they ever could have without the initial scaffold.
datan0de
Aug. 28th, 2005 07:40 pm (UTC)
Well I suppose I can't argue with that! :-)

Your observation about my music analogy is correct, but I'm really not trying to say that anyone would necessarily consider an insecurity to be a benefit. My point is that the fact that it isn't inherently beneficial does not necessitate that it be "fixed". It's entirely possible that the "cure" can be far more trouble than it's worth.

To mix our metaphors and further confuse the situation, if the anchor attached to my leg weighs less than my car keys, I may not consider it worthwhile to amputate my foot to remove it. ;-)
tacit
Aug. 28th, 2005 07:53 pm (UTC)
"Your observation about my music analogy is correct, but I'm really not trying to say that anyone would necessarily consider an insecurity to be a benefit. My point is that the fact that it isn't inherently beneficial does not necessitate that it be "fixed". It's entirely possible that the "cure" can be far more trouble than it's worth."

Except for the fact that insecurities, by their very nature, limit your life, increase your fear, and constrict your happiness and that of your partners--whereas moving in the direction of greatest courage offers you a better life.

In my earlier entry, I made the observation that often, people who have an insecurity will often fight to preserve and protect it, and seek to defend it, rather than giving it up--an assertion I stand by. :) It's hard to name any situation in the real world where your life is better with an insecurity than it would be without it.
datan0de
Aug. 28th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)
Except for the fact that insecurities, by their very nature, limit your life, increase your fear, and constrict your happiness and that of your partners--whereas moving in the direction of greatest courage offers you a better life.
I don't see how this addresses my statement. Yes, at their worst insecurities can do all of the things that you mention. However, they may also be little worse than an inconvenience, with the total loss over an entire lifetime still being less than the cost of attempting to resolve it.

It's hard to name any situation in the real world where your life is better with an insecurity than it would be without it.
Easy- any situation where the "direction of greatest courage" results in the annihilation of a happy, prosperous, beneficial-for-all-parties relationship, just for the sake of attempting to "fix" a situation that was both stable and perfectly acceptable to everyone to begin with.
tacit
Aug. 29th, 2005 04:13 pm (UTC)
"Easy- any situation where the "direction of greatest courage" results in the annihilation of a happy, prosperous, beneficial-for-all-parties relationship, just for the sake of attempting to "fix" a situation that was both stable and perfectly acceptable to everyone to begin with."

It's hard for me to imagine a situation where insecurity preserves a relationship, and removing the insecurity destroys it. In my experience, security, confidence, and self-assuredness strengthen, not weaken, a relationship.

An insecurity is, by definition, an irrational or unfounded fear. If the fear is removed, under what circumstances would that cause the annihilation of the relationship?
(Anonymous)
Jun. 25th, 2009 06:30 am (UTC)
An insecurity is, by definition, an irrational or unfounded fear. If the fear is removed, under what circumstances would that cause the annihilation of the relationship?

I could see where the process of TRYING to remove the fear could destroy a relationship esspecially if the insecurity is your partner's fear and not your own.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 2nd, 2015 02:24 pm (UTC)
Green Eyed Monster/Fix the Fridge
These 2 articles are fantastic! I'm just now 6 mos. into a polyandrous relationship. My gf is the hinge. Her hubby and I are the arms of our V. I work diligently to move past my jealousies and insecurities as they appear. No lie, it's tough. We go back and forth because we feel like we don't get enough of her. Now, I'm new to this. Intellectually, I understand how poly should work. On paper it makes perfect sense. I intuitively know that keeping our relationships her/him her/I will not work in the long run. Transitioning into the realm of "US" would alleviate many of the petty jealousies and time disparities. When we decided that we wanted a relationship that's what I began trying to build. Incorporating one another into our respective families, kids lives, OUR lives, etc. From the start I've tried to do two of the toughest things I've encountered so far.

1) Make room for hubby to join in most things. Obviously there must be some private time, but when we're watching a movie or show, come on and sit with.

2) Bond with her boys. This is a tough one no matter how you are. Allowing yourself to love another's children makes it that much more daunting because now you're including innocents. If a relationship fails, 2 hearts break. If one with kids fails, do the math.

Number 1 has been sporadic at best. He wont join in trying to make our current dynamic better.
But number 2 has been a huge success.

What I'm getting at with all this, is that I'm mono with her. She's poly with us. He can be poly, but currently isn't. This is ok for us. But for me, its essential that I stay vigilant about my jealousies. Especially since I still unconsciously hold to mono tenets, because there's no room for unreasonable and unfounded jealousy in polyamory of any flavor. Your posts are one of my primary tools in my self assessment.

Thank you.
Droogalo612
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )