One of the most common—and devastating—relationship mistakes a person can make is to assume, “I am feeling bad, so that means someone has done something bad to me.” Sometimes it’s true: abuse happens, cruelty and gaslighting happen, people can just be inconsiderate and unkind. Jealousy can be a signal: that something is wrong in a relationship, our needs aren’t being met, our partner really does have one foot out the door. Or it can be a social cue: our status is threatened.
But sometimes jealousy comes from inside, revealing insecurity or anxiety we need to confront and work through. Or it can be utterly irrational, arising blindly out of seemingly nowhere, perhaps from our social training—or perhaps an ancient biological urge encoded in our DNA. Perhaps a partner’s or metamour’s well-intentioned words or actions have tripped over deeply buried emotional trauma and unleash demons that make us feel like our world is going to end. The network is supportive, everyone is communicating—then a new situation is encountered and BAM! Jealousy. Feeling bad doesn’t always mean someone else is doing something wrong.
Stern’s view is dangerous, then, because often people feel jealous when no one is doing anything wrong. Treating jealousy as a purely social issue (and we’ve seen it done) can lead to an endless circle of judgment, recrimination and accusation. It’s the ultimate in outsourcing: the outsourcing of emotional responsibility. True jealousy management involves listening to the jealousy to find out what it’s trying to tell you, and communicating with your partners (and metamours) to discover whether there is truth behind your fears—and if not, to get the reassurance you need.