How to Soothe a Jealous Partner (And Is It Your Job?)
Jealousy is the common cold of relationships. Universally dreaded, it’s able to strike anyone at any time—usually unexpectedly, under the least convenient circumstances. And, much like the common cold, while anecdotal remedies abound, no single cure seems to work exactly as expected, every time.
Worst of all, no type of person or partnership is immune to jealousy. As sociologist and relationship coach, Dr. Elisabeth A. Sheff says, “Some people truly don’t feel jealousy—until they do.” Through her work with individuals and relationships, she’s found, “everyone has the capacity for jealousy”—an ominous declaration implying this scourge can breed anywhere.
So, while it’s true there are many different relationship styles, to jealousy, they’re all fair game. Whether you’re kinky, vanilla, or a shade of grey, monogamous, monogamish, polyamorous, or somewhere in between, your interactions with a partner are liable to become infected with jealousy at some point—and that’s going to have to be addressed.
But we don’t judge. We’re here to help! So, if you’re currently grappling with how to help a jealous partner heal—or, whether it’s necessarily your responsibility—we’ve got some advice to get you back on course.
Getting Down to Business
The techniques for soothing a jealous partner vary based on the cause of the jealousy. We’ll target each cause and the corresponding solutions separately, so you can use the technique most appropriate for your situation. It’s important to tailor your approach to the specific fears your partner’s jealousy is founded upon. Remember to discuss feelings honestly and openly with your partner. This will help elucidate the jealousy’s underlying cause.
They’ve Been Cheated Out of Love
If your partner has been cheated on, or has otherwise lost a partner “to another person”, their jealousy might be based on fear from past experiences. Humans learn from fear. When we’ve been hurt by something before, we learn to identify it more quickly, to avoid that pain in the future. It’s entirely possible your partner’s jealousy is just that; something feels off and they don’t want to lose you.
If your partner is open to it, help them process their concerns by offering comparisons between their past and what is happening now, in the present relationship. The goal is to unpack the past experience in a gentle, supportive way and determine how similar it is to the current experience. Helping them examine their apprehension in the context of the current situation is essentially fear “fact-checking”. This method should alleviate worries of history repeating itself by demonstrating no two relationships are exactly the same. After, they can determine for themselves whether that fear is still a valid concern.
Another way to encourage feelings of security in a relationship is to more closely align the reality of the relationship with the expectations of it. A simple way to do this is for you and your partner to each create a list of three main expectations of the relationship. Compare notes and determine whether you are meeting each other’s expectations.
If the relationship is fairly new and you’re still learning about each other, you might not have identical expectations or necessarily be meeting all expectations. That is okay—the next step is to brainstorm how to meet those expectations together. Then, put a plan in place to carry those habits into daily life.
For example, your partner might need physical contact as a concrete expression of affection in a relationship. Maybe their expectation is for that need to be addressed both in private and public settings so they can be reassured, and others can be aware, of the connection you share.
If their expectations are being met, they’ll feel more secure in the relationship. A solid plan for maintaining those habits would routinely reaffirm that security. Your plan, here, could be to start each day with a warm hug, initiate public displays of affection (like holding hands—or more!), and physically present as a couple in social settings through casual touching or being physically near.
Thus, to soothe a partner who has previous relationship baggage, start by contrasting their fear with the current reality, then address their expectations. Using these techniques will help you both view the relationship more clearly and support each other fully.
They’re Insecure—Don’t Know What For
If your partner’s jealousy is based on the idea that they could lose you because they don’t measure up, the solution is very straightforward: work on building each other’s self-esteem and confidence in the relationship. To do this easily, build a habit within the relationship to thank each other on a regular basis. You want to help them feel like they are enough, so specifically thank them for what they bring to the table.
Articulating honest gratitude for their actions will call to their attention that you recognize the work they put in. It will show that you notice the good in them and their deeds. It can help them feel valued, seen, and appreciated.
You don’t have to conjure elaborate compliments, and you shouldn’t worry about finding the right words or circumstance. Just pick up on what they do and mention it. For instance, “Thanks for making lunch, you’re an amazing cook!”, “Thanks for being so supportive, you’re a great partner,” or, “Thank you for collecting the mail, I appreciate it.” The more you use gratitude, the more opportunities you’ll find to use it.
This behavior can quickly become a custom in your relationship because people tend to unintentionally copy each other’s verbal and behavioral habits. It’s a social phenomenon known as mimicry. This means, if you start saying “thank you” often enough, your partner will probably end up reciprocating.
Using gratitude to address jealousy and insecurities works because it teaches your partner that they (and the relationship) are special to you. Gratitude can also encourage both of you to feel valued. Simultaneously, it highlights the positives of your relationship and increases mutual feelings of satisfaction and happiness.
They’re Missing Something
Whether it’s a lack of trust, or the absence of a quantifiable resource (like time together), perceived deficits in the relationship can definitely breed fear and jealousy in a partner—especially if they see that resource moving towards someone else. If this is the case in your relationship, try to identify what your partner feels is missing.
If it’s trust that’s lacking, trust takes time. Still, a dedicated effort to continually show up, be reliable, and tell the truth, will eventually build it back.
If it’s a measurable resource, you’ll need to mentally audit whether it has been diverted away from them—and where it has gone. Once you realize where it has been reassigned, you can look for ways to replenish it within the relationship.
If time is the resource, intentional scheduling can help. Try setting aside an hour each night to talk, or, instate regular “date nights” reserved just for your partner. Doing this will reaffirm your commitment to the relationship and emphasize to your partner that they’re a priority.
However, there is another resource we tend to be less cognizant of—relationship energy. Polyamorous people know, when a new connection is formed, there’s this wondrous, elusive feeling termed “new relationship energy” or “NRE”. It’s that head-over-heels excitement surrounding a new love interest, and your partner would know it if they saw it, because you and your partner probably had it once, too.
If you’re in a consensual open-relationship and your partner knows you’re seeing other people, it might not be easy for them to witness you having this energy with someone else. To avoid wrecking your current relationship via NRE from your newest relationship, try to be more subtle (or at least less brazen) with your NRE. This will be hard, because you’re probably in hardcore love—or lust—and want to shout it from the rooftops. We get it! But a little subtlety can go a long way in preserving what you already have (and worked hard for) with your current partner.
Most importantly, no matter how crazy your NRE gets, remember: no backsies on safer sex agreements! Breaking promises about safer sex only plays into your long-term partner’s worst fears. Plus, it’s a major breach of trust that they would be totally valid in ending the relationship over. Be courteous, accountable, and responsible.
When your partner sees deficits in the relationship that spark jealousy, assess those deficits justly. Attempt to re-funnel resources that might have been displaced back into the relationship. Furthermore, try to be respectful when other resources (like NRE) are directed towards new partners. These efforts will honor your preexisting relationship and inspire trust.
The suspicion of moral incompatibility is a common fear underpinning jealousy. This fear is especially evident when one partner is monogamous and the other polyamorous, or, when one partner is kinky and the other vanilla. Much of this has to do with misunderstanding lifestyles beyond our own. Unfortunately, naivety spawns many a misconception.
For example, people without experience in polyamory often assume there’s no fidelity in relationships which are not exclusive. Alternately, people unfamiliar with kink often think kink is solely about sex, or that, if you have multiple play partners, you are sexually intimate with all of them. These are massive misconceptions which (like all misunderstandings) can muddle relationships with fears and jealousies that are not always well-founded. The solution is informed, educational conversation held in the spirit of solidarity.
If your partner is jealous because they prefer exclusive monogamy and you prefer open relationships, you might feel that your value systems are irreconcilable. However, this may not be the case. Do you value honesty? Do you feel responsibility towards your partners? Do you think trust is an important basis for relationships? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you two might have more in common than you’d think!
While it’s true a common snag in mono/poly pairings is the assumption that fidelity cannot exist in poly—an unsettling thought for a monogamous partner—here, the existence of fidelity isn’t the issue. It’s the definition of fidelity that spurs confusion.
A monogamous person might define fidelity as “sexual exclusivity”. However, a polyamorous person could define it as “being emotionally faithful”, “not betraying their partners’ trust”, or “honoring agreed upon commitments” (such as those pertaining to safer sex or ethical nonmonogamy). This is why it’s entirely possible for monogamous and polyamorous people to agree, ethically, that virtues such as fidelity, loyalty, and responsibility are vital to relationships.
If this alleged ethical discrepancy is rousing jealousy in your partner, open the lines of communication to discuss what they need from a partner. Have them define the virtues they consider important. Then, you can determine whether you conceptualize these virtues similarly.
If not, setting ground rules is a perfect backup plan. Agreeing on ground rules achieves two goals: 1) getting partners to agree on something, and 2) safekeeping each other’s feelings and trust by identifying and protecting the most important aspects of the relationship. Every relationship holds something sacred. Ground rules ensure that what is sacred stays sacred.
For vanilla partners jealous of their kinky partner’s consensual engagement in kink outside of the relationship, the above techniques also apply. The first step is, of course, making sure you’re on the same page. Discuss what kink means for you, and what it entails. Define the types of play partnerships you engage in, and what their boundaries are.
Acknowledge, also, that kink doesn’t always include or end in sex. Those who are into service and obedience might clean, or serve tea, and not engage sexually at all. To some, kink is about personal fulfilment more than sexual gratification. If that’s true for you, your vanilla partner might be relieved to hear it. So, communicate fully and honestly.
After clarifying what kink means to each of you, you can see whether you agree on central issues affecting your relationship. Even if you don’t, ground rules can help level uneven and different moral grounds to sustain the structure of the relationship.
Finding ethical similarities, defining moral concepts, and making ground rules you can both commit to, are helpful ways to bridge the perceived “ethical divide” between monogamous and polyamorous partners, as well as kinky and vanilla partners. Putting the division to rest can soothe jealousy and strengthen the connection between you.
Is Soothing a Jealous Partner Really My Responsibility?
That depends. If the jealousy is just run-of-the-mill jealousy (meaning, it doesn’t include delusions, violence, or other unhealthy tendencies), and you want to stay in the relationship, it’s probably in your best interest to hear your partner out. However, listening and being receptive to your partner’s concerns doesn’t mean taking the blame for their jealousy.
If your partner is jealous, they must take ownership of that and recognize it’s their responsibility to come to terms with their feelings, not yours. Healthy relationships, in their rawest form, are about mutual respect, after all. Your partner should not expect you to jump through hoops to address their emotions.
This doesn’t mean you can treat them with flagrant disregard and still expect to have a relationship. Rather, in the same way they must claim responsibility for their emotions and reactions, you must claim responsibility for your contribution: your actions.
So, while other people’s feelings are not your issue, if you wish to honor your relationship, helping your partner sift through jealous feelings can bring you closer together. Investing in your mutual future means committing to working together. Conversely, not all relationships are reconcilable. If you’re playing by the rules and your partner is engaging in toxic doubt, you don’t have to walk on eggshells to meet their impossible standards.
Jealousy is an unfortunate affliction, but overcoming it together can be an empowering bonding experience in a relationship. While every case of jealousy is unique (and should be treated as such) all require a supportive and communicative environment in which to heal.