Open marriage jealousy

Jealousy management refers to the ways people cope with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with romantic rivalry.

Couples in open marriage expose themselves to situations that can potentially provoke jealousy. Most couples in open marriages report experiencing jealousy at some point during their marriage. Couples in open marriages also experience jealousy more frequently than couples in sexually monogamous marriages. Ground rules are one way to help manage jealousy in open relationships. However, ground rules may not be sufficient. Couples in open marriages may benefit from a general understanding of jealousy and how to cope with it.

Prevalence of jealousy

Jealousy is a familiar experience in human relationships. It has been reported in every culture where researchers have looked.

It has been observed in infants as young as 5-6 months old and in adults over 65 years old.

It is especially prevalent in open marriages. Studies have shown around 80 percent of people in open marriages experience jealousy over their extramarital relationships.

Couples in open marriages experience as much or more jealousy than people in sexually monogamous marriages.

The prevalence of jealousy in open marriages is not surprising given that people in open marriage expose themselves to situations that can potentially provoke jealousy.

Weinberg, Williams, and Pryor found that 77 percent of bisexuals in sexually open relationships had partners who experienced jealousy at some point.

The majority, 46.2 percent, said their partners experienced only a little jealousy. The remaining 30.8 percent said their partners experienced moderate to extreme jealousy. While it may seem encouraging that less than one-third of partners experienced moderate to extreme jealousy, these findings may not generalize to heterosexual married couples. First, most of the bisexuals in this study were not married. Studies suggest that unmarried people who cohabit tend to reject the idea of lifelong marriage and hold more accepting attitudes toward divorce. More accepting attitudes toward ending a relationship may reduce the threat of losing the relationship to a romantic rival, and hence reduce the amount of jealousy experienced. In addition, bisexuals are often more jealous of outside partners of their own sex.

"Primary partners were reportedly more jealous of an 'outside' partner of their own sex -- for example, a man whose primary partner was a woman would say she was more jealous of his relationships with other women. The logic that underlies this was that a person of the same sex as themselves could meet similar needs and thus replace them. A person of the opposite sex would not compete in this way, satisfying a different set of needs for their partner." (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1995, page 108)
The fact that many outside partners were not the same sex as primary partners may have reduced the overall amount of jealousy experienced. Heterosexual couples in open marriages might therefore experience greater amounts of jealousy than reported in this study.

Coping with jealousy

People who experience pathological jealousy, and people for whom jealousy triggers violence, may benefit from professional counseling. People who experience normal jealousy have at least nine strategies for coping with jealousy. The problem-solving strategies include: improving the primary relationship, interfering with the rival relationship, demanding commitment, and self-assessment. The emotion-focused strategies include: derogation of partner or rival, developing alternatives, denial/avoidance, support/catharsis, and appraisal challenge. These strategies are related to emotion regulation, conflict management, cognitive change, and ground rules for managing jealous competition.

Ground rules

Although people sometimes dislike the concept of rules for relationships, ground rules benefit relationship partners analogous to the way rules of the road benefit drivers or scripts benefit actors. Ground rules allow relationship partners to coordinate their behaviors so they achieve shared goals with fewer conflicts. Some ground rules describe general guidelines for conduct in different types of relationships. For example, the rules of friendships differ from the rules of marriage. Other ground rules are designed to manage romantic rivalry. Ground rules for sexually monogamous couples tend to prohibit behaviors that are viewed as acts of infidelity. Ground rules for sexually open couples tend to prohibit behaviors that provoke jealousy. Partners may change the ground rules of their relationships over time.

Ground rules in open relationships may include, for example: that partners disclose who they have sex with; that they limit their involvement with others (to dating or physical intimacy but not relationships, for example); or that they not become involved with certain people (such as the other partner's friends or coworkers).

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