As non-monogamous relationships become more socially acceptable, greater numbers of people are curious about whether or not it’s for them. While exploring, they seek community support and trusted resources. Social media groups are a great place to find like-minded people with valuable experience. You can ask questions of others from all walks of life: lifelong relationship anarchists, new couples just opening up, veteran swingers, and countless other individuals practicing various forms of non-monogamy.
Perhaps the most common issue folks seek to remedy is: “OMG THE JEALOUSY? How do you deal with it?!?!?” Inevitably, well meaning folks come along and reference The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola. Oddly? Most admit they haven’t read nor utilized the workbook but see it mentioned enough that they feel safe doing the same. Like most solutions, it’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy.
The focus of this critical review will be to address the problematic approaches rooted in amatonormativity, monogamy+ (A.K.A. hierarchy), and codependency. Let’s begin this critical review with a few important notes about where I’m coming from and the lens through which I’m viewing this book:
- There is no one right way to go about ethical non-monogamy, but there are a lot of problematic ways
- At the time of this writing, I have not found any revised editions of this book which was published in 2013
- This critique is being written with individual autonomy and personal agency as guiding principles
- I am not saying this book is good or bad, nor right or wrong
- My aim is to shine a light on approaches that have potentially problematic applications
- The author of The Jealousy Workbook may have changed their viewpoint since publishing; this is a critique of the book itself and nothing more
Each time I see this book recommended I find it necessary to contribute this caveat: while it contains a lot of helpful tips and points, it trends heavily toward heteronormativity as well as toxic monogamous tropes.
Early on it becomes evident that the author sees many concepts as mutually exclusive. Monogamy and non-monogamy for instance – wherein the author lightly acknowledges a spectrum but fails to incorporate relationships between monogamous and non-monogamous people, parallel relationships, integrated ones, and more.
The primary issue with The Jealousy Workbook is the frequent shifting of emotional labor. Much of this is rooted in the dyadic approach: assuming all people come to non-monogamy from previously monogamous relationships. While common, it’s becoming less so and people in ALL relationships experience jealousy. As such, many of the suggestions focus on relationship protectionism which does nothing to solve the issue; placating at best, exacerbating at worst. Everyone comes to non-monogamy from different lived experiences, and all relationships require self-work.
The Jealousy Workbook often advocates shifting emotional labor outside of the assumed “primary” couple. It’ll start out well with excellent tips such as sitting with it a bit to determine the real source of one’s jealousy only to take a turn when the author suggests placing rules/limits on other relationships in order to mitigate one’s jealousy. This is counterproductive and it’s problematic to try to control relationships that aren’t your own.
Asking someone to limit what they’d naturally do in any relationship directly infringes on autonomy and agency; relationship protectionism in its purest form. Unfortunately, this almost always leads to resentment. Intimacy of any form is not a zero sum game. We have been conditioned to believe that special means exclusive. When you structure your relationships non-monogamously, this is one of the most important things to unpack. If you’d like to read more in-depth on this, check out Rusty’s piece Perspectives on Special.
While reading this book, I regularly got the feeling that it was written for newcomers to non-monogamy coming from an existing dyad. While I don’t recommend the approach of “lowest comfort level,” I can understand the draw and comfort of this approach. I even took it myself for too long. If you’re dead set on this approach, give yourself a time limit and stick to it. If you feel you need a month to adjust to a new aspect of non-monogamy, use that month to work on where you want to be. Commit to revisiting at that point even if you’re not all the way there yet and push your comfort level. I’m not saying to make yourself miserable, but growth is never comfortable. Be mindful that open timelines have a habit of stretching all the way to “never” while they erode the exact thing you’re trying to protect.
The following is an example of a common theme in the book of asking others to do the labor for you: Labriola states: “She felt more secure about having enough of her husband’s time and attention.” but suggests achieving it by asking to limit his other relationship. This does nothing to actually give her more time with her partner. Ultimately, we achieve feeling more secure by asking for what we want, not by asking someone to receive less. Not giving it elsewhere does nothing to address what’s wanted: more time and attention. If limiting someone else’s happiness is what increases yours, you may want to unpack that dichotomy.
I find focusing on and communicating what I want and need from a partner instead of minimizing someone else to be a far more effective path to happiness. If I don’t feel like my partner is spending enough time with me, I don’t ask them to stop doing X, Y, Z . . . I ask them to spend more time with me and trust them to do what they need to make that happen.
Overall, the core practices of the book are solid with great examples of struggles people have in ethically non-monogamous relationships. You can and should recommend it! However, do so with a word of caution since many of the examples are riddled with problematic “solutions”. A quick way to tell if the suggestion honors autonomy or not is to ask yourself if the focus is on your relationship with your partner, or theirs with someone else. “I would like more of your time” is infinitely more effective than “You can’t spend as much time with them”.
All this being said, much of the book contains important considerations, thought exercises, and can be made even better with a few small adjustments in your approach to the suggested applications. You’re reading this book to do the self-work . . . so do the self work. Don’t ask others to coddle you. Remember that growth is seldom comfortable.