Jealousy comes in many forms, but it’s always easy to spot. There’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach, or suddenly your normally long fuse has become short and snappy. Once you realize that you’re feeling jealous, it can be a bit of a tailspin, because that emotion, more than any other, has the potential to wreak havoc on both the individuals in a relationship, and damage the relationship itself.
Jealousy can be expressed through a half-dozen different outlets, including envy, competitiveness, possessiveness, feeling excluded, obsession, insecurity, and fear. It happens in long-established couples, brand new relationships, monogamous and open relationships. Other people can make provoke jealousy, but almost anything that draws focus from the partnership can affect the balance. Spending too much time at the office, or making a brand new, just-for-you friend? Expect your partner to get a bit jealous.
Jealousy is both learned and instinctual; we feel it in our guts, but we’re also told that if we aren’t jealous in our relationships, it somehow means our love is lacking. That’s simply not true. It’s a reality in all relationships, but there are plenty of distractions, reactions and connections we can create in order to combat feelings of jealousy.
For each method of expressing jealousy, there’s a way to tackle it head-on. The first step in any of this processing is identifying your feelings. Instead of slamming around the kitchen and saying, “I’m fine,” when your girlfriend asks what’s wrong, take a deep breath–maybe a minute to yourself–and say, “I’m feeling jealous.” It starts a dialogue about what’s at the root of the problem, instead of dealing with the symptoms.
This feeling is often prompted by a relationship that you covet, like a new friend of the opposite gender that seems particularly awesome, or a couple you know that strikes you as perfect from every angle. The cure for this is a deep breath, a reality check, and a measure of self-awareness. Not knowing someone very well can prompt a fantasy that their life (or their relationship) is perfect, but everyone has their own pitfalls and blind spot. Try not to idealize the other people or their relationships, because there’s no way you can know all the hairy, dirty parts of a person from afar.
If there’s one person in particular you’re feeling envious of, by all means, try to get to know them better: avoid unpacking your feelings, and just focus on getting to know them a bit better. If you’re envious of a connection your partner has developed with someone (or something, like her work or hobby) outside the relationship, address that with your partner. Try to demystify what’s so strong about that connection, and be open about the fact that you don’t feel that level of connection at home.
We in the Western world often have a mindset that say, “Either we’re #1, or we’re total losers.” There’s a whole tradition of middle managers that points to this not being true, but in a relationship, it can be tough to shrug off. When your partner fills a need with someone other than you, it can be difficult to remember that it’s not about you…but really, it’s not about you. We rely on different people in our lives to fill different roles, and you aren’t lacking if you’re not everything, all the time, forever, to the person you love. Relax, enjoy the break, and ask your partner to fill you in once they come home.
We can’t own other people, but there’s still a lot of language in how we process that love that leads us to believe otherwise (“You’re Mine” stamped on a candy heart is only the beginning). Try to practice non-attachment, and remember that being clingy is attractive for barnacle, but less so for people. When things are great at home, it’s easy to share your partner with the world; when they aren’t, it gets tougher. The first step to beating possessiveness is striving for greatness at home.
My boyfriend is going to an awesome event with all his guy friends! I feel left out! My girlfriend is having lunch with a former lover! I feel left out! My primary is having a sexy weekend with her girlfriend! I feel left out! So you wish you were doing something fun, too? Get a social life, make plans, and don’t stew. This has the added bonus of not allowing you to stew, and actively engages your mind on other, fun things.
Seriously, stop stalking your partners on Facebook. Obsessing over your partner’s relationship with someone or something else is a way of focusing your energy on an outside thing, not an inside-the-relationship issue. Fight that urge and bring it up directly with your partner.
We feel insecure because we don’t feel good about ourselves. So do a basic evaluation: are your needs being met? Are you getting support, time, sex, and love from your partner? If you are, and you’re still feeling ragingly insecure, talk it out with friends, or a good therapist.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for reassurance, and don’t be afraid to give it. “Please tell me you love me,” is a valid request: you need to hear the words, your partner should say them, and you’re only asking because they can’t read your mind to know that’s what you need in that moment. Don’t hold back or say, “You know I love you!” It’s not about knowing or not knowing – it’s about needing to hear it. Accept the validation.
Okay, so: your boyfriend is chummy with the new girl at work, and they’re going to hit it off and fall in love, he’s going to move out, leaving you with all the bills, and you’re going to get so fat eating all that break-up ice cream, and it’s all going to come tumbling down like a house of cards.
And if that happens, you’re going to be fine.
Fear is the primal and incorrect belief that we are unlovable, and that if our current partner leaves, we will be alone forever. Even if your relationship does blow up, you will eventually be okay. You will grieve and heal. Knowing and understanding that is freeing. If you accept that things end, and that it’s better to focus on making it good now, you’ll be okay.
Life Without jealousy: A Practical Workbook, by Lynda Bevan. Love Healing Press, 2009
If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure?, by Carl Hindy, PhD. Fawcett, 1990
Romantic Jealousy: Causes, Symptons, Cures, by Ayala Malach Pines. Routledge, 1998
“An Average Woman’s 10-Stage Journey Through Jealousy,” by Regan Smith. TheHairpin.com, June 14, 2011