Finding yourself bothered by the ‘green-eyed monster’? You’re not alone. Many people find themselves dealing with jealous feelings in relationships and just as many find it difficult to admit to. Jealousy often starts when we worry a partner is getting too close to someone else or is becoming involved in separate hobbies and activities. But the roots of jealousy go much deeper then just feeling left out.
Why do we feel jealous in relationships?
Jealousy is about feeling threatened. And we feel threatened when a situation feels that it may destroy something we value highly.
Jealousy in relationships is often borne out of insecurity. While jealous feelings are often triggered by real situations (for example, your partner being dishonest or uncommunicative), the roots of jealousy tend to lie in how you feel about yourself. When you feel happy and secure, you are unlikely to experience jealous feelings at all. But when you feel vulnerable it becomes harder to trust that your relationships will thrive and that your partner will not abandon you.
Jealousy can be a vicious cycle. Once jealousy starts, it triggers other negative feelings and behaviours like anger, paranoia, judgement, helplessness, feelings of inadequacy, and shutting down. This leads to even more jealous feelings being created. This is why it is vital to deal with jealous feelings when they happen and not to shy away from talking them through.
How does jealousy manifest itself in a relationship?
When you feel justified in your jealous feelings you may feel frustrated with your partner’s behaviour and may be prone to angry outbursts. Perhaps you demand that your partner behaves in a certain way to appease you, for example by cutting off contact with other people or giving up hobbies or activities. And then there is blame, where you tell your partner it’s their fault you are distressed.
But maybe you are not the outburst sort. If you are too insecure or afraid to express you concerns, you may simply internalise and repress your jealousy, letting it fester and turn into shame and/or guilt. This could lead to the feelings of jealousy manifesting themselves in anxious or passive aggressive behaviours, or physical symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, nausea and sleeplessness.
Are we becoming more jealous?
The rise of social media and other online communications has changed the way in which we can relate to our partners. We almost all have mobile phones, often with internet access, meaning there is rarely a time when we cannot be contacted. This means that a missed phonecall or an unreturned message has gained a significance which it may not otherwise have and that no communication, however short, can be free of scrutiny.
A recent study showed that the ambiguity of communication through Facebook can create apparent threats to a relationship where there really are none at all. When the participants were asked to envision a hypothetical situation such as discovering a message in their partner’s inbox from a person of the opposite sex that reads “What are you up to later?”, a significant number reported feelings of suspicion and jealousy with women reporting higher levels than men. When a winking emoticon was added to the innocuous message, the male participants reported stronger feelings of jealousy whereas the women’s feelings went unchanged.
Other studies showed that other Facebook activities can also spark jealousy in relationships, such as a partner adding an unknown person as a friend or befriending an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. The amount of information offered by social media can also lead partners into monitoring each other’s activity without discussing their feelings face to face.
“I’m not usually a jealous person…”
Jealousy is not a positive feeling to experience and can feel overwhelming. It’s entirely possible when experiencing jealousy to swing between states of anger, insecurity and absolute justification.
Jealousy can feel embarrassing and out of control, leaving you unable to bring up your feelings with friends for fear of being judged. You might find that you even berate yourself heavily for your own thoughts and behaviours, shaming yourself or even condemning yourself. This just adds to the stress, and can cause you to feel like you are losing your grip on reality.
There is good reason to give yourself a break. The truth is, most of us experience jealousy in relationships at some point and it’s much better to admit to the feelings than to clamp down on them for fear of being judged.
When one partner expresses jealous feelings to the other, it is easy for the other partner to feel cornered and as though they are being accused of behaving inappropriately. Whether there is cause for concern or not, it is important for both partners to know they can express how they feel without being judged.
Is jealousy a necessary part of love?
Some people feel that jealousy is necessary for a relationship to thrive. First of all, it can inject a sense of passion and make things feel exciting and fun. Having a partner who feels jealous of our interactions with other people can also remind us that we are attractive and wanted. But it’s more than possible to have a passionate and exciting relationship without dealing with intrusive jealous feelings. And if you want a healthy partnership in the long run, jealousy is not a good tactic. And here’s the hard truth…
Rather than being a mark of how you feel towards your partner, jealousy is actually more of a marker for how you feel towards yourself.
The weaker your sense of your own value, the more likely you are to feel you are being “erased” by your partner’s lack of attention. You will feel the need to fiercely protect what you have and are more likely to perceive threats to a relationship where there are none.
Of course people really do cheat and commit negative actions that would make any normal person feel jealous. In such cases sometimes it’s best to get out of the relationship, or to talk to a counsellor who can help you sort out how you feel.
How to deal with jealous feelings? Try these 7 techniques
If you or your partner have been experiencing persistent jealous feelings, don’t panic – there are several ways to tackle them.
1. Pay attention to what’s going on in your life. Jealous feelings are often born out of existing insecurities. Has anything happened recently to cause you to feel less than confident? Work stress, family matters and physical illnesses can all contribute to feeling insecure about relationships. It might help to write down everything which is currently causing you stress before you focus in on your relationship as being the cause of your feelings.
2. Pay attention to your feelings. When your feelings of jealousy begin, examine how they are manifesting. Do you feel that the other person is more intelligent, successful, laid-back etc than you feel yourself to be? The characteristics that you attribute to the person you are jealous of are often characteristics you wish you had yourself. If you can recognise this you can begin to work towards attaining the attribute yourself instead of following the jealousy.
3. Think about your relationship. Often, what triggers the feelings of jealousy is the flip side of what was so wonderful about the relationship to start with. For example, if you were attracted to your partner’s free spirit, you may begin to feel threatened should they behave in an erratic or evasive way. So in order to discover the root of the jealousy it can be helpful to think about how your relationship began. While this will not automatically diminish the feelings, understanding where your jealousy trigger comes from is a good starting point.
4. Don’t give in to behaviour inspired by jealousy. Remember that the only solution to jealous feelings is open communication. There is no other way to soothe your fears, rational or irrational. If you feel the urge to check your partner’s texts or otherwise invade their privacy, try to see this as a sign that you need to talk rather than an impulse you must act upon.
5. Respect your partner. When both partners respect and listen to each other, jealous feelings are not able to thrive. Whether you are experiencing jealous feelings yourself or you are dealing with your partner’s feelings, it’s important to stay calm and to listen carefully.
6. Be kind to yourself. Jealous feelings can be very emotionally draining to deal with and require a lot of energy to face up to. If you condemn how you feel instead of accepting it, you run the risk of not being able to deal with the feelings when they arise. Try to acknowledge that the feelings are happening without judging them – they will pass more quickly than you would expect.
7. Try couples therapy. Sometimes there is nothing better then a third party to help you and your partner communicate how you really feel and sort out what’s really going on versus worries and fears about what the other is thinking and feeling. Note that you don’t have to be married to try couples therapy, either!
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