Jealousy is a killer.
Relationships end because of jealous conflicts, and people kill other people because they are jealous.
Imagine that. You’re at a party and someone is friendly and you smile.
Your partner thinks you are cheating on her.
Or your partner tells you a funny story about an ex-lover, and you feel threatened. You feel anger and anxiety rising inside you, and you don’t know what to do.
Susana can relate to this. She would look at her partner, trying to send him a “message” that she was really upset and hurt.
She hoped he would get the message. Sometimes she would withdraw to pout, hoping to punish him for showing interest in someone else. But it did not work. He just felt confused.
Other times Susana would ask her if she still found her attractive. Was he getting bored with her? Was she his type? At first, he would reassure her, but then – with her repeated demands for more reassurance – he began to wonder why she felt so insecure. Maybe she wasn’t the right person for him.
And when things got harder for Susana, she would yell at him, “Why don’t you go home with her? It’s obvious you want to go with her!
This kind of jealous conflict can end a relationship.
But if you’re jealous, does that mean there’s something terribly wrong with you?
Let’s see what’s going on when you’re jealous, and how you can deal with it.
Jealousy Is Anger.
When we are jealous, we fear that our partner might find someone more attractive and we fear that he will reject us.
Because we feel threatened by our partner finding someone more attractive, we may activate jealousy as a way to deal with this danger.
We may believe that our jealousy will keep us from being surprised, help us stand up for our rights, and force our partner to give up interests elsewhere.
Similar to worry, jealousy can be a “strategy” we use to find out what is wrong or learn what our partner “really feels”.
We might also think that jealousy might motivate us to give up on the relationship – so we don’t get hurt anymore.
If you’re jealous, it’s important to ask yourself what you hope to get out of your jealousy.
We see jealousy as a coping strategy.
Similar to other forms of worry, jealousy causes us to focus only on the negative.
We interpret our partner’s behavior as reflecting a loss of interest in us or a growing interest in someone else: “He finds you attractive” or “He’s yawning because I’m boring.”
Like other forms of worry, jealousy causes us to take things personally and read other people’s negative emotions: “She’s dressing up to attract other guys.”
Jealousy Can Be An Adaptable Emotion.
People have different reasons – in different cultures – for being jealous.
But jealousy is a universal emotion.
In The Dangerous Passion, evolutionary psychologist David Buss argues that jealousy evolved as a mechanism to defend our interests.
After all, our ancestors who drove out competitors were more likely to have their genes survive.
In fact, invading males (whether among lions or humans) have been known to kill babies or children of the evicted male.
Jealousy was a way in which vital interests could be defended.
We believe it is important to normalize jealousy as an emotion.
Telling people “You must be neurotic if you’re jealous” or “You must have low self-esteem” will not work.
In fact, jealousy – in some cases – can reflect high self-esteem: “I will not allow myself to be treated this way.”
Jealousy May Reflect Your Higher Values.
Psychologists – especially psychoanalysts – have considered jealousy a sign of deep insecurities and personality defects.
We see jealousy as a much more complicated emotion.
In fact, jealousy may actually reflect your higher values of commitment, monogamy, love, honesty, and sincerity.
You may feel jealous because you want a monogamous relationship and are afraid of losing what is valuable to you.
Some people may say, “You don’t own the other person.”
Of course, this is true – and any love relationship with mutuality is based on freedom.
But it’s also based on choices that two free people make.
If your partner freely chooses to date someone else, you can be sure they have good reason to be jealous.
Jealousy Feelings Are Different From Jealousy Behaviors.
Just as there is a difference between feeling angry and acting in a hostile way, there is a difference between feeling jealous and acting on your jealousy.
It’s important to realize that your relationship is more likely to be compromised by your jealous behavior – such as continual accusations, seeking reassurance, pouting, and acting.
Stop and say to yourself, “I know I’m jealous, but I don’t need to do anything rash about it.”
Notice that it is a feeling within you.
But you have the choice to act or not.
Which choice will be of interest to you?
Accept And Observe Your Jealous Thoughts And Feelings.
When you realize that you are jealous, take a moment, breathe slowly, and notice your thoughts and feelings.
Recognize that jealous thought are not the same as a REALITY.
You might think your partner is interested in someone else, but that doesn’t mean they really are.
Thought and reality are different.
You don’t need to obey your jealous feelings and thoughts.
Note that your feelings of anger and anxiety may increase as you step back and observe these experiences.
Accept that you can have an emotion – and allow yourself to feel it.
You don’t have to “get rid of the feeling”.
We have found that consciously stepping back and noticing that emotion exists can often lead to feeling weakened on its own.
Recognize that uncertainty is part of every relationship.
Like many worries, jealousy seeks certainty.
“I want to make sure he’s not interested in her.” Or, “I want to make sure we don’t break up.” Ironically, some people even precipitate a crisis to be sure.
“I’m going to end things with her before she breaks up with me!”
But uncertainty is part of life and we need to learn to accept it.
Uncertainty is one of those limitations that we can’t really do anything about.
You can never be sure that your partner won’t reject you.
But if you accuse, demand, and punish, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Examine Your Assumptions About Relationships.
Your jealousy can be fueled by unrealistic ideas about relationships.
This can include beliefs that past relationships (that your partner had) are a threat to your relationship.
Or you may believe that “My partner should never be attracted to anyone else”. You may also believe that your emotions (jealousy and anxiety) are a “sign” that there is a problem.
We call this “emotional reasoning” – and it is often a very bad way to make decisions.
Or you may have problematic beliefs about how to feel more secure.
For example, you may believe that you can force your partner to love you – or force them to lose interest in someone else.
You may believe that withdrawing and pouting will send a message to your partner – and lead them to try to get closer to you.
But withdrawal can lead to your partner losing interest.
Sometimes your assumptions about relationships are affected by your childhood experiences or past intimate relationships.
If your parents had a difficult divorce because your father left your mother for someone else, you are more likely to believe that this will happen to you.
Or you may have been cheated on in a recent relationship and now think your current relationship will be a repeat of that.
You may also believe that you have little to offer – who would want to be with you?
If your jealousy is based on this belief, you can examine the evidence for and against this idea.
For example, one woman felt she had little to offer.
But when I asked what she wanted in an ideal partner – intelligence, warmth, emotional closeness, creativity, fun, lots of interests – she realized she was describing herself!
If she was so undesirable, why did she consider herself an ideal partner?
Use Effective Relationship Skills.
You don’t have to rely on jealousy and jealous behavior to make your relationship safer.
You can use more effective behavior.
This includes becoming more rewarding for each other – “See your partner doing something positive”. Praise, plan for positive experiences and try to refrain from criticism, sarcasm, labeling, and contempt.
Learn to share responsibility in problem-solving – use “mutual problem-solving skills”.
Establish “pleasure days” with each other by developing a “menu” of positive, pleasurable behaviors that you want from each other.
For example, you might say, “Let’s arrange a day this week that will be your pleasure day and a day that will be my pleasure day.”
Make a list of nice and simple behaviors you want from each other: “I’d like a foot massage”; “Talk to me about my work”; “Let’s cook a meal together”; or “Let’s go for a walk in the park.”
Jealousy rarely makes relationships safer. Practicing effective relationship behaviors is often a much better alternative.
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