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How To Overcome Jealousy in a Relationship

by Sally LeBoy – MFT, Rima Danielle Jomaa – MFT

How To Overcome Jealousy in a Relationship

“Jealousy is never satisfied with anything short of an omniscience that would detect the subtlest fold of the heart.”

~ George Eliot

George Eliot Jealousy Quote
Sally LeBoy

Who has not felt jealous?

It’s that horrible feeling you get when you feel that someone else is preferred over you.  It may be a work situation or a friendship, but where it really hits hard is in your family of origin or with your significant other.  In those two situations, jealousy can be overwhelming.

It’s the fear of losing out, of feeling less valued by someone you want and care about.  

Whether it’s the sadness of being the less favored child, or the pain of being left by a partner for someone else, jealousy is a gut wrenching feeling, painful and debilitating.

Envy is different from jealousy.  

Envy is about things, about externals.  “I wish I had his money, or I wish I could play tennis like that” characterize envy.  Jealousy is much more painful, because at it’s core it relates to self-value and the fear of abandonment.

Jealousy is really a double whammy.  

The perception of being less preferred often leads to a feeling of worthlessness.  You come to doubt your value at a very core level.  In addition, there can be the real possibility of the loss of someone you care about.

Even if your partner doesn’t leave, there can be an experience of emotional loss and an ensuing sense of anxiety at the stability of your relationships.  

For a variety of reasons you feel that you can no longer trust that your relationship is secure and that you are truly loved and valued.

Jealousy can make you act like a crazy person.  

Otherwise rational people can become controlling, obsessive and paranoid.  The natural tendency when faced with evidence of betrayal is to seek information that will either quell or confirm your suspicions.  No longer able to trust your partner, you look through texts, emails and bank account histories.

You search for evidence so that you won’t be caught unaware.  

Endless questions, obsessive doubts, and accusations characterize your communication. Then there is the controlling behavior.  You make rules, and impose constraints and limits on your partner’s behavior.  You demand an accounting of his time.  You limit in any way possible her autonomy.  If your partner wasn’t having an affair to begin with, this behavior could drive her to it!

The sad thing about jealousy is that it is often based on a perception rather than a fact.  

Once suspicion is raised, fact or fiction is irrelevant to the negative cascade of painful feelings and destructive behaviors.  In our need to know the truth, we harm the very relationships that we are so frightened of losing.

Why are some relationships characterized by jealousy and suspicion, while others seem full of trust?  

While it is true that some individuals choose their partners unwisely, it is also true that insecure people are troubled way more by jealousy than secure people.  Insecure people enter a relationship with the core belief that they are unworthy of love.  This is often a legacy of a childhood where love or affection was lacking.

As adults, these individuals continue to live out their childhood legacy either by choosing partners who can’t really love them or by sabotaging their relationships out of fear.  

There is a joke that says “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”.

This is the dilemma of the insecure partner.  

No matter how much they are loved, they can’t quite believe that they are worthy of that love.  Although it manifests as distrust of the partner, it is actually a deep distrust of self that is at the core of most jealousy.

Jealous people are focused outward.  

They are looking for signs of betrayal.  They are acutely conscious of any suspicious activity, or inconsistent behaviors on the part of their partners.  Once the fear is planted, which is often in childhood, life is consumed with being safe.

Safety is defined as the ability to know and control everything about someone who has the capability of hurting you.  

Jealous people lead tough lives.  It’s painful and exhausting to be so vigilant.  It’s sad to never be able to relax into the warm feeling of being loved.

It would be far more productive for a jealous person to look inward.  

Barring huge red flags (panties in your bed), the first question to ask is, “What is going on with me that I am doubting my partner”.  Look at your own life to see if you are under additional stress, if you are unhappy at work, if you yourself may be less available for any reason.

Have you been disappointed by a friend, co-worker or family member? Most importantly, is this a repeating pattern in your life, not a pattern of betrayal, but a pattern of mistrust?  Do you always worry that you will be betrayed or abandoned?

I am not advocating burying your head in the sand.  

Sometimes there are good reasons to doubt, and this must be discussed with the partner.  Discussion, however, is not accusation.  Don’t wait to talk about your fears until you’re so angry or hurt that you can’t be reasonable.

Talk about your feelings and listen to what your partner has to say. 

Only then take the necessary action to take care of yourself.   That might include a joint plan to address the problems in the relationship, or it could mean learning painful but important lessons and moving on.

But if you have a pattern of relationships characterized by mistrust, take a look inside.  

Why is it difficult to believe that you are worthy of being loved?  Or do you pick the kind of partners who are destined to disappoint you?

In either case, this is an issue for you to work on.  There is no real way to manage someone else.  No amount of vigilance will keep you safe from betrayal if you have a partner who is not grown-up enough to make a commitment, or if at your core, you believe yourself to be unworthy of love.

You deserve to live in a relationship characterized by trust, not fear.  

Often that safe relationship is about how you manage your own anxiety and fears, rather than on how well you control and monitor your partner.

Feeling entitled to love, respect and honesty is the best way to manifest those qualities in your relationships.  

Work every day to remind yourself that you deserve to be loved.  When you expect the best from yourself and the people close to you,  you are the most likely to get it.

Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Rima Danielle Jomaa

It should say: “Warning!  Careful when handling!  

Contents may explode under pressure!”  When you experience jealousy, it has the potential to damage your spirit, your mind, your heart, and your relationship, but only if you let it.  Most people are aware that lasting jealousy not rooted in reality is not a healthy emotion to harbor and yet it can seem so difficult to kick the feeling. 

Jealousy might make you to feel insecure and mistrustful.  

If not dealt with correctly, it can turn from an emotion into actions that perpetuate a negative cycle within the relationship. 

For example, you may find yourself ruminating over things you perceive to be happening, creating fictional stories in your mind about your partner and others in their life, accusing your partner of infidelity, questioning them about their every move and sneaking around to check their Facebook, text messages, or e-mails.  

A cycle gets created within the relationship that can be difficult to break free from and worse, can be detrimental to the survival of and level of satisfaction within the relationship.

So what do you do?  

Do you ignore your emotions and your needs at the expense of the relationship, or do you let emotion override common sense and spiral into a space of sadness and isolation?  Luckily, you needn’t do either.  It is possible to achieve balance and harmony in your relationship while allowing all of your natural emotions to surface.

Participating in active commitment

The beginning of a relationship is a fun and exciting time.  You spend time dating and getting to know one another, deciding if you two will be compatible in an exclusive relationship.  

If you are both happy and decide to move to the next step, you make the relationship official.  

You choose to be in a relationship with that person and you are both saying, “I choose you!” to one another.  You are actively choosing to be committed.  You choose to spend your life together (for the time being or forever) and to declare to the world that you two are now an item and “off the market”.  

You might even change your Facebook status to “In a relationship”.  Either way, it is understood between the two of you that you are “together,” and stepping outside of the relationship is unacceptable.

Once this all takes place, you start to make choices, whether you are conscious of them or not.  

You make choices as to whether or not you communicate on a regular basis with your partner about your feelings, your insecurities, your needs, and your desires.  

When you are in a committed relationship, you must choose to let go of the insecurity that your partner wants someone else.  If they do, it is not something that will be controlled by being jealous and accusatory.  

When instances of jealousy do arise, especially in the beginning of the relationship, it is a healthy and normal reaction to the unknown.  

Usually, you don’t know specific details about your partner’s past so you might start to make assumptions when you hear stories or see pictures.  Again, you have a choice.  

You can let your mind run wild with fantasy about what your partner thinks, feels, and does or, in this instance, you can create a habit of healthy dialogue in which you explore your own fears on the subject and communicate them with your partner.

When my partner and I experience jealousy, we use it as an opportunity to create dialogue between us.  

We explore issues like what it means to be jealous, what about the situation felt uncomfortable, and what the reality of the situation is versus what we perceive in our minds.  We talk about how it can feel good to have someone feel jealous over you, and how it can be dangerous.  

The culture of the relationship is such that there is space for these emotions and we do not berate one another for feeling a natural human emotion. 

Perhaps we might not be excited with ourselves or the other person for experiencing jealousy, but we do not judge one another or ourselves.  We notice it, discuss it, and move on.

Does that mean that the jealousy is justified?  

It might be, or it might not be.  It typically is not related to the other person’s actions and instead to something the jealous partner is experiencing internally or has experienced in the past.  It does not, however, mean the other partner is obligated to change their behaviors or the situation that caused the jealousy.  This is dependent on each unique situation that is the cause of jealousy and on each partner’s needs and levels of comfort.  

Having space in the relationship for open dialogue allows you to explore these issues and possible solutions together constructively instead of harboring the emotions in a negative way, ultimately cracking the relationship’s foundation.  Just remember, you chose each other!

Retaining a sense of self

Let’s face it, relationships can be challenging and can seem like hard work at times.  Essentially, when you are in a serious, long-term relationship, you have dedicated your life to another person.  That idea can be scary for a lot of people, and not to be stereotypical, but men especially can have fears of committing to one person forever.  

When exploring where this fear comes from, it makes sense to me that people may fear losing their individual sense of freedom to interact with whomever they please, and I’m not talking about in a sexual way.  

It is common for people to have friendships with members of the opposite sex (or same sex, where applicable) that are not sexual or romantic.  Should one be expected to cut off all ties to the opposite sex because they decided to commit to one person?  The inability for many individuals to get over their insecurity of feeling jealous in this situation causes others to fear commitment altogether.

You know how hurtful, annoying and frustrating it is when you have a good friend who can’t hang out with you anymore because their new girlfriend or boyfriend is “jealous” of you.  

It doesn’t feel good for anyone, and you know that your friend’s new partner has nothing to worry about.  Heck, you and your friend’s partner would probably get along great if they made an effort to get to know you instead of reacting out of jealousy.  

In rejecting the friendship, their new partner is essentially saying that they now own your friend now and your friend must conform to making their partner comfortable by neglecting friendships, or they risk being punished with judgment and jealousy. You and your friend both end up feeling resentful, even if you don’t admit it to one another.

It isn’t fair to expect someone to erase his or her life pre-you, and you wouldn’t want anyone to expect that of you either.  

If you try to stifle someone’s essence and the person they were before they were in the relationship or the connections they had prior, you are disrespecting that person and the relationship.  

You do not dictate their life, nor do you have the same social needs and desires as they do.  You are two separate people, and owe it to yourselves and to the longevity of the relationship to retain a sense of your self.  If you are open and curious, your partner will most likely invite you into those relationships. 

Take the perspective you would want your friend’s new love to take; be truly inquisitive about your partner’s past and their friends, male or female.  

Learn about who they are and were before you became a part of their life.  

Learn to be comfortable with qualities they find attractive in others, whether they are of the same or the opposite gender, and allow yourself to experience that attraction for that person as well and to see it for what it is, simply an attraction.  

We are attracted to people and their different qualities all the time.  It is human nature, and it is biological, but it doesn’t mean we want to rip that person’s clothes off right then and there and cheat on our partners with no reservations or second thoughts.

When jealousy cannot be quelled

Sometimes jealousy can feel really intense and becomes too difficult to handle.  

First, remember that you cannot judge yourself.  

It’s normal to feel jealous, and it’s okay when our emotions get the best of us at times.  That is the reality of life, and no matter how progressed we are spiritually or how in control of our emotions we like to believe we are, there’s always instances in life that cause us to experience strong emotions that feel overwhelming.  

Notice the feeling.  Then you decide what to do with it.  

See the jealousy as a warning sign (and this technique works with any emotion you perceive to be negative), like it’s saying, “There’s material to work on here!  There’s discomfort here!”  

You take that sign and you do the work, whatever that is for you.  It might be seeing your therapist, writing in your journal, engaging in your self-hypnosis or meditation, painting a picture reflecting your emotions, or writing a song.  

Whatever you do to take care of yourself should be employed as you explore the source of the jealousy.  

Keep in mind that emotions are natural warning signs that there’s work to be done, but it is not healthy to be owned by the emotion and let it inundate every interaction you have; that’s when negative emotions can literally create disease in the body.

Perhaps you experience lasting jealousy because you were hurt in a past relationship or even in this relationship now.  

If your current partner has been unfaithful in the past and you chose to stay with them despite it all, the work you need to be doing is on forgiveness and rebuilding the trust.  

Remember that you made the decision to stay in the relationship; punishing your partner away with jealousy and unreasonable rules is neither appropriate nor healthy.  Seek the help of a professional if it feels difficult to make progress on your own.

Beware of the jealousy cycle

In a situation where someone feels like they are being told what to do or have to behave in a way that is uncomfortable to them because their partner feels jealous, most people will do one of two things: they will do what they want anyway and lie about it, which will cause them to feel unnecessarily guilty and can lead to intimacy issues; or they will do as their partner wishes and end up resenting their partner as a result.  

Both partners end up feeling frustrated.

If you are constantly accusing your partner of cheating on you either physically or emotionally, you create a cycle in the relationship.  

Your fear leads to anger in both of you, which leads to resentment in both of you.  Your partner might feel a lack of emotional connection as a result of this cycle, as if they cannot break through the barriers that jealousy creates.  

They might want to look outside the relationship for a sense of deeper emotional connection.  People may feel the need to seek out comfort from past partners or friends if they are not feeling nurtured and appreciated in their current relationship.  

By participating in the cycle, you create exactly what you were afraid of.  

Hostility ultimately creates stress, and we are now well aware of the medically detrimental effects the stress hormone, cortisol, has on the body.  Cortisol literally makes you sick, fat, and ugly.  Google it.

Sometimes jealousy can be an indication that things aren’t as exciting in the relationship as they used to be and you fear your partner is getting bored (perhaps you are feeling bored as well).  

Instead of focusing on what makes you jealous, concentrate on discovering what interests your partner has in all areas, especially sexually.  

Constantly emphasize spicing up the sexual connection and on being adventurous with one another behind closed doors where it is safe and fun.  You will be amazed how quickly you will forget your negative emotions when you can’t get your hands off of each other.

Don’t forget to always take care of yourself.  

Exercise consistently in a way that is fulfilling for you and your partner. Remember that appearances do matter, and keeping up with your looks is important for you both no matter how long you have been in a relationship with someone.  

Consciously have a warm demeanor when you greet your partner no matter what you are dealing with internally or in the world, or even if you are peeved at them; be excited to see your partner when they come home from work or when you come home and tell them you are excited to see them, how sexy they are, and how much you missed them!

Finally, understand that jealousy can come from simply now knowing, whatever that may mean.  

Break the cycle by asking yourself, “And what do I know about this relationship now?”  Answer honestly, and take an assessment of what you know.  If you have zero doubt about your partner and your relationship, then there is no reason to harbor incessant jealousy and mistrust.  

If you do indeed experience doubt repeatedly (I’m not talking about the fleeting thoughts we might all have here and there), consider what that doubt is saying about the stability and future of your relationship.  It might be time to do you both a favor and end the relationship now. 

If two people are truly connected on spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional levels, they will rarely, if ever, experience doubt, whether it comes in the form of lasting jealousy or another negative emotion.  

They understand and respect one another’s needs and growth, and wish happiness and fulfillment for one another.  A misalignment in any of these four levels, however, will result in disharmony (which might be experienced as jealousy), so see your negative feelings and emotions as red flags to deeper problems and then explore those honestly.

Striving for healthy balance

Relationships are about finding healthy balance.  If your partner talks to his ex, find out what that’s about.  Have an open dialogue about why it bothers you while also listening to what it means for them and their reasoning for doing so.  Perhaps your partner is helping their ex through a difficult situation and is not something that happens on a consistent basis.  

You have to choose if you can deal with it; if you can and want to stay together, you have to let it go.  You should both have a mutual understanding that you will never check each others phones, e-mails, Facebook, whatever, in a sneaky way.  

There is a trust that is violated when you cross that line that cannot be taken back.  

What you read and see might be grossly misinterpreted and you can never forget it.  Then you have to confront them about it, and you might have misinterpreted it, and then you are the fool, left feeling confused and hurt.  It’s never a good idea.

The bottom line… jealousy is normal.  

You cannot control it sometimes, no matter how mature you think you are.  I had a client whose boyfriend would leave the country for work as an actor and would leave for a month or so at a time.  She found herself feeling intensely jealous no matter how much she tried to avoid it and tried to understand his circumstances.  

The biggest revelation for her was when she understood that her jealousy was a totally normal and expected reaction to her unique situation.  

We worked on noticing it and not judging it and being okay with having the initial reaction.  We used it as an indication of discomfort and then did the work that accompanied it, which would look different for each person and each situation.

When appropriate, have an open dialogue with your partner at a time when you’re both calm and open instead of using accusatory statements when you’re angry in the heat of the moment.  

This might look something like, “I feel insecure when you go places where your ex is hanging out if I’m not there… can we talk about that?” instead of “It pisses me off that you go places she is if I’m not there!  I can’t believe we’re fighting about this again!”  

In a relationship, you can’t have any expectations of how your partner will choose to live their life.  You can simply be open and hope that, as a couple, you will find compromises that you are both comfortable with.

Once you experience jealousy, you have to make a choice.  

Ask yourself, “And what do I do with this jealousy now?”  The following actions you take should align with your relationship goals for the future.  Do you want your relationship to sail smoothly across the ocean into the horizon or do you want your relationship constantly battered by the incessant, unforgiving waves of jealousy, causing it to slowly sink to the bottom of the deep, dark sea?  Only you can decide.

Rima Danielle Jomaa, MFT – www.rimathejunglegirl.com

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