There is a certain amount of jealousy in every relationship, even open or polyamorous ones. It is a normal instinct to want to preserve your relationship by making sure your mate isn’t interested in anyone else as much as they are in you. However, there is a point when the line is crossed from healthy jealousy to envy and possessiveness that is detrimental to both you and your partner, and your relationship.
The feelings underlying most jealousy are a sense of inadequacy, shame, and fear of abandonment. If you don’t feel worthy or good enough, you may feel like you have to do things to ensure that your partner stays in the relationship and doesn’t go for someone else. Unfortunately, this type of action is actually something that is likely to drive one’s partner away. People are drawn to confidence, not insecurity.
Signs that you or your partner have sunk into patterns of unhealthy jealousy:
- Snooping. Intentionally reading texts or emails or going through call logs is a sign that the jealousy has gone too far. Everyone has a right to privacy, even if they don’t have anything to hide. Just because you are in a relationship doesn’t mean you should know everything each other says to and does with other people. Snooping can only lead to a loss of trust between you and your partner, and hurt feelings due to possibly seeing something you wish you hadn’t.
- Getting into a physical fight. So someone flirts with your significant other at a bar- that is not a reason to get into a fistfight. If you or your partner has ever gotten physical due to jealousy, with each other or with anyone else, that is a huge red flag.
- Monitoring. It’s natural to want to know what your partner is up to throughout the day, but constantly texting or calling to know where they are can be bothersome and definitely shows a lack of trust. You are both adults and don’t need to “check in” like you’re still in high school and your parents let you go to the mall.
- Comparing. Problems will likely arise if you try to compare yourself with your partner’s exes. There are some things that should be left in the past. It’s okay to ask about previous relationships, but refrain from getting too personal, like discussing your partner’s sex life with an ex. You should be confident enough in the fact that your partner is with you, not them, for a reason.
- Playing games. Often when we feel hurt or jealous, we may act out by trying to be hurtful as well. For example, perhaps you see your significant other getting a little too friendly for your taste with someone at a work dinner- so you decide to flirt with the waiter to make he or she jealous. This type of game-playing and eye-for-an-eye mentality will only lead to a cycle of jealousy and fighting.
Often the jealous partner is this way because of prior experiences. Perhaps they have been cheated on, or were the cheater at one time. This makes them acutely aware of what could be happening if they are not monitoring their partner. However this is not fair to the other party in the relationship.
Here are some tips for overcoming jealousy:
- Communicate with your partner. Recognize when feelings of jealousy arise, and be honest about them. It is much better to say, “ I saw you talking to him, and felt jealous” than to play a game such as making a remark about how you think the waitress is attractive. Admitting to and sitting with your fear of abandonment and feelings of inadequacy can be very difficult and vulnerable- but this is true bravery and will bring partners closer rather than driving them apart, as does jealousy.
- Work on self-esteem. Make an effort to value yourself more. Recognize all the reasons why you are a catch- and tell yourself that. Validation from your partner is important, but self-validation is essential.
- Take a moment to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Think about it- would you like to be snooped on and made to feel like a criminal in the relationship? And on the other side of the coin, would you like to feel anxious and afraid of being abandoned? These are not good feelings to have. Try to be considerate of what your partner may be experiencing and act accordingly.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s been an hour since you sent a text and your partner still hasn’t responded, and your mind is racing with all the suspicions of what they could be doing wrong at the moment. Instead of making negative assumptions, try to think logically- perhaps their phone died, they saw the text and forgot to respond, or they are in an important meeting. Wait to find out the truth before going postal on your partner.
- Recognize when to walk away or seek help. If jealousy in your relationship has ever escalated to physical or verbal aggression, it may be best to either end the relationship or to seek professional help. This could be a dangerous situation for both parties.
If your partner has been dishonest with you, feeling jealous is understandable. You may need to regain trust with your partner, and this can be a long and fraught process. Symmetry Counseling is here to help.
Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT