2 Ways To Cope With Jealously In Your Relationship
Jealousy creeps up on the best of us. Here's how you can plan for it and navigate around it.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 9, 2023
Jealousy is a complex emotion that can potentially drive a wedge between even the strongest of couples. Despite the growing trend of openly discussing psychological challenges, many remain tight-lipped about their personal struggles with jealousy.
Whether it's the belief that voicing your feelings will diminish your perceived strength in your relationship, or you struggle to accept insecurity as a normal aspect of the human condition (rather than a source of embarrassment), jealous partners often bottle up their emotions. This suppression can eventually lead to less-than-ideal behaviors, such as snooping, cheating or picking fights.
Many people come to therapy with whispered confessions like:
- "I know it's irrational, but I check their phone when they're not looking. Why can't I trust them?"
- "It's eating me up inside. How do I stop feeling like everyone's a threat to our relationship?"
- "I feel embarrassed admitting this, but their success makes me uncomfortable. Why can't I just be happy for them?"
Here are two things you need to know to dispel the misconceptions surrounding jealousy and prevent it from creating fractures in your relationships.
1. Jealousy Is An Emotion, Not An Identity
Feeling jealous is a natural response to certain situations, but it doesn't always define who you are. It's vital to distinguish between occasional feelings of jealousy and adopting it as a defining trait.
A study published in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology delved into this phenomenon, surveying 86 married couples. The findings were illuminating: a significant majority of both men and women labeled themselves as "jealous" individuals. While this points to the universality of the emotion, it's crucial to remember that such self-identification doesn't define one's relationship destiny.
Understanding jealousy as an emotion — rather than an ingrained identity — can be the first step towards managing its effects on a relationship. Accepting the emotion and addressing its root causes either through therapy or through healthy communication, instead of simply labeling oneself as a "jealous person," can pave the way for optimal relational dynamics.
Imagine you've recently started noticing your partner spending more time texting someone. Every time you approach, they either put their phone down quickly or switch the conversation to another topic.
Over time, nagging thoughts enter your mind: "Who are they talking to? Why are they hiding it from me? Do they have feelings for someone else? I must be a naturally jealous person if I feel this way."
It's essential to consciously distinguish between observed behaviors (or "evidence") and your interpretations or assumptions based on them.
So, instead of internalizing the emotion and labeling yourself as a "jealous person," consider reframing your thought process:
- Acknowledge the emotion. "I'm feeling jealous right now because I'm seeing behaviors I don't understand and it's making me insecure."
- Identify the trigger. "The secrecy around their phone conversations is making me anxious." Distinguish emotion from action. "Feeling jealous doesn't mean I have to act on this emotion immediately. It's okay to feel this way, but how I address it matters."
- Choose constructive communication. Instead of confronting your partner with accusations, choose a time when you both are free from distractions and stress. Approach the topic with genuine curiosity and concern rather than suspicion. This brings us to:
2. Effective Communication Is The Antidote To Jealousy
Open and compassionate communication is key to understanding and addressing feelings of jealousy. However, as counterintuitive as it might sound, jealousy has its roots deep in human evolution.
In fact, the authors of one study expressed that jealousy may even be central to enhancing your relationship through the processes of mate guarding and mate retention.
This further reinforces the need to communicate constructively with our partners when we are faced with situations that make us feel insecure or jealous, as it can be a viable means to strengthen the relationship and grow together.
When talking about sensitive matters like this, there is no room for aggression. Instead, try to approach the situation with a genuine sense of curiosity and give your partner the benefit of the doubt, perhaps saying:
- "I may be completely off-base here, but I want to share something I have been feeling lately."
- "This is difficult for me to express, but I wanted to talk to you about how you sharing inside jokes with your new friend makes me feel jealous."
- "This is not all on you, and I am trying to process my own feelings as well. But I wanted to share how uncomfortable I feel when I think about how your ex is now your colleague."
Leading with "I" statements and softening the impact on your partner is one of the best ways to avoid playing the blame game, as jealousy is often accompanied by feelings of hurt and anger. At the very least, with open solution-focused communication, you are setting a precedent for how you and your partner can tackle difficult situations going forward.
Remember, there is no running away from your emotions. Your best bet is to understand and process feelings of jealousy in healthy ways. If constructive communication with your partner doesn't help, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or a couples' therapist to help you navigate your feelings.