Jealousy in a relationship is all about possession. A powerful emotion, jealousy can take you over, leaving you can feel possessed and out of control. It can cause you to behave in a possessive, controlling manner. Like all emotions, jealousy has a positive side!
What causes jealousy in a relationship?
Jealousy can tie you up in a self-perpetuating, self-defeating cycle. While the emotion of jealousy feels very unpleasant in and of itself, it often creates a deeper self-loathing because you hate yourself for feeling it in the first place. And then this self-loathing leads to more feelings of worthlessness, more bad behavior, potentially driving your partner away – the very thing that you’ve feared the most comes true.
Despite how widespread this emotion is, jealousy continues to be a misunderstood emotion. Lots of studies have looked at why human beings experience jealousy:
- is it because we perceive precious resources as being under threat? (e.g., the security provided by a partnership), or
- is it perhaps related to early childhood experiences of neglect?
To date, none of this research has produced a definitive answer as to the reasons for jealousy among humans.
What we do know is that our first experience of this compelling emotion can happen as early as 6 months of age. And then as we grow, it appears that our environment, especially the social norms that are valued by our culture, contributes to our potential for experiencing jealousy.
We develop core beliefs about our own worth (not being good enough) and the importance of specific relationships such as those with a partner or spouse (I must be in a relationship) that increase the likelihood of feeling jealous.
So, self-confidence would appear to play a large part in the experience of jealousy. If you are someone who has developed core beliefs around not being good enough, you probably spend time mentally comparing yourself to others and not feeling up to scratch.
You may also be frightened that a potential mate will meet someone who is better than you. You will spend much of your time dwelling on thoughts that are unhelpful and more than likely irrational.
Have you ever seen the positivity of Jealousy?
Many people are surprised to learn that this seemingly destructive emotion can actually be positive. Like most emotions, jealousy has a dark, shadow side, which is reflected in the destructive behaviors that some people engage in when they feel jealous. The shadow side of jealousy has the potential to become pathological.
However, handled properly, jealousy also has a constructive aspect: it signals to you which relationships in your life are valuable to you; it can function as a ‘protective’ mechanism helping you to avoid taking those relationships for granted; and it also acts as a measure of the quality of your relationship: when jealousy is present that relationship tends to be of higher quality in terms of intimacy and closeness.
So, when I hear people say to their partner, “my jealousy is an indicator of my great love for you”, on some level they are being honest.
Jealousy becomes problematic when it either dominates our thinking or causes us to behave in a manner that is destructive and causes another person to feel distressed.
What can you do if you are struggling with the powerful feelings of jealousy?
Seven valuable tips for overcoming jealousy in a relationship:
1. Develop positive core beliefs.
Because jealousy often involves our own beliefs about not being good enough, working on changing these beliefs can be helpful. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one method for helping you to initially identify your core beliefs and then develop strategies for changing them.
The best place to start is by identifying patterns in thinking. Become aware of your self-talk and the unhelpful stories that your mind tells you. Keep a journal of the difficult thoughts you experience and work with a therapist to challenge and ultimately change these unhelpful thoughts.
2. Learn how to keep attention.
An alternative approach to working with your unhelpful thinking styles is to learn mindfulness. Mindfulness practices can help you to develop tools for shifting the focus of your attention away from the stories your mind constantly feeds you about not being good enough.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one treatment approach that assists you to learn how to ‘defuse’ from your thoughts, after all, your thoughts are not you! You will learn how to be the master of your mind. A list of ACT related books and free websites to help you to learn mindfulness can be found under the resources tab on my website.
3. Accept your own good qualities.
Positive psychology and the practice of self-compassion can both be helpful in managing the difficult emotion of jealousy. Become more comfortable with recognizing your own good qualities instead of constantly comparing yourself to others.
Make a list of 20 of your best qualities. Ask friends and family members what they admire about you. Notice those times throughout the day when your positive qualities shine through.
Learn to be kind and caring to you. Do things for you that are nurturing and bring you a sense of joy!
4. Grow an interdependent and open relationship.
Being interdependent means developing that fine balance between being able to depend on another person while at the same time being self-sufficient. Sometimes we become jealous because we expect our partner to meet all of our needs.
This is an expectation that is doomed to fail on two levels: first, because this will put immense pressure on your partner, second, because if you rely completely on one person to meet you’re all of your needs, your fears around losing this life-line will be massive. And fear is what often drives jealousy.
Learn how to meet some of your needs for yourself: develop healthy interests outside of your relationship, establish friendships with other people who can provide you with alternative support.
5. Know thyself.
Get some clarity on who you are, and what is important to you in your life. Do some work on understanding your values? A values system is your own personal guide for how to ‘be’ in the world when you get stuck values can help you to know which way to turn and how to behave.
Talk to a therapist who specializes in the ACT to learn more about your own unique values system. Ask yourself what your values are around relationships: do you behave in line with your own values or do you use them as a measure of how others should behave towards you?
6. Seek support.
Learn how to communicate in your relationship to support each other when one of you feels a little more vulnerable. A strong, healthy relationship will provide you with a means of soothing the powerful feelings involved in jealousy. Talk to a relationship counselor to learn the skills for developing a supportive partnership.
7. Practice acceptance.
Recognize that jealousy is a natural emotion. At some point in our lives, all of us will have felt this overwhelming emotion. Yes, it does indicate that you value the relationship that you are jealous about; just make sure that your mind doesn’t then use this as an excuse to behave in disrespectful, inappropriate ways towards your partner.
This kind of behavior may result in the very outcome that you are most fearful of your partner will decide that they deserve to be treated better and will leave. You can check this article To improve mental wellbeing
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