You could be at risk of jealousy ruining your relationship, if any of the following sound familiar:
- Your partner is late home from work, and you worry that s/he is with someone else;
- You are out with your partner, but can’t help being threatened when a member of the opposite sex smiles at them. You can feel the anger and the anxiety rising within you, and you aren’t sure what to do;
- Do you withdraw from your partner, to punish them or show them how hurt you are?
- Do you continually ask if they still love you, if they are unfaithful, or the details of their plans?
- Do you yell or argue with your partner as a result of these feelings?
- Do you snoop through their phone or emails?
- Do you ever lose control?
If you found yourself nodding in agreement, it’s highly likely that you are suffering from jealousy. Your partner and your relationship probably are too.
Is Feeling Jealous Normal?
But, does being jealous mean that there is something terribly wrong with you?
You might be surprised to find the answer is actually no. Feeling jealous is a normal and healthy emotion – jealousy becomes a problem when it is chronic, and leads to behaviours which negatively impact you and your relationships.
Robert Leahy and Dennis Tirch (2008) describe jealousy as anxious, agitated worry.
Like other emotions, jealousy serves a function. If you value your relationship, jealousy can let you know you feel threatened. Like worry, jealousy may be a strategy used to figure out what is “going wrong” and as a way to learn what your partner “really feels”. Jealousy may lead you to seek reassurance from your partner that things are okay, act tough to ward off potential suitors, and look for evidence of infidelity. Jealousy can even motivate you to withdraw from or end the relationship in order to avoid getting hurt.
Unfortunately, jealousy tends to make people focus on the negative – taking things personally, and interpreting normal or neutral situations in a bad way (“she’s dressing up to attract other guys”). Jealousy can ruin a relationship because it can lead to your partner feeling confused, not trusted, insecure, unhappy and angry.
How to Manage Jealousy
So how can you manage your jealousy?
First, it is important to draw a distinction between jealousy, the emotion, and the behavioural strategies that you use as a result. It is not feeling jealous that is dangerous, it is how you respond to the jealous feelings.
Next, you need to explore what are the helpful and unhelpful aspects of your jealous behaviour. Checking in with your partner about their plans may help you to feel confident s/he won’t stray, but asking them 15 times is likely to make them upset, and cause an argument. It is important to check whether your strategies are actually working for you.
It may take time to change your unhelpful behaviours. Something that helps is learning to accept uncertainty. The problem with jealousy, is that you will never know for absolute certain what will happen. No one can! Learning how to tolerate and manage this worry will help you respond differently to your jealousy. One trick is to practice flooding yourself with the message of uncertainty – repeating “I can never be sure that my partner will/not betray me”.
Accepting jealousy as a normal, and potentially helpful, emotion is also helpful. Research suggests that those who experience jealousy often have strong values of honesty, monogamy, sincerity and commitment. Recognising what is behind your jealousy can reduce the blame and criticism you feel toward your partner and yourself.
Once your jealousy is less problematic, it is often necessary to learn new ways of interacting as a couple. In many relationships, jealousy has played a big role for a long time, and learning new relationship enhancement skills can promote further positive growth.
It is difficult to try to beat jealousy on your own. If you or your partner are struggling to manage their jealousy, I encourage you to book a session with me. Together we can work out ways to prevent jealousy ruining your relationship!
Author: Tiegan Holtham, B BSc (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Tiegan Holtham is a Clinical Psychology Registrar, providing therapy from within a strength-based framework. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, adults and families and can help with difficulties such as jealousy, self-criticism, perfectionism, and anxiety.
- Robert L. Leahy and Dennis D. Tirch (2008). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Jealousy. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy: Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 18-32.