How to Handle Jealousy
Jealousy can ruin your peace and end relationships; it can also be a signal to you that it’s time to make a change. Rather than letting jealousy infect your relationship with others, use its appearance as a reason to better understand yourself. If you are having to deal with the jealousy of others, draw clear boundaries and protect yourself. (Read my blog How to cope with a Divorce)
If you’re feeling jealous, try to find the root cause of that emotion. Are you angry, afraid, or insecure? Focus on the reason for you jealousy, and practice trusting the people around you. Express your emotions with “I” statements, and apologize for your jealousy. If you’re handling someone else’s jealousy, draw boundaries and express when the person needs to step back. Don’t be afraid to seek help or talk to a friend.
Handling Your Own Jealousy
- Understand the emotion of jealousy. Jealousy is a complex emotion that can include many others: fear, loss, anger, envy, sorrow, betrayal, inadequacy, and humiliation.If you are feeling jealous, understand that there are many other emotions that can occur with jealousy, but jealousy might be the emotion you notice first.
- Spend time thinking through your emotions.Write out how you feel. If you are a visual person, make a chart or a drawing that represents all the different emotions you feel and their connection to jealousy.Notice the way your body is registering your emotions. Fear sometimes feels like a dropping or clutching sensation in your chest and stomach, while anger often manifests itself as a burning, tight sensation in your head and arms.
- Tackle your feelings. Learn to question your jealousy every time that it emerges. For example, say to yourself: “Is this jealousy because I feel afraid or angry? Why am I feeling fear or anger here?” When you begin to question what makes you jealous in the moment, you can begin to take positive steps to manage the feelings constructively, without the cloud of negative emotion that typically accompanies jealousy.
Get to the root of your jealousy.
It can be hard to admit that you are having negative feelings, and it might be tempting to blame them on another. Avoid this by taking a compassionate look at your own jealousy. Look at all the emotions you feel within your jealousy, and think about a cause for each of them.
For instance, if you feel jealous of your partner’s friend, think of all the ways those emotions might fit in a sentence. You might feel fear because you don’t want to lose your partner (and perhaps because you have lost a partner in the past), sorrow at the thought of the loss, a sense of betrayal because you feel your partner owes you full attention, and a sense of inadequacy because you aren’t sure you’re worthy of love.
Write down memories that may have aggravated these feelings. For instance, you may feel fear at losing your partner because your last breakup was really painful, and you’re frightened of going through a similar experience. You may feel unworthy of love because you had a neglectful parent.
Choose to believe.
Trust the people you love. Choose trust over distrust. Unless you have hard evidence that someone lies to you, trust. Do not go snooping for evidence, but take your loved one at his or her word. Jealousy can hurt your relationship only if you bury it and blame your feelings on others.
Apologize and explain: Say something like: “I’m sorry for bothering you about your friendship with J. It’s not that I don’t trust you—I was just feeling insecure. Thank for listening to me.” This will often be sufficient to give both of you the space to discuss what has just taken place––recognition of your insecurities and the need to be more open together about what you’re going through.
Open up about your jealousy.
Sharing your true feelings with your friend or partner can help you build a stronger relationship. It will also empower him or her to point out when you make unreasonable jealous demands. Though it can be vulnerable to admit to feelings of jealousy, a relationship built on honesty is going to be stronger than one built of subterfuge.
- Avoid passing on blame to the other person. He or she did not cause your feelings, and you alone are responsible for your behavior.
- Stick to “I” statements rather than saying anything that smacks of “you make me feel…” Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t have done that,” say, “I feel terrible when we’re in a public space and I can’t communicate how I feel to you.”
- Be aware that how you perceive situations may be completely at odds with how the other person saw them. Commit to listening when your partner speaks, even if you disagree.
- Get help. If you have physically harmed, yelled at, berated, or stalked your partner, separate yourself from them immediately and get professional help. Ask your doctor for a referral to see a therapist or take an anger management class
Learn the difference between love and jealousy.
Jealousy is not love and feeling jealousy does not mean that you are in love. Some people mistake jealousy as an act of love, when it’s really an act of insecurity and/or a lack of control. People who get jealous tend to be insecure and have feelings of shame as well.
Draw boundaries with a jealous partner or friend. If your partner is acting out due to jealousy, draw lines. Do not answer questions you are not comfortable answering. Do not cancel plans with your friends, or cut off contact with someone who matters to you.
- Gently and firmly explain: “I will answer your questions, but only once. I will not give you the same answer over and over.”
- “I will listen to how you feel, but I will not isolate myself from the people I love.”
- “If you throw things or yell, I will leave the house and spend the night at my parents’ house.”
- “If you do not tell me how you feel, but you sulk or give me the silent treatment, I will tell you how that makes me feel and then I will leave the house until you call me.”
Don’t accept abuse.
- Do not assume responsibility for things you did not do. It may be easier to apologize and blame yourself when you are blamed for another’s behavior. However, you know your own motivations.
- Don’t let anyone convince you into believing that you were flirting when you weren’t flirting, or that you “provoked” jealousy and subsequent bad behavior.Listen calmly to your partner if he or she can use “I” statements, but do not subject yourself to a barrage of accusations.
- If your partner physically restrains you, hurts you, or breaks things, leave him or her.Get help. If you feel in any way threatened by a partner or other person who is jealous of you, get away from them if you can. Jealousy is the leading cause of spousal murders, and is a typical component of spousal battery.Get out of the house if your partner is physically aggressive, and call 911 or a domestic abuse hotline.
October 29, 2002
Valerie and Danny, who’ve been married for six years, say they have a great marriage — except for one issue. He gets so jealous and controlling that he doesn’t even let his wife go to the bathroom by herself! He gets aggravated if she goes out without him, and pulls the silent treatment if she’s too friendly with someone on the supermarket line.
“I just don’t trust other people … I know how men can be,” says Danny. “My biggest fear is that she would cheat on me for someone more interesting.”
This is how out-of-control his wife says things have gotten. He’ll send her cards, for example, that practically read: “Happy Birthday … I hope you never cheat on me.”
Valerie, who’s never had an affair or misled her husband in any way, is “fed up with it,” and turns to Dr. Phil for help in making her husband more secure and trustful — before it destroys their marriage.
Here’s what Dr. Phil has to say:
Advice For Danny:
- If you’re concerned that you’re not interesting enough for her, why are you working onher instead of you? How does following her to the bathroom make you more interesting? It doesn’t! It just makes you more present. This is not about your wife. This is about you.
- Why are you so obsessed with this? Danny says it’s that he’s seen so many marriages destroyed by infidelity. He’s disgusted by it, and believes being unfaithful is wrong. “But why are you dragging that into your marriage?” asks Dr. Phil.
- How dumb would you feel if you spent 50 years of your marriage worrying that she’s going to cheat on you? And then it never happens? You’re missing out on enjoying each other.
- Do you really think you could watch her enough to keep her from cheating on you? No way. Why try to control something you can’t? First off, you have no indication that she’s predisposed in such a way. And you can’t stop her if she’s going to. All you can do is react if she does. And she told you she won’t.
- You are addicted to the payoff of testing your partner. You’re so relieved when she passes the test, when you get that reassurance. It gives you a little bit of peace for a short period of time, and you’re addicted to it like a drug.
- The only way you’ll ever get peace is if you come to the realization that you can’t control others.
Advice For Valerie:
- If he’s addicted to that payoff like a drug, then you’re the drug dealer. Stop giving him the reassurance. Don’t let him follow you or control you. Don’t pay him off in that way anymore. The only way you can help him is to stop reinforcing him when he does it.
Advice For the Couple:
- Relationships require emotional integrity. Be honest and own what you’re saying and what you’re doing.
- Don’t only talk about this issue when you’re fighting. You need to discuss it when the waters are calm.