We all feel a little jealous from time to time. It’s human nature. But when is jealousy justified and when does it become harmful? In this article we’ll explore what jealousy is, how it can affect us, when it’s based on reality, and how to cope.
So, let’s get started…
What really is jealousy anyway?
Quite simply, jealousy is an emotion we feel when we imagine that someone threatens our relationship. This belief is rooted in anxiety and fear which can stem from insecure attachment, trauma from past infidelities, or low self-esteem.
Although there are cases where our jealousy is well-founded (more on that later), it’s common to fear our relationships are in jeopardy without due cause.This is when jealousy becomes unhealthy – when it’s not rooted in reality.
Unfounded jealousy can lead us to mistakenly see romantic or sexual undertones in our partners’ ordinary conversations with other people. Not only that, it can cause us to torture ourselves by reconstructing very vivid images of imagined infidelity, including who our partner is with, what they’re doing and all other sorts of painful details.
How can jealousy affect our behavior?
Ironically, jealousy can inadvertently sabotage the very relationships we’re so desperate to keep because it triggers destructive behaviors. It can lead us to behave in undignified ways that not only damage our relationship, but also affect our self-esteem and self-image.
If you’ve ever been blinded by the green-eyed monster, or know someone who has, then you might have experienced some of these jealousy-driven behaviors:
Seeking constant reassurance
It’s normal to seek reassurance sometimes, but jealousy can drive us to demand constant reassurance that our partners love us. Even when we get the reassurance we crave, we’re often so consumed by jealousy that we don’t really listen to the answer or can’t believe what we hear.
A jealous person will often become hypervigilant, monitoring the actions and feelings of their partner. They might start to monitor how often their partner looks at their phone or be hyper alert to slight changes in emotions, ascribing them to a threat to the relationship.
Searching for evidence of infidelity
Jealousy can even drive us to search for evidence that our partner is involved with someone else. This can involve looking through a partner’s phone, computer or quizzing their friends, breaching our partner’s precious trust and need for privacy in the process.
Restricting and controlling
Another harmful jealous behavior is trying to restrict or control your partner by telling them who they can hang out with, how long they can leave the house, and where they can go. A jealous person might even track their partner on their phone in an attempt to feel control over them and the relationship.
In extreme cases, a jealous partner may even become flirtatious with others or consider having an affair in an attempt to seek revenge for their partner’s imagined infidelity.
Overwhelming jealousy can also lead us to withdraw, sulk and distance ourselves from our partners in an attempt to save ourselves from all the pain and anxiety caused by consuming jealousy.
When is jealousy justified?
While we’ve seen that unfounded jealousy can be unnecessarily painful, there are cases where jealous thoughts and feelings have a valid basis.
Your jealousy may well be justified if:
- Your partner has a history of infidelity
- Your partner is secretive
- Your sex life and intimacy has changed dramatically
- Others complain that your partner is overly flirtatious and inappropriate at times
- Your friends and family warn you about your partner
- You’ve caught your partner being unfaithful
In these circumstances, it’s important to listen to your instincts, have open conversations with your partner to build trust, ask yourself how safe and happy you can feel in your relationship and even consider whether you want to remain in the relationship at all.
How to cope with jealousy
When you find yourself feeling jealous, the first thing to do is to acknowledge your feelings and investigate whether or not your jealousy is justified or not. If it’s not – your partner says they love you, is kind, doesn’t give you real reason to doubt them etc. – then you need to recognise that your fear of losing the relationship is irrational.
And if your jealousy has driven you to some of the destructive behaviors we talked about earlier, you need to work on replacing them with healthy behaviors. These include:
- Allowing our partners to express love for us spontaneously without constantly seeking reassurance.
- Giving our partners the freedom and privacy they deserve. That means not looking through their personal messages, allowing them to go out where they want, when they want and with the people they want.
- Seeing our partners’ friendships and conversations with other people in a realistic and nonthreatening way.
- Allowing our partners to show natural interest in others.
- Accepting that it’s normal for our partner to find other people attractive. After all, it’s normal to find lots of people attractive and doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to our relationships.
- Not torturing ourselves with visual images of our partner’s imagined infidelity.
We know, easier said than done, right? And despite our best intentions, the green-eyed monster is bound to pop up from time to time. And that 's okay. What’s important is how we react to that jealousy. By working on regulating our emotions, we’re able to tolerate sometimes feeling jealous but then not following it up with jealous behaviors.
Practical tools for dealing with jealousy
So concretely, what can you do to help calm your emotions and resist the urge to indulge in harmful behaviors?
Avoid alcohol and drug abuse
If you have a problem with jealousy, substance abuse won’t make it any easier to control your emotions and act in a dignified way.
Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques
Deep breathing exercises can help you to calm down when your thoughts are racing and you’re tempted to engage in destructive behaviors. Doing a quick body scan can also help bring you out of the world of imagined infidelity and into the here and now.
Similarly, paying attention to your senses can be incredibly grounding. One way to do this is the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. First notice five things you can see, followed by four things you can feel, three you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste. It’s simple, but highly effective at distracting you from negative thoughts and bringing you back to reality.
Write a mantra
Write down a list of the reassuring things your partner has said and done and add to it when new things come to mind. Set a reminder on your phone and read it out loud every day. By reinforcing positive messages you can greatly reduce any agitation you feel over time.
Set yourself Limits
Determine an acceptable number of times you can ask your partner for reassurance in a day. It may seem pedantic, but this will give you the security of being able to seek reassurance while not submitting your partner to excessive questioning. And because you can only ask a determined number of times, you may actually end up paying more attention to their response.
Jealous thoughts are bound to pop up, no matter how hard we try to resist them. That’s why it can be helpful to have a time limit on how long you’ll allow yourself to dwell on negative thoughts. Make it really concrete. You could decide to have 10 minutes a day where you allow yourself to be consumed by jealous thoughts. Set a timer and once it’s up, get up and go on with your day.
Act like the person you want to be
Lastly, you need to resolve to behave in the way that you would like to and not the way your fearful jealousy provokes. Ask yourself who you are and who you want to be. Do one small thing per day to work on becoming that person. You could even make a vision board to motivate you. By having a clear idea of what kind of person and partner you want to be, you should find it easier to get rid of harmful habits.
Say goodbye to jealousy
If you found this article helpful and would like to find out more about jealousy and how to manage it, don’t miss our new wellbeing collection on Jealousy by relationship expert Charisse Cooke. And remember, with some introspection and hard work, you can overcome jealousy and start leading a calmer and happier life. We believe in you!