“You can be the moon and still be jealous of the stars.”- Gary Allan
“I’ve never admitted this to anyone, but I know my jealousy is pretty bad.”
Jonathan sat nervously in his chair. It was his second session with me-but now he was beginning to open up.
“It doesn’t even make sense when I think about it” Jonathan continued. “After all I cheated on my last partner with Tracey-not her. But now I can’t get the thoughts out of my mind-what if Tracey finds someone better than me. Someone better looking or richer. I couldn’t stand losing her, but I know I’m pushing her away. I know I need to stop-but I don’t know how.”
Of all the relationships issues I encounter, strong jealousy is one of the most difficult to help people change. While we may all feel jealous to some extent, when feelings of jealousy take a person over they can become all-consuming. For some people it is difficult to go even 10 minutes away from their partner with thinking where he or she is or what they are doing. But the extremely controlling nature of these thoughts can easily destroy relationships-creating in the jealous partner the exact scenario that they were most afraid of.
Jealousy is a very common feeling experienced by both men and women.
As with all feelings, jealousy can play both positive and negative roles. For example, jealousy can play a positive role by preserving social bonds and assisting to bond people together, especially in new relationships.
More commonly however, jealousy is a negative experience for people. It makes people possessive and suspicious. It can lead to mistrust in relationships, demanding your partner tell you where he or she is all the time. It can lead people to stop their partner going out or forcing them to break bonds with members of the opposite sex that they have been friends with for years. It can corrode otherwise good relationship quickly-and people often feel powerless to change its influence.
Even though jealousy is a natural feeling it should always be controlled-if it gets out of control it can easily put a huge barrier between you and your partner-putting your relationship in real danger.
At the root of jealousy is usually a fear of loss. For most people this is the fear of loss of a loved one or a relationship. But it could also be about fearing other losses-such as losing face, losing respect or losing self-esteem. Whatever it is we fear to lose, this fear makes us insecure. The insecurity, in turn, can easily lead to jealousy.
With Jonathan for example, he had seen how upset his ex-partner (Sandra) was when left her for Tracey. He had also experienced relationship losses in the past. And although he didn’t want to admit it, being in relationship with Tracey was scary for him. She was attractive, interesting and intelligent, and sometimes Jonathan wondered why Tracey was with him. What did he have that other men did not have? Jonathan wasn’t sure-but he was sure that he didn’t want to have to find out. He was petrified of Tracey telling him one day that it was over.
One key to addressing jealousy is to understand its roots. Whenever we feel the beginnings of jealousy it is essential that we contemplate the emotions behind these jealous feelings. These feelings may include:
By acknowledging these feelings jealousy often loses its power. We are beginning to take responsibility for our emotional self-something that men in particular can struggle with. And we can use the following techniques for dealing with the remaining jealousy we are feeling-always remembering that underneath the jealousy will be other feelings (such as the fear of loss) that we may need to get in touch with. Seeking help from a professional counsellor is often the best way to do this.
As mentioned above, a major key to conquering jealousy is coming to terms with the emotions that created it. Dedicate time to think about this. Think about what feelings may be “underneath’ your jealousy. Is it feelings of inadequacy? Do you need to improve your self-confidence? Are you scared of losing your partner because this has happened to you in the past? Do you need to address past issues (such as a past partner leaving you)?
One way to help you think through these emotions is to keep a journal. Try to really understand the feelings you are experiencing. Ask yourself: What am I feeling and why? Once you answer this question, ask yourself again, why am I feeling this way? Keep going until you run out of answers!
If you prefer, you can make drawings or charts to keep track of what you feel and when. Or you can measure your feelings of jealousy on a scale. What causes it to increase? Or decrease? Throughout this going process, monitor how your body responds and reacts.
The vast majority of people that I see who experience strong jealousy know in their rational mind that they partner is trustworthy. They know that their jealousy in their problem-and nothing to do with their partner’s behaviour.
In these cases, you may need to tell yourself over and over again that the jealousy you experience is to do with you-not your partner. The more you tell yourself this the more likely you are to believe it. And while it can take time for your brain to fully realise that your partner is fully trustworthy, over time this does really happen.
For some people, jealousy can be used as a powerful trigger to help them think about their relationship and identify areas of the relationship that can be improved. For example, after talking more with Jonathan, we identified that despite being scared to death of losing Tracey, he was not actually doing much to build their relationship together.
To help him change this, we used jealousy as a signal. Each time he started to feel jealous, I asked him to think of one thing he could do to start to improve his relationship with Tracey. For example, he started to use his jealousy to remind him plan date nights out with Tracey. Each time he started to feel jealous, instead of harassing Tracey about where she was or what she was doing, he would think about his date night plans. This significantly reduced the amount of jealousy he was feeling-and also made the experience of jealousy much more pleasant!
Although it can be difficult, here’s where you cut yourself a break. As with all emotions, there’s a huge difference between experiencing jealousy and acting on it. Learn to realise that just because you are feeling jealous-you don’t need to act on it. Ideally you can even use jealousy to motivate you to perform a positive action, such as in item 3 above.
You can also consult your journal to understand and predict triggers. Learn to cultivate relaxation techniques. Embrace mantras such as: “I recognize these feelings of jealousy but I feel no need to act on them.” or “I don’t need to act on jealousy-I can think of something else!”. Remember to take credit for the progress you’re making!
Jealousy already has your imagination working overtime. Everywhere you look, you see reasons to feel fear. What if you really gave your imagination a workout? What if you contemplated the worst-case scenario? Although it may be difficult, consider the thought that your loved one really is planning to break up with you. Think about what your life be like if you were without the person you think you couldn’t live without? If you think that there would be a massive hole in your life, work on fixing that hole while your partner is in your life. Realize that your happiness cannot depend upon another person-it is always up to you to feel happy in yourself!
Why do you fear your loved one will leave you for someone else? The answer may involve a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence. Therefore, the fear-based jealousy that threatens to poison your relationship may be best challenged by a self-assessment. Get out that journal again and start making lists. For example, things you like about yourself, things you want to work on, what you bring to your relationship, compliments your partner regularly gives you, and so on.
For some people this may be difficult and I have certainly worked with people who have struggled to think of almost anything positive about themselves. If this is the case, then this is the real problem-not the jealousy. Remember again that it is not up to anyone else to make you happy (or even to feel good about yourself). It is up to you to learn to feel this way. You may even want to open up to your partner to let him or her know this is how you feel and you could work on this together.
Seeing a professional counsellor may also be a great option to help with issues of self-esteem or confidence!
Feelings of jealousy can be all-consuming and very hard for people to change by themselves. Working with a professional counsellor can help guide you through the rough waters of jealousy. Consider asking for help and take the steps you need to take to understand your jealousy and rescue your relationship. This particularly applies to men, for whom asking for help can be challenging.
If you would like to conquer jealousy and rescue your relationship, please contact me.