A survey of therapists revealed that jealousy was the major problem in one-third of all clients seeking psychotherapy. Makes sense when you consider that it's one of the most complex and intense human emotions. Born of a cocktail of frustration, suspicion, envy, and sadness, jealousy can tempt you into totally irrational behavior, which you, in a better state of mind, would never consider or condone.
At the core, jealousy stems from insecurity. Talking about insecurity is one of the most vulnerable things a person can do. It's admitting to a belief that you are inadequate. It is never easy. But within a loving, supportive relationship, it will only ever change things for the better. On the other hand, if the issue of jealousy isn't resolved, your relationship will inevitably fail.
With that in mind, here are five strategies to help you combat jealousy and instead build and nurture your relationship:
1. Acknowledge, affirm, and appreciate.
It’s easy to start comparing yourself to your partner's exes, co-workers, or friends. We do it because we think it'll make us feel better, but more often, it leads to feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy, which are major causes of jealousy. Feeling “not good enough" makes you hypersensitive to every interaction when your partner is around the opposite sex.
Help each other remove any feelings of self-doubt. Continually acknowledge when your partner does something you appreciate, and affirm the positives that you see in each other. While avoiding unproductive criticism is important in a relationship, positive affirmations are just as crucial to helping each other feel confident, valued, and staving off jealousy.
Focus on what’s unique about each other. Think about the funny quirks, mannerisms, habits, and traits of your partner that make him adorable and irreplaceable.
You'll always be able to argue that someone else is "better" in one way or another, but there will never be anyone quite like your partner.
2. Understand your need for variety and consistency. And don’t mix them up.
We love surprises. But not all the time. As humans, we’re paradoxically wired for both novelty and familiarity: We want the excitement of newness, but we also want consistency and security. A healthy, monogamous relationship means you see your partner as an anchor for consistency, and you redirect your need for variety.
Misdirecting your needs — looking for spontaneity and variety in a new partner, rather than with your current partner — will lead to feelings of jealousy. When you aren't satisfied with the familiarity you'll inevitably get in a relationship, pushing the boundaries of flirting and "keeping options open" becomes an attractive alternative. If you don’t have a sense of peace in the stability of a partnership, then a committed, monogamous relationship might not be for you. It might also be time to consider that perhaps your partner is not the right person for you.
Acknowledge these paradoxical needs and direct them appropriately. A healthy committed relationship means you’re fulfilling the need for stability in a person, and fulfilling the need for variety in other experiences (which don't involve cheating).
3. Explore the root of your jealousy.
Sometimes jealousy is justified, but more frequently, it is irrational. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” A healthy emotional exercise is to label your emotions as they arise. Disconnect them from the situation that triggered them, and then evaluate whether your emotional responses are valid. Does your response align with the situation? Remember that correlation does not always imply causation. Sometimes the cause of jealousy is not your partner but an internal experience you have not properly dealt with.
Jealousy can arise from a number of "unreasonable" sources and then be projected onto your partner. If you’re an introvert but your partner is extremely social, jealousy can spring out of innocent social interactions. If you’ve been betrayed in the past, you can carry those jealousy-triggering fears into your current relationship. Getting to the root cause means exploring any internal issues you might carry before you bring up the issue with your partner.
4. Make sure you’re speaking your partner’s love language.
You might treasure and care deeply for your partner, but if you’re not properly conveying those feelings, they might not be coming across to your partner. If someone doesn't feel appreciated, it can lead to a fear of being replaced — one of the major causes of jealousy.
In the popular book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman outlined five different ways we express and experience love: giving each other gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Just as you and your partner have different personalities, you also have different ways of expressing and experiencing love.
Find out each other’s top love languages and make sure you are properly expressing these to your partner. Feeling connected in each other’s love languages diminishes the fears of being replaced. And part of loving your partner well is to show love in the way he or she feels it most profoundly.
5. Practice communication, and clarify your boundaries.
Some of us don’t mind our partners being in touch with their ex-partners, or being friends with the opposite sex — others prefer that not be the case. Communication is the only way to deal with these issues and to make sure you're on the same page. Swallowing your feelings only leads to passive-aggressive behavior. Talk openly and directly to one another about your feelings. Agree to withhold any judgment about how your partner feels.
Once you know what your boundaries are — what upsets you, what makes you jealous and uncomfortable — you can know where to draw lines, and then work through any issues that arise. You can't tell your partner he is insensitive or disrespectful if you’ve never communicated where your boundaries are.
If you feel like this issue might be too big for you to deal with alone, therapy is always an option. Taking the necessary steps to heal yourself so you can experience true, lasting intimacy is a pursuit worth all the time and effort you can give. Healing is possible.
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