The 4 Essential Steps Of Dealing With Jealousy In Relationships, From A Therapist
Jealousy, affectionately known as the green-eyed monster, gets a bad rap when it comes to emotions because it can be disregarded as a "superficial emotion." While most commonly associated with romantic relationships, jealousy can show up in a professional environment, within friendships, family, and elsewhere. Instead of typecasting jealousy as a "petty" emotion, consider jealousy an opportunity to improve your emotional intelligence by recognizing, understanding, and managing your emotions.
Most people confuse feelings of jealousy with feelings of envy. The difference is, when you experience jealousy, you see a person or thing as an obstacle to you receiving love, attention, affection, etc. As compared to envy, you want to acquire something that another person has. Based on that definition, it is possible that if you're feeling jealous, this may be an indication of a possible unmet and unsaid emotional need within your relationship.
When encountering feelings of jealousy, your gut reaction may be to shove your feelings to the side or to rush through them because you feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, doing that is a disservice to yourself. I recommend taking this slow and allowing yourself to process through all the things because every emotion—even jealousy—can be processed more healthily.
Here are four steps to deal with feeling jealous:
Admit to yourself that you're experiencing jealousy.
Let me clear the air by saying this: Admitting that you are jealous does not make you a bad person!
Consider for a moment: What are some possible barriers to admitting that you're jealous?
- Do you feel that being jealous is not socially acceptable?
- Is there any sense of shame connected to the feeling of being jealous?
- Does this trigger feelings of powerlessness about the situation?
- Does this make you feel like a bad person?
Being honest with yourself about where you are emotionally removes an additional barrier to working through them. When you take a moment to accept what you're feeling, you get to:
- Reaffirm to yourself that your thoughts and feelings are all important
- Remember that your emotions do need time and space for processing at your speed
Identify your unsaid and unmet needs.
This part can be uncomfortable because you have to exercise vulnerability within yourself. With jealousy involving a third party, I suggest doing a self-assessment to help you sift through the tangle of emotions. You don't want to operate on assumptions or find yourself dredging up past experiences and then projecting them onto your current relationship.
The self-assessment can be as simple as asking yourself the following questions:
- What is the emotion telling me?
- Where do I feel unseen in this relationship?
- What am I no longer getting from this relationship that I believe this other person or thing is now getting instead?
- What do I believe I'm losing?
Answering these questions honestly can reveal unmet needs that you may have not thought about communicating. With this new awareness, you can now decide how you would like to move forward in response to your feelings.
Do the repair work with the appropriate person(s).
Be mindful of why, when, and with whom you are sharing your feelings. The last thing you want to do is make things worse by speaking to the person you perceive as the reason you're potentially losing attention and affection in your relationship.
By instead going to the person you're in a relationship with and sharing your emotions, you're building emotional intimacy and connection through vulnerability. Relaying the fact that you feel jealous and want to move past it sheds a light on those unsaid and unmet needs and allows the relationship to improve and heal through your transparency. If you're out of practice, here's an example of how you can get the conversation going:
"I want to share with you the emotional space that I'm in, even though it's uncomfortable to me. I am experiencing a bit of jealousy when I notice <strong>[identify the external source and the behavior]</strong>. When I see this, I feel <strong>[include any additional emotion that you're experiencing with the jealousy]</strong> because <strong>[share how it's affecting you]</strong>. I want to be able to <strong>[name the changes that you would like to see]</strong>, and I am hoping that you can help me with this."
This example takes ownership of your emotions instead of attacking the other person. It identifies additional emotions that may be layered with the jealousy and gives examples of what behaviors trigger the emotion as an observation instead of an accusation. Finally, it gives the partner an opportunity to collaborate on solutions, which reinforces the unit instead of pitting one person against the other.
Note: While this message is a generic response, tone is everything and can change how your message is received.
Refrain from making rash decisions.
Choices made during temporary heightened emotions can have long-lasting negative impacts. Jealousy that gets out of control can manifest into envy and anger, which can lead to the relationship corroding, which is the opposite of what you're wanting. If you're able to take a moment and self-soothe when you're in the thick of it, you can decrease the likelihood of making a regretful choice.
Try doing any of the following exercises:
- Deep breathing exercise
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- A mindfulness activity
The bottom line.
If you can see beyond the shallow understanding of jealousy, you may be able to reframe it and see it from the perspective where it can be enlightening and useful in relationships. If processed healthily, jealousy can increase awareness within the relationship, strengthen trust, and build emotional intimacy if all parties involved are committed to personal needs being expressed and met.
Beverley Andre, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, relationship coach, and founder of BeHeart Counseling Services. She has a master's degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Valdosta State University, and her expertise has been featured on NBC, HuffPost, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and many other places.
Known as "Your Favorite MFT," Beverley is a leading expert in relationships for Black and Brown couples, encouraging collaboration on relationships, reinforcing intentionality when building romance, and influencing couples to navigate conflict resolution. She teaches Black and Brown women and couples how to dismantle and unpack narratives that no longer serve them, and she provides support and meaningful resources while debunking myths and societies' ideas surrounding mental health services. As a champion of Black and Brown women, she also works with them to redefine having it all and creating the life they desire. From navigating boundaries to addressing relationship concerns, Beverley has a wealth of knowledge to share.
When she is not supporting relationships, she is at home redefining having it all with her husband and fur baby, Sherlock.