You might feel it when that hot stud across the room at the gym gives your lover the “over the top look.” You might experience it if your exes ever cheated on you and then you project it onto your current man. Or you may experience it if he is in an “open relationship” and knows that his partner is “cheating.” Whatever its form, jealousy can take many different faces and can kill your relationship if not handled properly. If you are the one afflicted with jealousy, it can torment and consume you, taking away all security and joy. If you’re the partner of a jealous lover, your frustration at having to “walk on eggshells” and constantly reassure your guy about your commitment to him can be maddening.
Jealousy is not bad in itself. It’s a feeling and all our feelings are fine; it’s what we do with them that can mean the difference between a smooth relationship and a stormy one. Jealousy can actually benefit your partner in its mildest form. But if it’s a pervasive recurring theme that seems to dominate the climate of your relationship, it can sabotage your future together and cause a lot of pain and grievance. This article will address some of the dynamics involved in jealousy and offer some tips for you and your partner to get over it and beat it.
Jealousy and its causes
Jealousy can be defined as a feeling that arises from a perceived threat to your relationship. It almost always involves fear: fear of losing abandonment or losing your partner, fear of being replaced by someone else, fear of not being important enough and being left out, etc. This significantly affects one’s self-esteem and leads to insecurity and the use of self-defeating behaviors to avoid these painful feelings and gain a sense of control (although it never really achieves that and creates vicious cycles of the same dysfunctional behavior over and over again). Counterproductive behaviors can include spying on your partner, getting too attached to him, constantly questioning his whereabouts and activities, among others.
What are the causes of jealousy? There are “internal” and “external” causes. Internal causes can include low self-esteem and confidence (believing that one is unattractive or unworthy to be in a healthy relationship), a history of past experiences that created mistrust, and beliefs that one will be single forever if they lose their partner. External causes may include how the partner acts (expressing interest or flirting with another person) or the actual involvement of a third person in the relationship. “Factors that appear to affect susceptibility to jealousy include the duration and stability of the relationship, the maturity, dependency, and level of self-esteem of individuals, their expectations for emotional gratification, and the perceived availability of alternatives to the primary relationship. (Neidig and Friedman, 1984).
Low levels of jealousy can actually be positive for your relationship. It can be a sign that something is wrong between the two of you. It can help members feel cared for and be an indication not to take themselves for granted. It can also increase communication, commitment, and sexual intensity. “Jealousy becomes problematic when it is expressed indirectly, experienced compulsively, becomes irrational, or leads to extreme levels of surveillance and control” (Neidig & Friedman, 1984).
The main consequence is that it also leads to a serious breakdown in the level of trust and intimacy between the two men, basic ingredients that are necessary for a lasting healthy relationship. And the other paradoxical effect of jealousy is that it can create the very most feared and feared outcome: the end of the relationship.
Tips to beat the beast of jealousy
If you are the one suffering from jealousy…
* Acknowledge your jealousy. Avoid minimizing or denying its existence. Recognize that you are not your jealousy, it is a part of you, an aspect of you that you can learn to manage. Admitting his power over you is the first step to conquering him.
*Identify the cause of your jealousy. What feelings are under your jealousy? Work on developing more effective ways to deal with these specific emotions.
*Keep a journal and write about your experience of jealousy and what it means to you. Ask yourself questions like:
· Do I trust my partner and believe what he says?
Am I projecting my own problems and feelings onto him and blaming him? What is my jealousy really about?
·What hurts? What is missing in my life?
What are the consequences of my jealousy? What do I get out of it that may be perpetuating it?
Are my feelings of jealousy rational or irrational? Are they based more on threats or real insecurities?
*Identify triggers for jealousy and avoid them or find ways to deal with them in a healthy way.
* Live in the present. Your partner is not your ex boyfriend. Learn to control your anger and grieve past losses and hurts.
* Refrain from compulsively obsessing and questioning your partner’s behavior. Control your own thoughts and always check your motives and feelings with reality.
* Realize that you are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You create your own interpretations and perceptions of events and situations. Learn to identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs and develop affirmations or coaching, coping statements to write on index cards for reference to help you through difficult times.
* Practice relaxation techniques to help you cope with your anxiety.
*Make sure you have a separate life from your partner to reduce dependency and bring more fresh air into the relationship. Check in with your friends, build your support system, and find social outings that inspire a sense of fun and purpose.
*Build your self-esteem by taking safe risks that boost your confidence and allow you to see your strengths.
If you are the partner of a jealous lover…
* Be patient and endure this difficult period. Understand how painful and difficult it is for your partner, and empathize and validate their feelings. Provide reassurances of your love, but don’t allow your behavior.
*Take care of yourself. Practice good stress management for emotional well-being.
*Identify ways you could support your partner and show how you value them. Explore your own behavior to determine if you are reinforcing your lover’s jealousy in any way.
And finally, together as a couple…
*Identify if jealousy is rooted in an underlying problem in your relationship. Missing? Is there an unmet need that requires your attention?
* Don’t make assumptions! Avoid reading minds and always check any feelings or thoughts you might have with each other.
*This is a great opportunity to open the channels of communication and see if it is necessary to renegotiate, create or remove new limits or “relationship rules”.
*Make your relationship a #1 priority! Spend lots of quality time together and engage in activities that will revitalize your bond and restore some of that damaged trust and intimacy.
Jealousy doesn’t have to rule your life. Commit to aggressively minimizing its influence so that more energy is available for your own self-care and to enrich your relationship. These are the things that really matter. So squash that bug before it has a chance to contaminate what you two have worked so hard to build. Turn that jealousy into passion for you and your partner and in no time you’ll stop hearing Jealousy’s evil whispers. You can do it!
*Reference: Neidig, Peter H. & Friedman, Dale H. (1984). Spousal Abuse: A Couples Treatment Program. Champaign, IL: Research Press Company.
©2005 Brian L. Rzepczynski
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