Updated: Dec 7, 2020
We may like to call it the “green eyed monster,” but in reality, jealousy is an all-too human emotion. Most people will experience jealousy in one form or another throughout their life, but understanding and navigating feelings of jealousy in healthy and communicative ways can be difficult, especially when feelings of jealousy become tied to our relationships.
Jealousy is a difficult emotion precisely because it’s rooted in other emotions. Early experiences of jealousy in adolescence have been tied to feelings of low self-esteem and loneliness, and we can continue to struggle with these feelings through our adult lives. Trying to understand and manage jealousy in a relationship therefore requires working through root emotions that jealousy expresses. Here are four steps, based on the practical jealousy management toolkit, to help navigate feelings of jealousy with your partner in order to explore your emotions in a healthy, honest manner.
1. Find and Investigate Triggers
Identify things that trigger feelings of jealousy. A trigger, simply defined, is “a stimulus that elicits an emotional reaction,” it can be anything from a phrase, to an activity, or even a smell. Triggers are not the cause of jealousy, the cause is emotional, but triggers help us understand when those emotions come to the forefront. What activities or behaviors in your relationship produce feelings of jealousy?
Take the time to ask yourself some questions about how these triggers make you feel. Fill in the blank: “I do not like my partner to do X because if my partner does X, then _______________.” What are the fears you have? What do you imagine the worst-case scenario to be? Be honest and give yourself the chance to put a name to your fears so that you can address them.
Not all fears and insecurities will tell the truth, even if they will always feel emotionally valid. Legitimate concerns and speculations can intermingle and become confused when we feel jealous or upset. Giving a name to your fears is a method of opening up communication to work through behaviors and concerns with your partner, it is not about building up evidence to assign blame. Remember, this is only the first step towards finding the root of the jealousy itself.
2. Find the Hidden Assumptions
Take a look at the questions that you asked yourself in the first step, particularly “I do not like my partner to do X because if my partner does X, then _______________.” By giving names and clarity to our fears we can often find that there are certain buried assumptions hidden inside them. We can speculate about what might happen without looking at why we take the assumed end result for granted.
Make a list of hidden assumptions you have about your relationship. Find the ideas that make your fears feel legitimate. Investigate those assumptions: are they legitimate? Do they accurately represent your relationship and what’s valuable about it? Do the accurately represent how your partner feels about you?
The assumptions you have are unique to you and your relationship, and some of them might actually be true, but oftentimes when we take an honest look at our assumptions, we find that they aren’t merited by the situation. Ask yourself: are my assumptions valid? Can I look deeper into what my fears are made of? Do my fears make sense in the reality of my relationship? Do my fears tell the truth?
3. Replacing Fears and Insecurities
Once you have an understanding of the assumptions that legitimize feelings of security or jealousy you can start working to counteract those assumptions. Create a list of counters, these are facts and ideas that you can turn to when a fear response appears. If you found that your assumptions in part 2 didn’t hold up to the facts, then make a note of those facts. Give yourself something you can remember to counteract your fears.
If you found you have the assumption, “My partner is with me because of the way I please my partner in bed,” make a list of all the other reasons your partner values you and cares about you. Give yourself counter thoughts like, “my partner is not with me because I please my partner in bed. My partner is with me because I add value to his or her life. My partner is with me because I have qualities that he or she likes and admires.”
By creating these counters you have the ability to actively respond to emotions of insecurity or jealousy and can start developing habits that can produce feelings of security.
4. Build New Habits
Emotional responses are learned, and that’s why they can be so deeply ingrained in us. To really overcome being jealous and insecure, we need to know how to practice being confident and secure.
Use your counters to fight against assumptions and jealous emotional responses. Give yourself the time to question your reactions and make new decisions about how you feel and what you will do. Look at the behaviors that your current habits result in. Are they negative? Do they try to control the behavior of others?
It takes a lot of courage, but one of the most important steps is learning that security is not about controlling others behavior. The most powerful goal is confidently being able to let your partner do the things that triggered your jealousy. This can take time and work, but it lets you know that you have the ability to make choices and communicate with your partner.
These four steps might make the process of overcoming jealousy sound too easy, but they are valuable ways of understanding how our own assumptions and emotions are the core of jealousy. Fighting jealousy and insecurity is about recognizing our own autonomy and the power of our own choices.
Therapy can be an open and nonjudgmental place to begin the process of conquering jealousy, and it can provide ways of learning to apply these steps.
If jealousy is a struggle in your relationship, take a look at my services for individual or couples counseling and see if you think my approach could help you on your journey of overcoming insecurity.
If you’d like to talk more, contact me to schedule a free 20-minute session.
Sophia Lou. O’Connor, MA, Ph.D (Cand)
Psychotherapist | Trainer | Educator
Tel: (720) 935 2706