7 Tips For Being Less Jealous In Your Relationship
The first step is diagnosing the root cause of your jealousy.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I am about a year and a half into my relationship with my girlfriend and suddenly, I'm finding myself obsessing about her interactions with other people. When I hear her talking to a friend and it sounds like she is having more fun with her than she has with me, I feel really threatened. The other day, when we were at an outdoor restaurant the way she looked at the waitress made me really jealous. I have to admit, I don't have any evidence that indicates inappropriate interactions with anyone and she has no history of cheating. Yet, I am spiraling. What is going on? –Green-Eyed Monster
It's important to recognize that jealousy is a very normal human emotion. When you catch feelings, you can feel more vulnerable and fearful of getting hurt or rejected. In other words, the more you feel, the more you have to lose and the more likely you are to feel jealous. This is instinctual; we are wired to covet what we value, to protect what we care most about. In her book Romantic Jealousy, psychologist Ayala Malach Pines nails it, when she says, "In Freud's view, if you don't experience jealousy when an important relationship is threatened, something is not altogether right about you. It is akin to not feeling grief when someone you care deeply about dies."
The fact that this is coming up a year and a half into your relationship, a time when relationships typically move past the honeymoon period and get real, does not surprise me. A study of closeness and jealousy found that increased interdependence and feeling close is correlated with jealousy. It is also at this point in the relationship where issues, insecurities, and old wounds tend to come up.
If you want to stop being jealous though, the first step is to understand the root cause of your jealousy, and whether its cause is external or internal.
Where Jealousy Comes From
Jealousy is a reaction to a real or perceived threat to a valued relationship. Sometimes, jealousy is born of insecurity, broken trust in childhood, feelings of inadequacy, or poor self-esteem.
Other times, jealousy is a very healthy and normal reaction to legitimate relationship concerns and red flags. That could be boundary violations with other people, inappropriate flirting, or even cheating. (And, based on your letter, this does not sound like the case with your girlfriend. There do not appear to be any "real" threats.)
Here are some common reasons, both external and internal, why you might be feeling so jealous.
You have an unresolved childhood wound. Maybe one of your parents cheated on the other and you swore you would never let that happen to you. Maybe you did not get the attention you needed from one of your parents, which left you feeling less than lovable. Perhaps you had a parent who chose drugs, alcohol, gambling, or something else over you and left you feeling neglected or unworthy of love.
You have a past partner wound. If you had a partner who cheated on you, you are going to be on high alert looking for signs that it is happening again until you feel you can truly trust your new partner. Your mind is going to be sorting for the negative in order to avoid future pain. The same goes if you have an ex who was abusive, highly critical, or did a lot of gaslighting. These types of relationships can erode your trust in yourself, prevent you from listening to your instincts, or destroy your self-esteem. All of which leaves you vulnerable to feeling jealous.
You are insecure. If you are insecure or have poor self-esteem you are likely to get triggered more easily and perceive others as being a threat. It may sound cliche but it's true: In order to feel secure in a relationship, first you have to feel secure about yourself.
Your partner has poor boundaries. In some cases, there are ways that your partner behaves that can ignite jealous feelings. This does not have to be something obvious like flirting or being affectionate or seductive with someone. It can be inappropriate sharing about their emotionally intimate life with others or sharing about flaws in the relationship with people they shouldn't. Crossing lines like that can be a slippery slope.
Your partner does not give you a lot of attention. Lack of attention in a relationship can make a person more sensitive to the attention paid to others. If you feel like your girlfriend never looks at you and sees you as beautiful, but then she comments how pretty the waitress is, you are likely to feel jealous. It is important in a relationship to ask for what you need whether it is more quality time, recognition, or appreciation.
Your needs are not getting needs met in your relationship. Experiencing an emotional deficit and not getting what you need in a relationship can make you hypersensitive to attention paid to others. This can really breed jealousy. First, it's important to evaluate whether your expectations are realistic or not. You should also consider whether or not your partner is not meeting your needs because they are unaware of them, they're withholding, they are incapable, or they just don't know any better. Being able to communicate in a way that optimizes is the odds of this changing is important.
You have passed the honeymoon stage. The honeymoon stage is that initial time in the relationship where we are getting to know our partner and we fill in the gaps with our imagination or assumptions. These projections allow us to create an idealized partner in our minds. Once we get past this honeymoon, we get to know our partner on a far deeper and more profound level. Even though there can be wonderful romance once we get past the honeymoon, there is also a lot more reality in the relationship. This can create more conflict, insecurity, and make us more vulnerable to any unresolved childhood issues that may impact our ability to have a healthy relationship.
You are sabotaging the relationship. Sometimes there is a part of us that does not believe that we deserve a good and loving relationship. When we have this buried inside of us we are more likely to sabotage the relationship. The first step is to be aware of it. This is something that is important to process in therapy to better understand where it comes from and change the pattern. (More on that later...)
How to Stop Feeling Jealous
If you are wrestling with the green-eyed monster, there are some things you can do to get relief.
1. Spend some time in self-reflection.
Take time to explore your own history, emotions, and triggers to better understand why this has become such an issue. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool.
2. Have an honest conversation with your partner.
Being emotionally vulnerable and making your partner aware of what's going on for you can lessen the strength of those feelings. Getting support from them can go along way in helping you heal.
3. Have a discussion about boundaries and commitments.
Make sure that you are both on the same page. Talk about what boundaries with others you are both comfortable with. Is it OK to talk to someone who is of the same gender you date about private matters? Is flirting OK? What is the relationship commitment? Is this a monogamous relationship? What defines cheating? If it is an open relationship, what are acceptable behaviors with others? How much information are you expected to share?
4. Start a gratitude practice.
Having a daily reminder of all of the things that are working in your relationship and in your life can change your emotional state which may leave you less vulnerable to feelings of jealousy.
5. Remind yourself that you can survive anything.
Sometimes we build up worst-case scenarios, and imaginary pain, in our heads. We think that if our partner cheats on us (or even is attracted to another person or pays attention to someone else) that it is intolerable. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we have survived all kinds of life difficulties and are still standing. We often underestimate our strength. Being reminded of this can take the heat down a few notches and allow us to think more clearly.
6. Take a time out to calm down and get rational.
When we are triggered, we don't think clearly. We tend to lose touch with the intellectual part of our brain and rely on our more primitive brain. When we are in the state, we are not capable of assessing whether our partner was overly flirtatious with the waitress... or if we are just being paranoid. It is important to step away and take a breather to calm ourselves down. When we are in fight or flight mode as we tend to be in these situations, we are more likely to say something we will regret.
7. Get into therapy.
Sometimes we need the help of a professional to talk through our jealousy issues. We tend to lack objectivity about our own lives and oftentimes, no matter how smart we are, things can get hazy when they are very emotional. A therapist can help you figure out what is real and what is not and help you to better understand how your history may impact your romantic relationships. This is also a great place to learn new tools to deal with any intense feelings that come up around this issue.
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.