How to Overcome Jealousy
Whether your partner is trustworthy or not, there are better ways to help your relationship than by being jealous
In this article:
- What is jealousy?
- Should you be jealous?
- The three components of jealousy
- The partner's perspective
- How to overcome jealousy
- What do I do from here?
Do you think you may be a jealous person? Take this self-assessment and find out. Check the boxes for each statement which is true for you:
I'm concerned about losing my partner's affection to someone else.
I often think my partner may be being verbally or physically intimate with someone else.
I look for signs that my partner may be cheating on me.
I try to limit my partner's activities (e.g., not giving him or her much money, demanding. he/she stay home, trying to be included in everything my partner does so I can feel more secure)
Sometimes I have angry outbursts at my partner based more on my thinking than on what he or she does.
I blame my partner for not being honest and open with me.
I get depressed because I don't get enough attention, affection, or love from my partner.
I'm afraid of being abandoned by my partner and not being able to cope with that.
Sometimes I have difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach pains, or other anxiety related problems connected to my suspicions.
People who know me well have told me that I am a jealous person.
The more of these statements you have checked, the more sure you can be that you are jealous. How jealous you are can be determined by two things: 1) how many of the statements you have checked, and/or 2) how intensely you feel or do each of these things. So, if you have only checked off a couple of these, but they are extreme for you, then you may be more jealous than a person who has checked off many of these, but only experiences them a little.
As strange as it may seem, the answer to this question does not depend on whether your partner is trustworthy or not. The answer depends on whether jealousy is helpful or not.
Being jealous with a trustworthy partner
Jealousy verbally closes down and emotionally pushes away a trustworthy partner. After all, distrust, control, and suspiciousness which is undeserved is enough to make anyone careful what they say. Trustworthy people can end up looking suspicious because they feel they need to be careful about what they say or do. If they say something in the wrong way, it may trigger more doubts or questioning, so they end up saying little at all.
When trustworthy people need to “get permission to go out,” “check in” when they are out,” and account for their time when they get home, they feel neither trusted nor free. And that hurts the relationship. Even when they are home, they need to be "on guard" about their reactions or facial expressions. If they are tired or don’t feel well, their partner is likely to attribute that to their disinterest in the relationship or their possible interest in someone else, They may have to use energy they don't have, just to explain why they are tired.
The result of being jealous with a trustworthy person?--A trustworthy person just doesn’t feel free to be him or herself or to communicate openly. Jealousy is definitely damaging when your partner is trustworthy.
Jealousy with a person who is not trustworthy
But what about if your partner isn’t trustworthy? That is, if he or she is the kind of person who is likely to cheat on you, does being jealous help prevent cheating? And if your partner has cheated on you before, will jealous behavior help to prevent him/her from cheating on you again?
If you have a partner who is not trustworthy, what you probably want to promote is honesty in communication and intimacy in the relationship. You want to feel close and secure and you want to make sure that your partner can talk to you about anything. You don’t want him or her to hide things from you or make you guess what is going on in his or her head. If you don’t feel much love from him/her, you want to be able to talk about why openly and honestly, so your relationship can get back on track. Being jealous won't produce any of those things. It will, in fact, make those things even less likely to happen.
We can look at the three main aspects of jealousy: 1) the thoughts and feelings of the jealous person, 2) the things the jealous person does to look for cheating, and 3) the questioning or control jealous people use with their partner in order to feel reassured.
The thoughts that go on inside of a jealous person are “What if” questions. “What if he is flirting with other women?” “What if she is looking for a new boyfriend?” “What if women/men hit on him/her?” among many other "What if" questions. "What if" questions are characteristic of all people with anxiety problems. The lead to personal unhappiness and difficult interpersonal relations. Because "What if" questions don't result in any helpful actions, they just burden the relationship. They become a weight that both the jealous person and his/her partner feel every day, and they create emotional distance.
How about checking his/her cell phone, calling frequently to see where he/she is, driving by her house or workplace to make sure her car is there, checking the mileage on his car, looking at her schedule, etc. Do these behaviors do anything to make partners (whether they are trustworthy or not) want to be open and honest? Not only do they close people down verbally, they actually move people further away from commitment. This is the opposite of what is needed when there are trust problems in the relationship.
Even when the checking is done secretly, it does nothing preventative. Check long enough and eventually you will find what you are looking for. But, having a police detective or prison guard mentality can contribute to any cheating that eventually happens. Measures that reassure one partner at the expense of the other partner's freedom, acceptance, or happiness end up damaging the relationship. They also take the joy out of the relationship for the jealous person. A relationship where one is continually reassured, but unloved by his/her partner is a very empty one.
The third aspect of being jealous is no better. Requiring a partner to stay home, report in, pass cell phone inspection, not have time with friends, etc. do nothing to make your partner want to be committed to you. It may make him or her fear being caught, which would create greater secrecy and less intimacy, but it would never lead to the intimacy that both people really desire to have. The most natural thought it would lead to is that intimacy can only come from someone else. This can lead to cheating, but it may just lead to the end of the relationship. Jealousy then becomes a self-fulling prophecy.
If you were distrusted by your partner, what would help you to want to be close to him/her?
Stop for a moment and think whether your partner acting jealously would do anything to make you want to open up to him/her. Would it take away any thoughts that you might be better off with someone else? What would probably help you feel less guarded is the freedom to be yourself, being able to talk to your partner about your concerns without getting attacked or cross-examined, and still being able to enjoy your friends and interests. If you had a partner like that, you would be less likely to desire someone else, wouldn’t you?
The opposite of jealousy is not blind trust.
Nor is it trying to convince yourself that your partner could never cheat on you. Your partner cheating is always one of the risks of a relationship. It is a risk not just faced by you, but by everyone who has a relationship. There is no way, that is good for your relationship, to absolutely prevent cheating. Cheating is one of the many risks we take when we have a relationship. If you are a jealous person, you overemphasize this possibility, but probably underemphasize the risk of your partner leaving if your relationship becomes very distant. The opposite of being jealous is dealing with any existing issues (not imagined ones) in a way that promotes your relationship. Becoming close, not controlling, is the most protective thing you can do for your relationship.
"What are the practical steps that I can take to overcome jealousy?"
Truly understanding the impact of your jealousy on yourself, your partner, and your relationship is your first step. When I work with my clients, we develop a list of the things they do that are not helping. That is true whether their partner is trustworthy or not, kind or not. The behaviors of our partner do not justify us doing harmful things. We have to stop any damage that we are contributing before expecting that our partners will.
Secondly, it's necessary to take a look at the reasons for the jealous feelings. Are they being triggered by actual behaviors of your partner? Are they coming from a reaction to a previous partner? Have these behaviors been programmed in since childhood? Are they something that you just assumed was the right way to be? If they are not coming from your partner, you may be able to get your partner to help you in making some important changes for the relationship. In such a case, you will need to learn to trust your partner, which means risking and learning, little by little.
Your jealousy may come from things that your partner did a long time ago. Things that are totally in the past need to be dealt with through the process of forgiveness. Time does not automatically heal all wounds. Many people do not know how to forgive and let go (we can’t forget, but we can let go). Often my clients need to learn a process to help them with that. Lack of forgiveness can do more do destroy a relationship than anything that was originally done.
Problems in the present caused by your partner's damaging behaviors need to be dealt with by respect building, boundary setting, good communication, and problem solving (in that order). None of the components of jealousy will accomplish these things. They are skills and behaviors that you do one by one. You work by yourself or with a coach on getting respect and boundary setting. Then, you have the foundation for good communication. Good communication will enable you and your partner to work together so you can solve your problems rather than just fight about them.
The biggest stumbling block to overcoming jealousy.
The biggest problem that people have when trying to overcome jealousy on their own (when there partner is not trustworthy) is that they try to skip to good communication without first creating respect and setting good boundaries. Their partner then defends, counterattacks, or just totally disregards what the jealous person is trying to do. It can be a very frustrating experience when you are trying to make things better for your relationship and your partner and you just end up fighting. Avoid this stumbling block by taking the right steps, in the right order, and get help if you need it.
Working with a relationship coach at the communication stage can help the both of you to set some healthy patterns for communicating without fighting. Typically, only a few sessions is enough to make your communication with your partner better for years to come. Regardless of whether you use a coach or not, it will be important to discuss the unwritten “rules” and expectations in your relationship regarding spending time with other people. Any big differences should be dealt with by win-win solutions, since compromise can lead to resentment and secrecy, which could restart the original problem.
You get started at whatever point you need to in order to end your jealousy, deal with your relationship issues, and have a close relationship. For some people, that will mean starting with the quiz above. For others, it will mean learning how to get respect, or how to set boundaries in regard to their particular situation. Few people will be ready for communicating with their partner about these things. The point is to focus on working on one step at a time, from where you are now, to where you want your relationship to be. If you are willing to do that, you can overcome both your own insecurities, and any problems in your relationship that may be a result of your partner’s behavior.
You can work on your own, or you can get the relationship coaching advantage:
- Fastest route to a secure relationship
- Connection without conflict
- Start rebuilding trust from your first session
- Win-win solutions your partner will love
- Article on building respect
- Article on the basics of boundaries and better responding
- Free communication e-book
- Relationship coaching for becoming a secure partner