One of the most-searched-for articles on this site is currently “how to know when to leave a relationship“. I hope those of you who are reading that article are finding it to be helpful. I’ve had many relationships over the course of my life, and while my quest was to “find the right partner,” I’ve had some great chances to learn a thing or two along the way. I never dated a “bad” person, but some of my relationships, while they generally started out GREAT, ended up being pretty bad by the end. I think that’s just the way things go – there’s a lot of competing energy in the world, and when you’re in a relationship that’s not working, a lot of those forces start acting on your relationship (well, mainly the people in the relationship) to hasten its disintegration. Those forces can create some pretty unpleasant emotions, and one of the most unpleasant emotions that I’ve had to deal with (multiple times) has been jealousy in a relationship. In this article, we’re going to tackle jealousy head-on – so if you’re looking for some practical tips on how to get rid of jealousy in your relationship, please keep reading. As a side note: if you’re looking for a more general discussion of jealousy in life, then check out Steve Pavlina’s well-written article on the topic.
Now just because you (or your partner) is feeling jealous, that doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed. On the contrary, there are different kinds of jealousy, and some ARE fixable within the context of your relationship. However, other kinds of jealousy won’t go away no matter what you do. So let’s talk for a minute about what jealousy is, and how to know whether the kind of jealousy that you’re experiencing will or won’t go away in the context of your current relationship. Then, if it is fixable, we’ll talk about how to make it go away. If it’s not fixable, we’ll talk about how to make your relationship go away. 🙂
What kinds of jealousy in a relationship are there?
Jealousy, at its root, is a fear-based emotion. Just to be clear, the jealousy that I’m talking about is what you feel in reaction to your partner interacting with another person whom you feel might be a threat to your relationship. This “other person” could be an actual person (as in “I’m jealous when my partner hangs out with so-and-so”) or it could be generic (as in “I’m jealous whenever my partner interacts with anyone who they could be with instead of me”). When you experience jealousy, you can feel a whole range of physical sensations – all indicative of fear, anger, anxiety – but it all basically points to the same thing: You are afraid that your partner is going to leave you. Whether it’s that your partner is going to leave you for so-and-so, or just for the “next-right-person”, you’re afraid that it’s going to happen. And that fear feels…well, pretty horrible. Let’s not dwell there – I’m just letting you know that I understand what’s happening. You see, I’m very experienced at this emotion, both as the person GETTING jealous and as the subject of a partner’s jealousy.
The way that I see it, there are three possibilities:
- There’s no “real reason” for you to be jealous. In other words, there’s no danger of your partner’s leaving you. Instead, you feel the way that you do because you are insecure about yourself. Maybe you’re not living up to your potential in the relationship? Maybe you’re not living up to your potential in life? Whatever the cause, at the core of your jealousy are your own fears about not being worthy of your partner’s love. Why should they stay with you when there are so many “better” people in the world, or when this particular person, with whom they enjoy spending time, has it so much more “together” than you do?
- There’s no “real reason” for you to be jealous (again, there’s no danger of your partner’s leaving you). Your partner loves you and has no intention of leaving you. However, your partner might be doing things that aren’t exactly trust-building either. Maybe your partner is a little too flirty with other people? Perhaps your partner stays out late with others without letting you know what’s going on? Who knows, maybe your partner talks about how they think so-and-so is really hot, in a way that makes you really uncomfortable?
- In the last kind of jealousy, there ARE real reasons for you to be jealous. Your partner is not fully committed to your relationship, and it’s just a matter of time before one of your partner’s flirtations turns into something more serious. Sure, your partner loves you – but for WHATEVER reason (the reason really doesn’t matter, folks) they’re not settled into being with you, and they’re on the lookout for someone else. And when the moment is right, they’ll probably go for someone else. Maybe your partner will be courteous enough to break up with you first? Maybe not!
How do I know what kind of jealousy I’m experiencing?
In order to know which kind of jealousy you’re experiencing, I suggest that you start with #1. You’re going to have to be REALLY honest with yourself, though, in terms of assessing your own level of self-confidence. Perhaps you could enlist a trusted friend for the assessment process? Do you feel good about where you are in life? Do you feel confident about the direction you’re heading? Are YOU fully committed to the relationship that you’re in?
In the best relationships, your partner will support you through your insecure times…because we all have insecure moments. But they will be MOMENTS of your life. If you’re feeling insecure all the time, then there’s something ELSE going on that you need to address. You might be able to address it while you’re in your current relationship, if your partner is there for you. No matter what, you MUST address it, because basically you will be incapable of having a fulfilling, equal relationship with a partner until you are capable of loving yourself, accepting yourself, believing in yourself. It’s OK to feel insecure – don’t get me wrong! Just DEAL with it! That’s what most of this blog (and countless other personal development blogs out there) are about – so there’s lots of help available for you. Seeing a counselor could be really helpful, too. Whatever you choose – make a choice: start taking steps now to get your own life, as an individual, together.
Even if you have a healthy dose of self-esteem, you could still be feeling jealous. That’s what #2 and #3 are about. Since you’ve eliminated jealousy #1 because you do, in general, feel good about yourself and worthy of another person’s love, then you have a more difficult choice to make. A certain amount of interaction with people outside of the relationship, even occasional flirtation, can actually be healthy. Let’s face it – we’re social creatures, and not meant to be shut off from the rest of society just because we’re in a great, loving relationship! In fact, being in that relationship can be a great springboard to fulfilling friendships with other people – since the question of “am I going to date/etc. this other person” is off the table.
So what’s going on? Maybe your partner is actually insecure, and so they are always pushing the boundaries of flirtation with other people to make themselves feel better, more desirable? Maybe your partner has a social repertoire that’s just a little inappropriate at times – something of which they may or may not be aware? In the case of a specific person who makes you jealous, perhaps that person really likes your partner, is trying to lure them away, and your partner is either oblivious or unable to deal appropriately with the situation (if your partner is unwilling to deal with the situation, you’re probably dealing with #3). If you’re feeling jealous, you could have your partner (or, again, a friend) read this article – because they could be able to help you diagnose what’s really going on. Note that everything that we just talked about points to jealousy #2 (with the exception that I mentioned).
For jealousy #3, now would be a good time to do the all-important gut-check. What’s your intuition telling you about this situation? It could be that you really are not “safe” in this relationship with your partner. Your partner might be shopping around despite being in this relationship with you. Is all of this “jealousy” really just your inner wisdom telling you that you’re not safe, and that it’s time to leave?
OK – now that I know what kind of jealousy I’m experiencing, what can I do about it?
Jealousy #1: We already covered jealousy #1 up above. Your mission, should your own insecurity be at the root of your jealousy, is to focus your energy on being WHO YOU ARE. Live your life to its fullest potential. Explore avenues that are interesting to you. Follow your passion. Put your drive into being the kind of person that you really want to be. The way that you shine will illuminate the rest of your life – including the relationship that you’re currently in – and let you know what components of your life are right for you. That’s where you’ll put your energy. The things that aren’t right – well, they’ll most likely go away of their own accord – or you’ll be able to cut them loose with minimal drama or hesitation.
Jealousy #2: If you’re experiencing jealousy #2 – I’m not going to lie to you, this is actually the hardest one to deal with. The reason that it’s hard (if you haven’t figured this out already) is because it’s really not your job to tell your partner what about them needs “fixing” (it’s called “taking someone else’s inventory” – you’ve probably heard Dr. Phil say this on occasion). The only person that you can change, in your life, is yourself. Therefore, in order for your partner to change their behavior, the behavior that is contributing to your jealousy, your partner is going to need to have an awareness of what they’re doing and how it makes you feel. Then your partner can make a choice about how they want to handle the situation.
My suggestion is to just stick with the facts. Make statements like: “Honey, I’m noticing that you’re doing <insert behavior here>. When you do <behavior>, it makes me feel <really jealous, scared, angry, etc.>” When I say <behavior> – I REALLY MEAN BEHAVIOR. In other words, don’t say something like “Honey, I’m noticing that you’re flirting with that waitress. When you flirt with that waitress….”. The reason that you don’t say it like that is because “flirting with the waitress” is actually a judgement that YOU’RE making about the activity. Instead you could say “Honey, when you tip the waitress 50% and write our phone number on the credit card slip, it makes me feel jealous”. Those are facts, right? No judgement implied – so there shouldn’t be anything to argue about.
At this point, since you’ve just stated the facts, there really shouldn’t be anything else to say. Your partner might say “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t know you felt that way. I won’t do that again.” Great – that’s probably progress! However, your partner might start trying to explain away their behavior, or might say something like “you really shouldn’t feel that way” – my suggestion to you is to NOT go down that road. Just say something like “we really don’t have to talk about it – I just wanted to tell you what I noticed about what you were doing, and how it made me feel”. End of conversation.
Now you’ll be able to observe what happens with your partner. As you make these statements, you are providing your partner with feedback about their actions – constructive feedback that’s (hopefully) free of judgement about them. You’re not trying to make them feel bad about what they’re doing, you’re just stating what – specifically – they did. The action. And your reaction. That’s it. Your partner will be developing more awareness about their actions, and they might actually start changing. The changes could be things that they’re initiating consciously, or they could come about simply from the awareness of how their actions were affecting you. With jealousy#2 your partner has no intention of leaving you – so odds are good that they will have all the more incentive to think about their behavior and change it for the better.
If your partner DOESN’T change, then you have a choice to make. Do you start to see this as just “something they do” – but you know it’ll ultimately not be harmful for the relationship? Maybe your jealous feelings will just go away at that point. Or you might decide that you just don’t want to be with a person who acts “like that”. It’s TOTALLY your call! If you decide to stay with this person, then at least you are making the choice consciously. If you decide to go, then you have learned a VALUABLE lesson about particular qualities that you’ll want your next significant other to have (or not have, as the case may be). It’s not that there’s something wrong with your partner, it’s just that the relationship, the interaction between the two of you, isn’t quite right. Let it go, and you’ll both be happier for it.
Jealousy #3: Remember what I said right at the beginning, about how if a relationship just isn’t right then there are lots of forces at work trying to end the relationship? There might be a little of THAT going on! You could look at those forces as “destructive” forces trying to tear your relationship apart – OR you could look at them for what they (IMHO) really are, which are HEALING forces that are trying to help you achieve your highest good in life. Honestly, if a relationship ISN’T the right relationship for you, then why waste your time with it after you’ve figured that out? There’s a lot of living to do in this world!
So in that spirit, if your significant other really wants to be with someone else – let them! Why do you need to put yourself through that? Find your own happiness, instead of waiting for your partner to be someone that they’re not (in this relationship with you). You’ll feel great if you make the choice to walk away from a relationship like this, because you will be honoring the part of yourself that was feeling jealous FOR GOOD REASON. As scary as it might be to leave, you will be strengthening your own self-confidence by making the tough right choice. And you should know that there IS someone better out there – for both of you!
What if your partner is the jealous one (i.e. what do I do if my actions are making my partner jealous)?
I was HOPING that you’d be reading this article too. You have just as much ability to honestly assess what’s going on in your relationship as your partner does. You’re also going to have to be really truthful with yourself about what’s going on – if it’s still confusing, I strongly suggest that you have a trusted friend read through this article to give you their opinion. For you, jealousy #1 is much like jealousy #2 would be for your partner – there’s not a lot you can do, other than to support your partner in their endeavor to be the best “them” they can be. Can you do that in the context of your relationship? Or do you think that your partner’s jealousy (or insecurity) is too great for them to be in a healthy partnership with you? If you really aren’t doing ANYTHING to contribute to your partner’s jealous feelings, then you might consider whether or not this relationship is healthy for YOU. You can’t make another person trust you, after all – especially if they’re incapable of trusting anyone at the particular place where they are in life. Are you willing to stick with your partner as they reclaim themselves through a process of internal healing and growth? Is your partner aware of what’s going on and paying attention to their own needs? The answers to those questions determine whether or not the relationship is right for you.
In the case of jealousy #2 – try to not get defensive about it. You are the way you are for good reasons – whether or not your actions are beneficial (or detrimental) to your current relationship. Maybe you ARE trying to compensate for your own lack of self-esteem? Maybe your patterns of interaction with members of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending on your orientation) are totally geared around trying to “get with” other people – and it’s time to learn some new ways of interacting that won’t make your partner feel so jealous? The best thing that you can do is to maintain an awareness of your interactions with others, and to try to see your interactions as your partner is seeing them. You might notice things that you weren’t quite seeing before, once you lose your defensiveness. If your partner says something to you like “When you do <something> it makes me feel jealous”, take a breath, accept what just happened, and, if you feel inclined, apologize. If you don’t feel inclined to apologize, then just say something neutral like “Thanks for telling me about that. I love you.” If you DO want to apologize, then apologize without equivocation. In other words: “I’m sorry I made you feel like that. I love you. Thanks for telling me.” Then let it go, and see what happens.
Jealousy #3 – You dog!!! Why are you staying in this relationship if you don’t really want to be in it? Are you afraid of being alone? Are you jealous of who your partner might find once they’re set free? Are you just enjoying the unequal power of your relationship? It’s absolutely fine for you to want to get with as many people as you want to get with. I have no problem with that! However, you have a responsibility, when you’re in a relationship with another person, to be honest with them about what’s going on with you. Who knows, maybe if you tell your partner that you really DO want to be with so-and-so, your partner will just say “go for it!”? It can’t hurt to try…you could get the best of both worlds. Be prepared, though – your honesty might help your partner make the decision to leave the relationship. Which, since we’re in jealousy #3-land, is probably what should happen anyway. Go! Prosper! Wish your partner the best! May you both find someone who’s just PERFECT for you, may you both find happiness, and may you both have mercy on each other and stop trying to make something work that just ain’t happening.
Whether you’re the one feeling jealous, or the one causing the jealous feelings, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for you. Jealousy #1, Jealousy #2, and Jealousy #3 can all be overcome. Jealousy #1 or #2 allows you to make the choice to get over it together or alone. Jealousy #3 – now that you’ve identified it, hopefully it makes leaving your relationship that much easier a decision for you. In a relationship that’s right, where both people are equals and trust each other implicitly, jealousy rarely (if ever) will make an appearance. Find the strength within yourself to do whatever you need to do to get through this time. When you find the relationship that’s right for you (and you will find it, as long as you give yourself the chance for it to happen), you’ll be thankful for the lessons that each of your prior relationships taught you, no matter how difficult. I definitely am…most grateful.