I had always thought that there’s no room in a relationship for jealousy.
Now I realize that if you or your partner have jealousy issues, a relationship is the perfect place to work on them. But there’s two components you’ll need in order to deal with jealousy in a healthy manner:
- Bringing awareness into jealous situations and the reactions that they provoke;
- A willing partner to work on these issues with together.
First, let’s define the type of jealousy I’ll be referring to in this article.
Jealousy: what it’s all about.
It most commonly manifests within the context of romantic relationships, but there are places it is found as well. For example, when someone is jealous of the attention their partner is giving to a newborn child
It can present itself merely as one fearful thought, but at times develops into full-blown insecurities. Then, if we managed to convince ourselves that our thoughts are reality, and we don’t like this reality, our fear can turn into sadness or anger. Which can quickly escalate into rage.
However, there is nothing wrong with jealousy per se.
It’s perfectly natural to fear that a person we are attached to could be taken away from us.
The problems start when jealousy is dealt with in unhealthy ways.
For example, people might repress or suppress their jealousy if they think it’s going to compromise the relationship. In this case, the jealousy is bottled up and can erupt uncontrollably. That’s how fear can become depression. And anger can turn into fury.
As a society, we seem to have a soft spot for jealousy. We tend to justify someone’s (otherwise completely unacceptable) behavior if it’s rooted in jealousy: “Oh, it’s just because they love you so much and they don’t want to lose you”.
Anyone who’s been madly in love before can testify that love can drive you to insanity. However, jealousy doesn’t have much to do with love.
It has to do with ownership and trying to control your relationship. Which, any thinking human being knows, is futile.
But it’s not jealousy that is the issue. There’s nothing wrong with jealousy.
It’s the way jealousy is expressed that can be debilitating.
Jealousy: an overreaction.
Infidelity is excruciating.
When we’re talking about cheating, everyone involved gets hurt.
For those who have experienced some form of betrayal — whether as the one cheated on, the third wheel, or children involved, and yes, even the person who cheated (as long as they have a moral compass) — there’s a scar that needs to be healed.
For those people with an infidelity scar, jealousy can become an issue.
I witnessed it with my friend firsthand.
Her father cheated on her mother throughout her childhood.
Later on, when she got married, she found her first husband in bed with her best friend.
There is no doubt that this left a scar that causes her to overreact whenever she thinks someone might threaten her current relationship.
I experienced her jealous overreaction one day when my daughter and I came to visit her market stall.
Her second husband was there, too, and we decided to go for a stroll on the beach: her husband, my daughter and me.
And before I go on with the jealousy story, you need to know one more thing about her second husband: he used to be my partner many years ago. He is the father of my daughter.
But there was never any love triangle. My ex and I broke up a few years before they met. I only met her as his partner and then became her friend.
At that time, though, I didn’t know her all that well. She hadn’t told me of her history with betrayal. So I felt very comfortable wandering off with her husband and our daughter. I didn’t think twice when the stroll stretched out and we found ourselves enjoying a play in the rock pools near the ocean. My ex was thrilled, splashing water all around with our young girl, and I watched them having fun.
By the time we got back to the markets, they had already closed.
And my friend and her stall were nowhere to be seen.
I was perplexed. I had assumed my friend would wait there for us. She left without explaining where she had disappeared to. She did not send a message to her husband or to me. She just took their car and left us stranded.
The following day, my friend apologized to me for her behavior. But it was only months later that she shared her stories of her cheating father and her cheating first husband when the penny dropped.
She was so afraid that something romantic might develop between her husband and me, fear turned into anger, and she couldn’t help herself. She hated us in that moment and she needed to get as far away from us she possibly could.
A hurt from the past is an opportunity for healing.
If I knew at the time what I know now, I would have acted differently.
I would have cut our walk short. Or I would have reassured my friend that nothing romantic will ever develop between her husband and me. But I would have made accommodations for the jealousy if I knew how painful it was for her.
If her husband was a willing, loving partner, he would have done the same.
This is how a supportive relationship works. It’s a great space to heal your wounds.
If your partner is willing to work with you, you could come to all sorts of agreements about how to deal with jealousy issues when they surface. It might not be an easy and quick fix, but most healing journeys are long and winding. This one is no different.
A healthy reaction to jealousy.
To be honest, I don’t consider myself the jealous type — although I have felt jealous now and then in past relationships. I can only recall a handful of times in my life where I’ve been jealous, and they haven’t driven me to irrational or stupid behavior.
But it’s easy for me to say.
I’ve never experienced infidelity firsthand.
My parents were faithful to each other, even though they had a miserable marriage.
I’ve never had a partner cheat on me.
But I did fear, at times, that a partner would fall in love with someone else.
Like that time my long-term partner recruited his close uni friend to work with him and they ended up spending so many hours of the day together. Many more than we did as a couple.
Jealousy started emerging within me.
I had a dream that they kissed each other passionately and it made me feel really insecure and uncomfortable.
You know what I did?
I told my partner about the dream.
I was upfront and I explained to him that I knew it was irrational. And that was it, pretty much.
My jealousy slowly diminished until, a few days later, it evaporated altogether.
A how-to guide for dealing with jealousy in your relationship:
The issue is actually not jealousy.
It is the expression of the emotions that accompany jealousy. That is, the feelings of insecurity, sadness, and anger
In order to deal with jealousy healthily in your relationship, I suggest working on two aspects.
- Make sure you heal from past hurts, if you have any.
- Work on the emotions that come along with jealousy and learn how to express them in the best way possible
Healing from past hurts within the framework of your current relationship:
If you have been hurt by infidelity in the past and not fully healed then this is your chance to do so.
Don’t expect the healing journey to be quick or linear. It will probably be a long and winding one.
You will need to sit down with your partner and decide on a strategy to adopt whenever your jealousy is triggered.
It is not so much about restricting their actions (although it’s always good to know the boundaries of your relationship: how far can you both go when interacting with someone if the other perceives them as a threat?)
It is more about finding the best way to broach the topic when your jealousy rears its head.
Could you work it out between the two of you over dinner? Perhaps on occasions, it’s good to see a therapist?
And what would you need your partner to do in order for you to feel reassured and secure in the relationship?
Please don’t bottle your jealousy up.
Don’t hide it from your partner.
Instead, share your vulnerability with your partner.
You’ll have to trust your partner in order to be vulnerable with them. Which is, in itself, quite tricky for someone hurt by infidelity in the past. But consider the alternative: having jealousy lurking around every corner of your relationship. Wouldn’t you rather deeply trust your partner?
Dealing with all of your emotions gracefully:
There are 4 ways to deal with emotions, generally speaking: repression, suppression, expression, and letting them go. The healthiest of these is letting go.
It’s about allowing the emotion to play its part fully. We do this by letting the emotion run its course, then releasing it. We feel it within our body without playing the story that justifies the emotion in our head.
In the context of jealousy, we focus our attention on the emotions that accompany the jealousy: fear, sadness, anger.
There are a few approaches that can teach you how to let go. I personally use the Sedona Method but other techniques work just the same.
No one can guarantee you won’t get hurt again.
But that’s true for every aspect of our lives, regardless of anything.
So it’s up to you to decide if you want to try healing or rather keep carrying your jealousy baggage.
I know it’s not easy, but I hope you choose the healing path. For you and your relationship’s sake.