At parties you can’t relax… You feel the need to be aware of your partner’s whereabouts and whom they’re talking to… Do they look interested in the person they’re with? You find it difficult to concentrate on the conversation you’re meant to be having because it makes you so nervous that they might cross a line. Your eyes quickly dart back and forth, checking whether there is a hint of intimacy between them.
Jealousy is an extremely painful emotion that is the result of a fear of abandonment. It arises in scenarios where there is a third party threat to a valued relationship. It is experienced as betrayal, which in turn, causes anger. The feelings of betrayal happen because there is a real or imagined experience of the loved one preferring another.
The jealous individual is not solely responsible for this experience; in fact jealousy exists within the dynamic of a relationship that lacks safety. Though the partner may never have actually cheated, the couple may not be clear on where they stand with each other and what they mean to each other. Therefore, the boundary of the relationship is ambiguous.
The result of jealousy is always conflict. This conflict can be expressed aggressively: through accusations, arguments, threats. It can also be expressed passively: by distancing oneself or quietly seeking revenge.
When under the influence of jealousy, you may find yourself doing things you wouldn’t normally do. You might look through your partner’s phone messages, facebook posts, photos, computer folders. You might actually sign into their email accounts and read countless emails…scanning to make sure there isn’t any communication that could be interpreted as flirtatious.
The purpose of this investigating is to gain reassurance that none of your partner’s interactions are dubious. What often happens, however, is that this sparks more anxiety. You may come across messages that are unclear, and all of a sudden, not only do you have the prior feelings of worry, but you desperately want clarity on what this piece of information represents. If you tell your loved one you’ve been doing this “research”, you are busted for violating their privacy. If you don’t say anything, the question will fester.
We all experience jealousy from time to time; it is a natural and healthy sign that you value your partner. But extreme cases of jealousy are very difficult to cope with, and often end up resulting in the exact scenario you are trying to avoid – your partner leaves or distances themselves from you. This happens to many couples because the partner can no longer tolerate the accusations, the feeling of being monitored and controlled, the fights and feelings of guilt (whether deserved or not).
In the jealous person, there is always shame. Jealousy acts as a shield, keeping the person distant from their tormenting sense of shame. The shame exists because of a core belief such as, “I am not enough”, “People do not stay with me”, “I am not interesting”. If a person feels they are unlovable or not enjoyable, it makes sense that their partner would prefer to be with someone who is. Therefore, other individuals pose as threats and the relationship feels unsafe. Jealousy is easier to cope with than shame – with jealousy you feel angry because of your (possibly) disloyal partner, with shame you feel worthless because of yourself.
If you find yourself feeling jealous often, I urge you to be kind to yourself. You may be angry with yourself for carrying this emotion, but beneath your seemingly “unpleasant” behaviour, there is a person in deep need of holding and safety. The good news is that you can hold and provide safety for yourself. Here are a few tips on how you can do this:
- Make a deal with your partner: Remember that jealousy is a symptom that belongs to a couple and not only to one person. Agree with your partner that you can seek their reassurance when you need it, on condition that you do this without making accusations. Though you may suspect that your partner has feelings for another, do not accuse them of it, instead gently ask what their relationship is to that individual. When making this deal, insist that they be kind to you when you ask. You must not accuse and they must not ridicule. The responsibility to heal your relationship from this insecure state belongs to both of you.
- Stop yourself from “investigating”: Invading your partner’s privacy is very unlikely to make you feel safer. Often, things that don’t belong to us are unclear. Messages and photos that we are not a part of can be confusing because we do not know the context in which they occurred. Because we do not have enough understanding, we tend to fill the gaps with our fears. Doing this is not worth the torment that you experience as a result. Take care of yourself and do something nourishing instead.
- Give yourself space: At the party, fight the temptation to keep track of your partner by becoming fully engrossed in what you are doing. Become interested in the person in front of you, dance, get a drink. Pay attention to yourself and what you want to explore. If your partner perceives that you are not monitoring their every move, they will feel freer to approach you because they will not be met with an accusing face and a barrage of questions. Also, you will be more likely to enjoy yourself because you are focusing on you.
- Speak to someone: Speak to someone you trust about the jealousy you are experiencing – a parent, a good friend, a therapist. Choose someone who is not going to judge you or tell you to get over it. Make sure it is someone who is willing to support you with this.
- Be kind to yourself: Feeling jealous sucks. It is tiring and so so stressful. I am sure that if you could choose, you would choose not to ever experience jealousy. So remember that feeling jealous is not something you should feel ashamed of. You did not ask to feel this way, it just happened. Treat yourself like you would a good friend, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way, I know it sucks right now.” And indulge in some good self-care.