Managing Feelings of Jealousy
Jealousy is a natural emotion that many people experience at some point in their lives. Sometimes jealousy can be helpful, but at other times it can be painful and difficult to manage. There is a reason why Shakespeare equated jealousy to a “green eyed monster.” But before I talk about how jealousy can be managed, I want to first define what jealousy is, and portray how jealousy can sometimes be helpful and adaptive.
What is Jealousy?
Jealousy is an emotional response to the real or imagined threat of losing something or someone valuable. With regards to a romantic relationship, jealousy involves a situation wherein one is threatened of his or her partner’s involvement with someone outside of his or her relationship. The emotional responses resulting from jealousy may include feeling anxious, angry, hyper vigilant, possessive, and threatened.
How is Jealousy Adaptive?
Evolutionary psychologists agree that jealousy can be an adaptive emotion; it has evolved as a mechanism for defending one’s interests. For example, it can serve as a signal of a real threat to one’s relationship, which then triggers one to protect against it. Research has also suggested that jealousy can lead to satisfaction in relationships by signalling emotional investment and commitment, and can contribute to strengthening the bond in relationships by signalling that one needs to protect his or her relationship.
How do you Know if Jealousy is Becoming Maladaptive?
Linda Blair – a clinical psychologist – argued that there are three questions that one can ask him or herself that would give an indication as to whether jealousy is becoming a problem. These include: (a) is jealousy interfering with my life? (b) is it causing harm to someone I love? and (c) does the feeling of jealousy control me? She claims that if the answer to any of these questions is a yes, then jealousy might be a problem. Jealousy has the potential of taking over one’s life and, if not managed, like anxiety it too can ultimately lead to depression.
How can you Manage Jealousy?
In order to prevent jealousy from consuming your thoughts and taking over your relationship, it is important to incorporate strategies to manage it and mitigate its effects. Some of these strategies include:
- Talking to your partner about your feelings, and remembering to do so without criticism or blame. This can give them a chance to reassure you of their love and commitment, and counteract your thoughts and feelings.
- Examining your thoughts. Just because you are having feelings of jealousy doesn’t mean your partner is actually doing something wrong. So, when you are feeling jealous, sit back and examine your thoughts. Ask yourself “where are these feelings coming from?”
Consider the possibility that these feelings are arising out of unrealistic ideas about relationships; for instance, you might be thinking, “my feelings are clearly a sign that he/she is doing something wrong,” or “he/she should not be attracted to anyone else but me,” or “my previous partner did this and ended up cheating on me, so this partner must be doing the same.” Such thoughts are the result of unrealistic thoughts and assumptions that may have developed due to past experiences, or other intimate relationships. To counteract these thoughts, you might want to sit back and assess the evidence, both for and against them. A great way to do this would be to externalize your thoughts by writing them on cue cards and, on the flip side, writing evidence for/against each. An advantage of writing them out this way is that your thoughts become less powerful and might appear less realistic.
- Getting support. Apart from talking to your partner about it, talk to others regarding your feelings. If you are not comfortable talking to your friends, seek help from a counsellor who can help with uncovering your underlying thoughts and feelings, and learning to manage your feelings of jealousy.
- Managing your emotions in healthy ways. Practice positive ways of managing your feelings of jealousy. For instance, when you start to feel jealous, try dancing to your favourite music, writing your feelings down in a journal, or practicing 20-minutes of mindfulness (e.g. meditating or taking a walk). The idea here is to direct your mind to a focused mode in order to facilitate positive thoughts.
Remember, jealousy is a natural response to a perceived threat and can be adaptive. It only becomes problematic if it is persistent and if it consumes you. When you notice yourself feeling this way, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and dig deep into yourself and your relationships.