Dealing with jealousy
Often people come to couple therapy, or individual therapy, because jealousy has become a major problem in their relationship.
Some jealousy in a relationship is not necessarily a problem, however. Many people believe jealousy is somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘childish’; however, jealousy is a natural emotion to feel when we love someone and are hurt that they seem to prefer other people or activities to time with us.
It is important to realise that jealousy does not just have to be about a love rival, but can also apply to someone seeming to value their work more than you, or time talking to their mother on the phone.
Anything that leaves you feeling that your partner values someone or something above the relationship with you can lead to jealousy.
However, jealousy can play a positive role, as it can trigger a conversation about the relationship. We can talk about what we and our partner want from each other and what may be missing.
Without any jealousy relationships can become stale. Jealousy is a sign that a relationship has passion and life; but for jealousy to be constructive it is helpful to talk about one’s feelings in a non-blaming way.
This is accusing: ‘Why do you spend so much social time with your work colleagues? You just don’t care about me!’
Better to say: ‘When you spend most weeknights with your work colleagues I feel unwanted. How can we make it more attractive for us to spend more time together?’
The second way of discussing the topic does not put your partner on the defensive because you are not accusing them of anything; you are simply observing their behaviour and saying how you feel. You are taking responsibility for your feelings.
On the other hand, when jealousy begins to dominate a relationship it moves from being potentially constructive to downright damaging. Accusations and suspicions mean that trust is depleted and both partners are stressed and unhappy.
In these situations it can be helpful to see a therapist, either as an individual or couple.
A good therapist will explore:
- The history of jealousy in the individual’s family. For example, were the person’s parents ever jealous? Was there jealousy among siblings?
- Triangular relationships in the person’s history. Jealousy is all about triangles – you, your loved one and a third person or thing. Perhaps the jealous adult also felt in competition with a sibling for mother’s love? Or in competition with a parent for the other parent’s attention?
- Feelings of being neglected/abandoned. The deep fear of the highly jealous person is often around being abandoned. Frequently this fear originated when they were a child and they felt neglected, abandoned or emotionally distant from one or both parents. These early feelings and fears can be carried into adult relationships.
- Projection. In some cases the ‘jealous’ person is actually unhappy with the relationship themselves, but not fully aware of this or feels guilty about it. It can therefore be easier for them to accuse their partner of what they themselves are feeling, i.e. wanting something outside the relationship.
In exploring these issues therapy can help the individual, or couple, become more aware of some of the deeper themes underlying the surface feeling. Becoming aware of these deeper feelings, and feeling them rather than repressing them, can help reduce the jealousy and suspicion.
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