Jealousy makes people feel mistrusted and controlled. It contributes to relationship dissatisfaction, broken relationships, cheating, affairs, and divorce.
Jealousy is a combination of the feelings of fear of losing a loved one and anger at the love one’s attraction, attention, or affection toward someone else.
People who feel jealous monitor their loved one’s behavior to see if a risk of loss is present. They also attempt to control their loved one’s behavior or thinking to end attraction, attention, or affection.
In addition, jealous people are preoccupied with the behavior of their loved one in social situations and how others behave toward their loved one.
Jealous people’s preoccupation, monitoring, and controlling behaviors make them unattractive and difficult to maintain an emotional connection with. Jealous people are therefore rejected by secure people who cannot find happiness with them.
Since jealous people can only have long term relationships with other insecure people, they have alternating high conflict and makeup periods in their relationships, creating a roller coaster pattern that can last a lifetime.
A jealousy self test
How many of the following statements can you answer “yes” to?
- I am concerned that I am losing my partner’s affection and that it is being given, or will be given to someone else.
- I am alert to any indications that my partner may be attracted to others or is cheating on me.
- I often think that my partner is flirting with others when I am not around.
- I try to reduce the possibility that my partner could cheat on me by trying to be included in everything, calling or texting, limiting my partner’s financial ability to cheat, or demanding that my partner stay home.
- I react to my thinking about what my partner may be doing by becoming upset with him or her.
- I tell my partner “I love you” mainly because I want to hear him or her say it to me.
- I fear my partner leaving me, rejecting me, or abandoning me.
- I accuse my partner of having affections toward someone else.
- I try to prevent my partner from having one on one time with others when we are in group situations.
- I check my partner’s emails and cell phone for signs of cheating.
- I try to damage my partner’s self esteem so he/she will feel undesirable to others.
- I have had problems in previous relationships due to my suspicions.
- My expectations are that my partner should want to do everything with me.
- I have a hard time feeling relaxed and enjoying myself when I am not with my partner.
Like most human characteristics, we can be high, middle, or low on the jealousy dimension. The more of these statements that are true for you, the more jealous of a person you are. Asking what is an acceptable score is similar to asking how much arguing is acceptable in relationships. It will depend on your spouse.
The needier your spouse, the more you can get away with, which is true for all damaging behaviors. If you really want to become valuable to your spouse, you will work on reducing your jealous behaviors just as you will with other needy behaviors. A good way to begin to work on that would be with my book on overcoming neediness.
Why are you jealous?
If you are a jealous person, you probably blame your partner for your feelings of jealousy. The fact is however, it is impossible for your partner to make you jealous no matter what he or she does. This is because jealousy is a result of fears of:
- inability to cope with loss
Your partner did not cause you to have those fears. You had those fears before you even met your partner. The jealous behaviors you do are to protect you from these fears. That is, if you can constantly be reassured that you are the only one your partner could ever possibly desire, then you won’t feel inadequate, you won’t be abandoned, you won’t be rejected, and you won’t lose your partner.
Like all fears, reassurance is not a cure. Reassurance is just a temporary fix. Depending on how social your partner is, you will soon feel jealous again. Trying to prevent your partner from being social will help you to feel reassured longer, but will also create more of a desire in your partner to reach out to others. You end up in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t, situation.
Your quest for reassurance and control make you less desirable for your partner and may cause your partner to actually find others more desirable. This strengthens your fears and leads to even worse jealousy.
The nature of fear in relationships is to cause us to behave in such a way that the thing we fear is more likely to happen.
Jealousy is a kind of addiction
When you feel jealous, you look for evidence that would justify your jealousy, but at the same time, you hope that you don’t find it. For example, you may check your spouse’s phone records, pockets, car, track your spouse with a GPS device or even interrogate your spouse. When you fail to find evidence of cheating, it makes you feel reassured. It calms your anxiety–temporarily.
But of course, checking these things today does not guarantee your spouse won’t cheat tomorrow. And, what if you missed something? The anxiety returns. You check again. And on and on it goes. If your spouse knows about your checking, he or she is frequently reminded of how you don’t trust him or her. The price of you continually getting reassurance is more distance in your relationship.
Jealousy makes our partners feel controlled
The behaviors connected with jealousy actually make our partners have to be careful around us. Even when they are not with us, they have to think about the amount of time they are spending somewhere, and how they will have to address questions about where they were, what they were doing, who else was there, and whether they enjoyed themselves or not.
The wrong answer to any of these questions can make life more difficult because of the need to reassure their partner. The partner of a jealous person may have to send regular texts and have to say “I love you” every day.
It becomes harder and harder to relax around the jealous partner. This leads to avoidance and distancing–both of which decrease feelings of love.
The cure for jealousy
Since jealousy is a result of internal fears and is not a result of what a partner does, the solution has nothing to do with boundaries or talking with one’s partner. Getting promises or using boundaries are still attempts to get control and reassurance and do not put a permanent end to feelings of jealousy.
The solution is to overcome the internal fears. Then, no matter what your partner does, you will not feel jealous. As a result, you will behave in a more desirable way with your partner. You will have a better and longer lasting relationship. Your partner will be less likely to find another person more desirable than you.
The more secure and desirable you are, the less likely you are to lose your partner.
There are different approaches for overcoming fears. One approach is to receive psychotherapy to try to understand the basis of your fears. Another approach is the one that I use as a relationship coach. It is to learn and use skills.
Having success is the best way to overcome feelings of inadequacy. For that, you need to learn and use skills that lead to success.
My recommended approach for you, if you are a jealous person, is to first use a skills approach. If you find that you cannot learn or do the skills due to other psychological issues, then you will need to switch to a therapy approach.
The skills approach to overcoming jealousy
You will need to learn and use skills to overcome these four fears:
- inability to cope with loss
I want to make sure you understand that you will not be learning skills that prevent abandonment or rejection. Rather you will learn skills that take the fear out of these things. For example, I would not like it if my spouse abandoned me, however I do not fear it.
Not liking something and fearing something are two very different things. We can take steps to help safeguard us against things we don’t like. That is appropriate. I treat my wife well and help her to feel loved. That helps to prevent abandonment and it creates a better relationship.
If I feared losing her however, it would take the joy out of our relationship. I would be more alert to danger and more reactive. I would be focused on protecting myself rather than loving my wife.
The most desirable way to be is to love your partner, but not need your partner. This will result in your creating the right conditions for your partner to love and commit to you.
Learning skills to deal with fears
Skills for dealing with fears involve two things:
- Learning how to prevent the feared thing from happening, and
- Learning how to cope with the feared event, if it happens anyhow.
For example, where I live in Georgia, there are several kinds of poisonous snakes. I like to work outdoors and part of my property is wooded. No amount of reassurance from my neighbors will prevent me from being bitten by a poisonous snake, though it might make me feel better. I could avoid working outside, but just like avoiding relationships, that would take a lot of joy out of my life.
Instead, I can learn snake habits and how to avoid being bitten. For example, when stepping over logs, I step onto the log, then step off away from the log. When moving wood, I use a tool rather my hands. I don’t put my hand into holes.
I also know the steps to take if I do get bitten by a snake, poisonous or not. Because I learned such things, I have enjoyed many years of hiking, backpacking, and working outdoors.
For some people, being rejected by someone is just as scary as being bitten by a poisonous snake. They often avoid meeting people and having relationships. If they do meet someone they like, they may try to get commitment as soon as possible and then live in fear of losing the relationship. This is the jealous person. Such a person needs to learn skills, just as I did.
The cure for feeling inadequate is to become adequate
Become better at the things you do everyday. Your goal should be to get to the point where you can look at what you did and say, good job to yourself. Many times people with low self-esteem actually are not good at doing things. Other times they are good at doing things, but have a distorted view of reality.
If your problem is that you just are not so good at doing things, then learn to do better.
Start with what you already do. Here are some examples:
- Learn how to choose and care for your clothing and car.
- Learn how to clean and organize your home.
- Learn how to be a better parent.
- Learn how to take care of your pet like a pro.
- Take your hobby to the next level.
- Learn how to be more valuable to others in your job.
- Learn how to introduce yourself, make small talk, and develop friendships.
- Learn how to accentuate your physical characteristics.
- Learn how to use your voice in an attractive way.
- Learn how to be a good sexual partner.
- Learn how to handle conflict. And so on.
The more you learn and the better you become at these skills or others, the more adequate you will feel.
If your problem is that you do things well, but still feel inadequate, then you will need psychological help to work on your distorted view of reality.
The cure for a fear of abandonment is learning how to foster desire and friendships
People with no other close relationships than what they have with their partner are going to have more realistic fears of abandonment. If they lose their partner, then they will have no close relationships until they make another one.
It is important to have at least one other close relationship other than your partner. Learning how to make and keep such relationships is just another set of skills. Having a close relationship with God is excellent, since God will be with you all the time. While we are saved when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, having a relationship with God takes work, just as all relationships do. We need to spend time talking to Him and listening to Him. We need to include Him in our activities and relationships and to worship Him.
Whether you have a relationship with God or not, you still need to have friends or family members that you are close to. The only thing you will not get from other people that you get from your spouse is sexual intimacy. However, if you are good at making and keeping close relationships, you will not be long without sexual intimacy if you do lose your spouse.
You should never desire to lose your spouse, but you also shouldn’t fear losing your spouse or being alone. Having good relationships, a good relationship with God, and people skills will help you to be a great spouse, keep your marriage, and make you less reactive to what your spouse does, since you won’t fear losing your spouse.
The cure for the fear of rejection is learning the causes of rejection, using good social skills, and having other relationships
I just talked about the importance of other close relationships and how to have them. That will go far in overcoming fears of rejection. I help many people to have these skills in my coaching packages.
It will also help if you memorize the things that cause rejection and learn to do their opposites. Here are six things that people do that cause rejection:
- Not consistently behaving in a relaxed way,
- not being consistently friendly,
- being perceived as having a different agenda,
- trying to give people what they don’t want,
- expressing emotions that are more intense than the other person feels for them, and
- giving people more than they want
If you get resistance or rejection, then you are doing one or more of these things. You can learn how to have relationships and not be rejected.
But, if you still get rejected, you can have the people skills to continue to create new and better relationships.
If you can do a good job being desirable, using good connection skills, and having good boundaries, your spouse is unlikely to cheat on you. And, if your spouse did cheat on you, he or she would be hard-pressed to find someone better than you. Your spouse would end up being the loser if he or she cheated on you.
The jealous, controlling, and undesirable spouse gives his or her partner an incentive to cheat. The secure and loving spouse gives his or her partner an incentive not to cheat.
Dealing with the fear of not being able to cope with loss
None of us one wants to lose someone or something important to us. That would make us very sad. So we take steps to protect our relationships and our stuff. If we had no fear of loss, then we wouldn’t do that. An optimal level of fear helps us to take reasonable precautions. A debilitating level of fear makes us do unreasonable things and takes away the joy that we could have in the relationship or ownership of something important.
The more losses you have had in your life, the more realistically you can predict your response to loss. I have lost many people in my lifetime, some of whom were very close when I lost them. There was an initial shock, then a period of profound sadness, then a long period of increasing acceptance and letting go, followed by moving on and a return of happiness.
Your reactions to loss may differ from mine. They may include anger or denial, for example. But, how you have responded to loss in the past is a good predictor of how you would respond in the future. We don’t need to fear any process that leads to restoration, even if it is difficult along the way.
People who have never experienced such a a loss will have the most difficulty the first time they experience it. This is part of the learning curve of being human. If you have not made it all the way through the grieving process from an important loss that happened more than a year ago, then work with a therapist to get all the way through to moving on.
Overcoming jealousy happens by overcoming four key fears. These fears have both skills components and psychological components. Some people are able to make enough changes in their behavior by working through my book on overcoming neediness.
If you would like more help than that to learn skills to be more desirable by your spouse, I would be happy to work with you. If you are single, I will also work with you to become secure and desirable so that you can find and maintain a close relationship.