We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship . But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today’s topic: how to deal with jealousy after you've been cheated on.
Q: I ended a three year relationship about a year ago, after finding out that my boyfriend had cheated on me multiple times. I started dating again a few months ago, and got into a relationship that I very quickly ruined because I was so jealous and paranoid about being cheated on again. I’ve been seeing a new guy for a few weeks now. I know it’s still really early, but I’m feeling insanely jealous yet again. We haven’t even had “the talk” yet, but I’m doing crazy things like sneaking peeks at his phone. I feel like there could be something there between us, and I don’t want to ruin this relationship like I did with the last one. I feel so embarrassed because I never was a jealous person before. How do I get over these horrible feelings?
A: Thanks for sending in a question! First of all, I’m sorry that you were cheated on. Finding out that someone has cheated on you is a devastating experience, and it makes a lot of sense that you would be feeling protective of your heart. Jealousy is an incredibly common reaction for people who have experienced infidelity.
At the same time, the way you’re trying to control the situation with your new guy is bound to backfire on you at some point. If you want to prevent the angry green-eyed jealousy monster from ruining another relationship, here are seven important guidelines to follow.
1. Pinpoint Your Pain
We can get jealous about a lot of different things, and that jealousy can have unique meanings. At this point in your life, your jealousy is wrapped up in having been cheated on. At other times, you may feel jealous about money, social status, or looks. Jealousy usually gets triggered by deep-seated beliefs we have about ourselves, so it’s worth taking some time to get to know your jealousy.
What specific belief is coming up for you when you’re feeling jealous? Possible examples might be, “I’m not worthy of being loved,” “I’m too foolish to see the truth,” “everybody leaves me at some point or another,” or “I’m afraid of not being in control.” Once you understand those feelings, you can use things like therapy, journaling, meditation, or positive self-talk to address your negative beliefs and help you build stronger self-esteem.
2. Acknowledge Your Reaction
You have a really good reason for feeling jealous — someone actually did betray your trust! Of course you’re going to be on guard and wary. Give yourself some validation for what you’re going through. Tell yourself something like, “my heart was broken, and I’m going to be a little more sensitive for a while. I wasn’t a jealous person before this, so I know that what I’m going through is a reaction to the experience of being cheated on. I don’t want to let these feelings have power over me, but I understand why I have them.”
3. Name It In The Moment
One of the best defenses against jealousy is identifying it. If you feel the green-eyed monster starting to rear its ugly head, excuse yourself and go into another room. Take a few deep breaths, and tell yourself, “OK, I’m feeling jealous right now.” The simple act of naming your jealousy will instantly take away some of its power over you. You can also remind yourself of the particular negative beliefs that are getting triggered, like, “I’m feeling all those old feelings about not being ‘good enough’ right now.”
4. Allow The Feelings, But Not The Behaviors
You can’t prevent yourself from feeling jealous, but you can prevent yourself from acting out on that jealousy. As you’re talking yourself through a jealous experience, tell yourself, “it’s understandable that I’m feeling jealous. But I’m promising myself right now that I’m not going to act on my jealousy.”
Then, see if there’s anything you can do in that moment to prevent yourself from doing something you’ll later regret. You could call a friend and talk through your feelings with them. Or you could give yourself a few more minutes of privacy until the feelings subside. You could even try sitting on your hands to prevent yourself from picking up your guy’s phone. (Hey, whatever works.)
5. Remind Yourself Of The Consequences
Another good way to prevent yourself from acting on your jealousy is to think through the possible effects of your actions. You already lost one relationship because of your jealousy, and you obviously don’t want to lose this one. Remind yourself of that fact in the moment!
You don’t need to beat yourself up about your past actions, but simply say to yourself, “I’m working on developing a better reaction to jealousy. I don’t want to keep repeating my mistakes.” Ask yourself questions like, “how would I really feel about myself after snooping through my new guy’s messages?” or “what would it feel like if he caught me?” You can even try putting yourself in his shoes, and thinking about what it might be like to be dating someone who is so suspicious.
6. Try To Learn From Your Jealousy
Sometimes, jealousy is a sign that we need to take a step back and evaluate our current life choices. If you can’t get your jealousy under control, it might be a warning that you’re not yet ready to move on to a new relationship. You may need a little more time to process your grief and heal. I know you’re really excited about this new guy you’ve been dating, but try to allow yourself to at least consider whether or not the timing is right for you.
Another lesson that jealousy can teach us is the difference between fear and intuition. Many people who have been cheated on report that they somehow “knew” that something was going on behind their backs. Most of us ignore these intuitive “gut” feelings, even though they tend to be spot-on.
On the other hand, we tend to overindulge feelings like jealousy, even though jealousy is usually much more rooted in fear than in reality. I’m sure you’ve had lots of experiences of feeling jealous, only to find out that your paranoia was completely unwarranted. This could be a good opportunity for you to try to get a sense of what it’s like for you when you feel fear, versus what it’s like for you when you have an intuitive sense that something isn’t right. For example, fear might feel like a racing heart and sweaty palms, while intuition might feel like a solid weight in your stomach.
7. Accept The Unknowns
One of the hardest things about being cheated on is coming face-to-face with the fact that we’re so often powerless against being hurt. It really sucks to know that someone can cause you so much pain. The natural reaction is to try to prevent that pain from ever happening again. Your jealousy is working a million miles an hour to try to help you avoid another heartbreak.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of control over life! You’ll never be able to be 100 percent assured that someone won’t cheat on you. You’re never going to be able to fully protect yourself from getting your heart broken again. If you can accept that you’re not in control, you can take away a lot of your jealousy’s intensity.
And remember — time heals all (OK, most) wounds! You can get over this heartache and back to your normal jealousy-free self. It just might take some work.
Images: Magdalena O!/Flickr; Giphy