What To Do When You Feel Like Your Relationship Jealousy Is Unmanageable
Learning how to deal with relationship jealousy is important for every couple, especially if one or both partners are prone to feeling worried about each other's commitment. You or your partner may not like to admit having a jealous streak, but at a certain point it can get out of hand. "When jealousy gets unmanageable, that's when it gets beyond the level of communication and into panic attack territory. You can't sleep, you can't work, you can't function in your life," Lindsey Chrisler, a love and dating coach based in New York City, tells Bustle.
It's natural to feel uncomfortable if you see someone flirting with your partner. But I know from personal experience that feeling jealousy over a long period of time in a relationship can start to feel like a trap. Even when you don't want to experience that awful feeling of jealousy, it can be hard to shake it off. Who's your partner texting? Is he really staying at work late to meet a project deadline? Why won't she answer my calls? These are all questions that are caused by relationship jealousy.
Where Does Jealousy Come From?
Relationship jealousy often stems from our own insecurities about whether or not we're good enough, good looking enough, smart enough and so on. Those insecurities tend to go back to attachment styles that were established when you were kid, which can affect your relationships later in life. For instance, fear of abandonment can develop if your primary caregiver at home was unreliable or often absent, Chrisler says.
On the other hand, jealousy can also be a cause of an unstable relationship that lacks in communication and trust. For instance, if you and your partner have decided to open your relationship but haven't clearly defined what's OK and what's not, jealousy is bound to rear its ugly head at some point. Different personality types can also be a predictor of jealousy, Chrisler says. Some people are more susceptible to harboring self-doubt or personal insecurities, which is more likely to give rise to jealousy in relationships. And then there are people like to be in control and make their partners jealous. Those situations are more toxic and it's important to recognize partners that are being manipulative.
When Jealousy Is A Good Thing
At the same time, a little bit of jealousy can actually be healthy for relationships (believe it or not). Ideally in a secure relationship, the right amount of jealousy can be a reminder that you care about each other and even add some sexual tension. "It's a very normal emotion that comes up in relationships because we're afraid we're going to lose something," Chrisler says. "In relationships, it makes people happy and think, 'Oh good, you care about not losing me.' It can actually show loyalty and love, and bring you closer."
"Everybody gets jealous, but how that gets escalated in your way of thinking and feeling is determined by how well you can manage your own state."
Of course, like most things in life, there needs to be a balance between the occasional sharp pang of jealousy and full-on obsession. "Everybody gets jealous, but how that gets escalated in your way of thinking and feeling is determined by how well you can manage your own state," Chrisler says. "The more insecure you are, the more you don't believe in yourself, the more you don't have a solid support system or other activities beyond this romantic relationship, and the more likely it is that the jealousy is going to get out of control."
Here are seven steps to dealing with jealousy that's become too much to manage:
1. Let Off Extra Steam
Being jealous isn't just an emotion. When you experience jealousy, your body also experiences it through intense physical changes like a higher heart rate and tension in your belly. The more jealousy you have, the greater of an impact it will have on the rest of your mind and body, Chrisler says. Having something else to take your mind off of whatever is causing your jealousy can be helpful and expend that extra energy. Meditation can help significantly, although if you're feeling panicky and totally distracted by, say, a text to your partner from someone you've never heard of, it might be a challenge to remain zen.
"Jealousy is a sensation and a really uncomfortable experience in your body. Going for a run, going to dance class, or doing something else with your body will change that sensation and help you pop out of the jealousy and get you back to your normal state," Chrisler says.
2. Mentally Prepare For A Tough Talk
You may be uncomfortable with confrontation, but the longer you wait to talk things out, the more likely it is for the jealousy to spiral out of control, according to Chrisler. Then, what started out as a mildly uncomfortable discussion can lead to a big blowout, which is much harder to bounce back from. It's much more comfortable and easier to talk about it upfront before things escalate. Besides, if you truly feel like you've got a good reason to be jealous, you'll probably have a few burning questions for your partner. Like Chrisler says: "You can't suffer in silence. You're going to blow up."
So take your time to calm down, but then start thinking about how exactly you'll communicate with your partner about what's bothering you — sooner rather than later. Talk to a trusted family member or close friend about your feelings.
3. When You're Ready, Open Up To Your Partner
It's time to address the elephant in the room. "Be willing to be vulnerable and say what you need to feel secure," Chrisler says. "If they're not available for that, you need to decide if this is ultimately going to work for you or not."
If you're in an open relationship, you should both be willing to talk about your boundaries, your attraction to other people, and your conflicted feelings as they stand now. If the talk is about a text or other correspondence with someone you don't know, give your partner the benefit of the doubt and say something like, "Hey, I know this might sound ridiculous but I got so jealous when I saw this text. Can you tell me what that was?" Be honest and avoid the blame game.
4. Learn To Meditate
This could turn into part of a healing journey and opportunity for you to learn how to take care of yourself. "But," you might be wondering, "Isn't this supposed to be about my relationship, not me?" Sometimes you have to metaphorically step outside of your relationship and work on your own personal development, your family system, and other areas in your life.
5. Refrain From Snooping
As tempting as it might be, prying into your partner's privacy without their permission is a "slippery slope" that will eventually do more harm than good, Chrisler says. If you find yourself going through your partner's emails and text messages or stalking all social media accounts, that's a yuge red flag that something is bothering you about the relationship. Whether it's a personal insecurity or a tangible, external problem, you should probably take action to make the relationship more secure as soon as possible.
6. Control Your Substance Intake
This seems obvious, but it's still worth noting. Don't pick a fight, but especially don't pick a fight after you've been drinking. Drugs and alcohol can heighten all of your emotions even more than they already are, which means your jealousy is more likely to spiral out of control, Chrisler says.
7. Nurture Other Areas In Your Life
When we're invested in our relationships, it's easy to neglect the other people and activities that bring us happiness. (Again, though, this is very common so don't beat yourself up over it.) Give some TLC to other parts of your life that should be just as fulfilling as your significant other.
"You still have friends you love, a job you like, a hobby that makes you feel good that's independent from your romantic relationship," Chrisler says. A lot of jealousy is simply due to natural, human insecurities and a lack of confidence that can be boosted by success in other areas like your career. Besides, it's unrealistic to think your partner is responsible for making sure you never feel bad again; over time, you'll become more resilient with an increased self-awareness.
Whatever you do, don't avoid feelings of jealousy in your relationship. It's there. It's present. If it's handled in a healthy and gentle way, then you both will learn something and eventually strengthen your relationship in the end.