How to keep your cool when the Green Monster appears
A friend of mine just called me and his relationship is falling apart. As his love life crumbles beneath his feet, his relationship in shambles keeps swirling around the same problem: jealousy. Almost a year into his newfound love, he's realized the person he fell in love with is deeply jealous. The result is a toxic relationship. They constantly fight and he's now finding himself out of patience.
Most of us who've been in a relationship have been here. We've either been in his shoes or hers.
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who specializes in love and relationships, once said, "Nobody gets out of love alive. You turn into a menace or a pest when rejected." We all have a nasty side and jealous streaks are no different. They're perceptions that we're not good enough, that we've been rejected, or that we're inferior. That's when people turn nasty, according to Fisher.
If you're trying to get your jealousy under control, the best place to start is by learning about jealousy in general and coming to understand it. It's best to know what you're looking for beforehand so you can ask yourself why you're feeling what you're feeling when jealousy problems arise. And that brings us to the first step.
Step 1. Recognize You Have a Problem
You can't grow in relationships until you thoughtfully assess where you have room to improve. There's nothing wrong with having room for improvement in certain areas of our lives. Whether you're single or already in a relationship, this step applies and it must come first before anything else. You must admit to yourself and others that you have a problem that you'd like to get under control.
This may seem terrifying at first. But if you think about it, the people who love you and care about you aren't going to suddenly leave you because you decided to get honest with them (and yourself).
Either you have a problem with jealousy and everyone knows it (but nobody talks about it) and they still love you anyway, or you don't have a problem and they'll all let you know, saying, "Hey, you're crazy. You don't have an issue with jealousy."
But don't let your friends and family have a final say. You have to be your own judge about your own jealousy. Isolate specific instances, feelings that you get when you feel jealous. Do you feel the compulsive need to check on your partner when they're out or at work? Do you want to limit their friendships? Do you feel inclined to check their social accounts and cell phone? Do you feel deeply insecure when they smile at others?
Whatever the symptoms of your jealousy, isolate those so you can begin to work on them.
Step 2. Understand Your Type of Jealousy
Psychologist Seth Meyers Psy.D. tells us to observe jealous behavior when we see it and try to discern which type of behavior it is, is it an isolated instance or part of a larger pathological pattern of behavior? Stop and use some mindfulness to analyze what you're feeling. There are a few different ways that jealousy presents itself.
- Sense of inadequacy
- Entitlement, perceived or real
- Obsessive, racing, or anxious thoughts
A sense of inadequacy is when you feel like you aren't good enough for people to love you. This usually stems from deeper psychological issues. The good news is, it's usually untrue. Usually, we just feel inadequate and everyone around us thinks we're great. It's an error in how we see our own self-worth. People with a sense of inadequacy feel inadequate all the time, regardless of whether or not a threat is present. If you feel inadequate in your love life, relax, it can be worked through with a bit of dedication and effort.
A sense of insecurity is different. Most people say they feel "insecure" when they really mean they feel inadequate. Insecurity is when we sense an external threat to our relationship. The threat can be real or imagined. Sometimes, a person's partner really is cheating on them and the relationship is totally toxic, to begin with. Other times, there's no foul play at work, but the person incorrectly thinks that someone is a threat who isn't. The cute younger friend or the handsome stud in the khakis at work, neither of which our partners are sleeping with, but we always wonder if they secretly could be. If you feel insecure, this can also be easily worked through, especially if you open up to your partner honestly about it.
Try something like, "Hey, I'm really having these nagging thoughts and I can't get them to go away. I want you to know I don't hold you accountable and I know it's me, but maybe you could help me work through them. Would you mind?" Most sane partners will be glad to help out as long as you emphasize that you aren't holding them responsible for your thoughts.
Possessiveness and entitlement are much more toxic forms of jealousy. And those usually require serious professional help. These two come from deeply held beliefs that to be in a relationship means to own the other person, something that's all too unhealthy. This is the destroyer of loving relationships.
Step 3: Become Better
This last step is where you actually begin to take action. First, you want to make a commitment to better yourself no matter what. No excuses. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, "I will beat this. I will not let my jealousy beat me. I am committed. I owe this to myself." Once that's done, you can start taking action.
A lot of inadequacy and insecurity comes from our feelings of not being good enough. If this comes from a pathological condition, like untreated anxiety, it's best to see a professional, like a therapist or psychiatrist, and commit to getting that part of your life handled.
In addition to this, there are things you can do on your own to feel better about yourself. Let's face it, a lot of our time is spent doing things that aren't improving our lives. If you're anything like me, you probably spend more time on social media than you'd like to admit. Start doing the things that you've been putting off and start building that self-esteem! Start going to the gym. Start dressing a bit nicer. Become someone you're a little bit more proud of when you see yourself in the mirror. Ask for help if you need it. There's no shame in saying, "Hey, I'm trying to get my fashion sense together and you seem to have a pretty good sense of style, would you mind giving me a few pointers?" There are professionals in every field whose jobs it is to literally help you with this. Don't be afraid to ask a barber what the coolest cut is or what would look good with your face.
And then, you must start overcoming the feelings of jealousy on your own by taking action in your personal relationships. Once you've built up your self-esteem a bit, it gets easier. When you run into a situation that would normally trigger your jealousy, tell yourself what's happening. Stop and analyze what you feel and talk yourself out of it internally. And when you're jealous of another person, say your partner's coworker, whenever your partner brings them up, try giving positive feedback verbally.
I know, your gut instinct might tell you to scream and yell about how life is unfair and this person is spending too much time with your lover. I get it. But trust me here, you want to start verbally reinforcing the very thing you're afraid of. This is going to hurt your ego for a bit but it gets better.
If your partner is going out with a friend who makes you seethe with jealousy, instead of quietly sulking and asking questions like, "You'll be back in an hour, right? RIGHT!?" try to reinforce them with positive statements like, "Oh, I hope you have a good time."
Raj Raghunathan Ph.D., an associate editor at the Journal of Consumer Psychology, says in Psychology today:
The main thing is to act in a way that you would have acted had you not felt jealous, but instead, had felt happy and proud. Findings show that we often infer our values, attitudes and opinions by observing our own behavior, which is why we feel happier when we force ourselves to smile or when we force ourselves to be altruistic even if we don't feel so. Likewise, we will infer that we are a more generous, giving and expansive person, a person capable of rising above petty competitiveness, when we force ourselves to congratulate others for their accomplishments even as we feel jealous.
This is brilliant. Most people who deal with jealousy feel uncomfortable in their own skin. That metaphor is spot-on, too, because, in a sense, we actually are. It's physically uncomfortable to be jealous. It's not a pleasant experience. And a lot of it stems from our own beliefs and perceptions about how we ourselves behave. When we act like we aren't a jealousy person, when we act like the kind of person we think we should be in life, we become more comfortable with ourselves and our place in the world.
Over time, if you do this enough, jealousy will subside and eventually you won't even feel it anymore. You'll have developed new habits, the habits of people who aren't jealous.