Just as there is a difference between feeling angry and acting in a hostile way, there is a difference between feeling jealous and acting on your jealousy. It’s important to realize that your relationship is more likely to be jeopardized by your jealous behavior—such as continual accusations, reassurance-seeking, pouting, and acting-out. Stop and say to yourself, “I know that I am feeling jealous, but I don’t have to act on it.”
Notice that it is a feeling inside you. But you have a choice of whether you act on it. What choice will be in your interest?
Accept and observe your jealous thoughts and feelings
When you notice that you are feeling jealous, take a moment, breathe slowly, and observe your thoughts and feelings. Recognize that jealous thoughts are not the same thing as a REALITY. You may think that your partner is interested in someone else, but that doesn’t mean that he really is. Thinking and reality are different.
You don’t have to obey your jealous feelings and thoughts.
When you notice that your feeling of anger and anxiety may increase while you stand back and observe these experiences. Accept that you can have an emotion—and allow it to be. You don’t have to “get rid of the feeling”. We have found that mindfully standing back and observing that a feeling is there can often lead to the feeling weakening on its own.
Recognize that uncertainty is part of every relationship
Like many worries, jealousy seeks certainty. “I want to know for sure that he isn’t interested in her”. Or, “I want to know for sure that we won’t break up”. Ironically, some people will even precipitate a crisis in order to get the certainty. “I’ll break off with her before she breaks off with me!”
But uncertainty is part of life and we have to learn how to accept it. Uncertainty is one of those limitations that we can’t really do anything about. You can never know for sure that your partner won’t reject you. But if you accuse, demand and punish, you might create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Examine your assumptions about relationships
Your jealousy may be fueled by unrealistic ideas about relationships. These may include beliefs that past relationships (that your partner had) are a threat to your relationship. Or you may believe that “My partner should never be attracted to anyone else”. You may also believe that your emotions (of jealousy and anxiety) are a “sign” that there is a problem. We call this “emotional reasoning”—and it is often a very bad way to make decisions.
Or you may have problematic beliefs about how to feel more secure. For example, you may believe that you can force your partner to love you—or force him or her to lose interest in someone else. You may believe that withdrawing and pouting will send a message to your partner—and lead him to try to get closer to you. But withdrawing may lead your partner to lose interest.
Sometimes your assumptions about relationships are affected by your childhood experiences or past intimate relationships. If your parents had a difficult divorce because your father left your mother for someone else, you may be more prone to believe that this may happen to you. Or you may have been betrayed in a recent relationship and you now think that your current relationship will be a replay of this.
You may also believe that you have little to offer—who would want to be with you? If your jealousy is based on this belief, then you might examine the evidence for and against this idea. For example, one woman thought she had little to offer. But when I asked her what she would want in an ideal partner—intelligence, warmth, emotional closeness, creativity, fun, lots of interests—she realized that she was describing herself! If she were so undesirable, then why would she see herself as an ideal partner?
Use effective relationship skills
You don’t have to rely on jealousy and jealous behavior to make your relationship more secure. You can use more effective behavior. This includes becoming more rewarding to each other— “catch your partner doing something positive”. Praise each other, plan positive experiences with each other, and try to refrain from criticism, sarcasm, labeling, and contempt. Learn how to share responsibility in solving problems—use “mutual problem solving skills”. Set up “pleasure days” with each other by developing a “menu” of positive and pleasurable behaviors you want from each other. For example, you can say, “Let’s set up a day this week that will be your pleasure day and a day that will be my pleasure day”. Make a list of pleasant and simple behaviors you want from each other: “I’d like a foot-rub, talk with me about my work, let’s cook a meal together, let’s go for a walk in the park”.
Jealousy seldom makes relationships more secure. Practicing effective relationship behaviors is often a much better alternative.
…Robert L. Leahy