We all know the angry, gnawing feelings that accompany jealousy. Many of us have felt them in our relationships - both romantic and platonic - or even felt them vicariously, while watching Love Island.
Jealousy can be a huge source of unhappiness and while it’s helpful to know that feeling jealous is totally normal, it doesn’t answer the question of how to not be jealous in the first place.
Spoiler alert: It can’t be done. Sorry! We don’t get to simply ditch certain feelings because they make us feel shitty, as convenient as that would be. Emotions—good and bad—are part of who we are.
No therapist on the planet can tell you how to stop being jealous altogether, but there are definitely things you can do to calm jealous feelings and reflect on what’s really going on in your relationship.
Why do we get jealous in the first place?
Jealousy is often born from the fear of losing something or someone. Even if rationally we don’t think our partner is going to leave us, certain situations - such as not getting enough of their attention, or seeing them spend time with other people - can ignite our fear of abandonment. This can come out as anger, sadness, resentment, rage, shame, or disgust.
'I like to describe jealousy as the cluster of spicy emotions that we can experience when we feel insecure,' says sex and relationship educator Sam Cat. 'How you emotionally process jealousy is very different, based on the situation and the individual.'
A previous bad experience, such as being cheated on, is likely to make us feel more insecure which can lead to jealousy. The good news, says Sam, is that once we understand this, we can work on 'taking the heat out of those experiences.'
While jealousy can make us feel like trash, it needn’t be a source of shame. The aim, says Sam, is to get to a point where we can simply say to our partners 'I’m feeling jealous right now,' in the same way we might say 'I’m stressed' or 'I’m disappointed'. Once we start to see jealousy as an emotional response, rather than a character flaw, we can start to find healthy ways to process it.
Is jealousy always a bad thing?
It’s not so much jealousy that wreaks havoc, as the way we behave when we’re jealous, says Sam. Jealousy can be useful in helping us understand our emotional needs, work on our insecurities, and flag up when something isn’t right in our relationship. It becomes toxic if we use it to justify vengeful behaviour or exert control over our partner.
'Like any other emotion, jealousy is not morally good or bad, it boils down to what you do with it,' says Sam. 'If you're able to calm yourself and reflect on the causes of your jealousy, and then have conversations, either with yourself or with your partner, it can be super productive. But if you use it to act abusively then we have to argue that jealousy is bad.'
It’s normal and healthy to feel a pang when your partner tells you they ran into their ex. Making snide, or passive-aggressive comments about it for weeks afterwards is potentially going to lead to problems. 'Jealousy itself is not the destructive force, it’s often our inability to communicate through jealous moments that negatively impact the relationship,' Sam says.
How to handle being jealous
We need to shift the focus from trying to prevent jealousy to figuring out how to be okay with feeling jealous, says Sam. The first step?
'Let the emotions pass before addressing the issue. I think a lot of folks pop off without ever taking a second to calm down,' they say. 'I do a lot of journaling when I’m jealous. I write out everything I feel is going on. Once I'm back in emotional equilibrium, I'm able to read back and spot the things that are blatantly untrue. And once that’s out of the way, I can look at the things that still do ring true.'
An example might be writing down that your partner is too busy to hang out because they don’t care about you. While this assumption might not be grounded in reality, what might be true is that you’re not getting as much of their time as you’d like. And this is a useful thing to realise.
2. Write it out
Sam also recommends gratitude journaling. When insecurities flare up, try writing down everything that is good about your relationship. This can help you see that the problem isn’t the entire relationship but just one element of it, such as how you schedule your time together.
3. Address the issue
Once you’ve calmed down, Sam recommends addressing it neutrally. 'Say, "I know that you're not doing anything wrong by hanging out with this person, but it's making me feel jealous." ' You then have to express your needs. It might be you’re just looking for reassurance, or you might realise you’re jealous because it’s been a while since you hung out. Or you may realise you’re hazy on the details about who the person is and it’s making you anxious.
Be prepared to listen to your partner too. Sam coaches couples to use the BAES framework where they discuss boundaries, agreements, expectations, and work out what they each want and what they can do for each other.
Ultimately, they say, you are in this together. 'Your partner is not your enemy! You guys are on the same team. It is not necessarily your partner's fault for causing the jealousy, but you can manage jealousy together in a really compassionate and empathetic way.'
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