Jealousy is a natural emotion and everyone will experience jealousy at some point. In many cases, jealousy can even be healthy for a relationship. It shows you or your partner value each other and want to protect your relationship from outside threats.
But issues can arise when jealousy becomes unhealthy and leads to feelings of panic, anxiety, or anger — none of which are healthy for a relationship. So how can you stop jealousy from becoming a problem?
Occasionally feeling jealous is common (and to be expected), in fact in small doses it can be good for a relationship. But when jealousy turns irrational it can cause problems between you and your partner. Constantly questioning or feeling suspicious about your partner’s interactions may lead to a more serious crossroads in the relationship.
Keep reading to learn the tools for how to handle jealousy in a relationship in a healthy way.
Unhealthy jealousy often stems from a fear of abandonment. A previous heartbreak, or your or your partner’s early experiences with trust and safety while growing up can both be the root cause of problematic jealousy.
If you have a core belief that you’re likely to be abandoned, or that the love you receive and give is not to be trusted, you’re more likely to experience unhealthy jealousy. Being insecure or having poor self-confidence can also affect how jealous you are in a relationship.
If you or your partner are prone in any way to unhealthy jealousy, it's important to recognize hot and cool states as a way of handling any feelings that might arise.
Hot states occur when we feel threatened. Cool states are felt when we feel secure and safe.
As with many relationship problems, you’ll know that it’s almost impossible to listen to each other when we’re in a hot state, ie angry. These hot states often fill our bodies with adrenaline and defensive patterns such as fight, flight, and freeze. Insecure feelings arise turning into blame, aggression, or withdrawal.
In an unhealthy jealousy hot state, we trick our minds to believe that in our partner’s eyes we are unloveable and that our partner must therefore be interested in someone else.
In cool, untriggered states you’re more relaxed and secure, ambivalent feelings are easily managed and result in a more friendly outcome.
Hot states can occur even in the most secure people, especially when self-esteem stressors trigger us — like missing out on a job promotion or hearing about someone else's success.
Seeing an attractive stranger talking to our partner at such a time will sometimes awaken further self-doubts about whether we are good enough, and these thoughts can turn into unhealthy jealousy thoughts and behaviors.
Rather than ruminating on your fears about losing each other, in the cool state remind yourself of how your relationship is actually ok and how you either feel loved or are working through your doubts to reconnect with those feelings in a lasting way.
Until you can find a cooler emotional state to share these fears with someone, they will start to control you.
Feelings of jealousy won’t just go away if you ignore them or push them aside, so the key is finding a way to deal with jealousy when it shows up. Below are three tips on how to handle jealousy in your relationship.
Identify your stressors. The first thing to do if you’re prone to jealousy is to take some time to identify your stressors around self-esteem. What sets you off? Are there any common triggers? Try to understand where these feelings of jealousy come from and what you can do to address them.
Take some time out. If you feel anxious or upset, take time out instead of acting on your feelings. It can take around three hours for your body to filter away any adrenaline, so give yourself some space to process your emotions.
Write down how you feel. Once you feel calmer try to write down one or two of these background worries. They may be around self-image or a feeling of inadequacy or something hurtful said by someone in the heat of the moment. Finally, write down reminders and affirmations about the loving actions or words your partner has shared with you in the past. about how you’re valued and loved for who you are.
After following these steps you might want to share some of these reflections with your partner. Remember that your partner is a human being, too, so they might have felt jealous at some point as well. Use this as an opportunity to have an open and honest conversation, and perhaps talk about getting additional support from a therapist if it’s needed.
Jealousy gets a bad rap but it isn’t inherently bad. Experiencing jealousy often means you’re coming from a place of protection and care about your partner. Jealousy becomes unhealthy when it’s irrational, obsessive, or overwhelming.
Sooner or later there will be a time or situation where you experience some jealousy, the important thing is to understand why you’re feeling jealous and to calmly communicate your feelings to your partner.