Jealousy is a normal human emotion and in small doses, it can even be healthy for a relationship. But when it’s not addressed, jealousy can quickly become unhealthy and cause a rift between you and your partner.
A little bit of jealousy can be healthy for romantic relationships. Small amounts of jealousy can remind couples not to take each other for granted. It can also motivate partners to make a conscious effort to make one another feel valued, desired, and appreciated.
Research has found that jealousy, when manageable, heightens our emotional state and can even make love feel stronger, and sex more passionate.
“However, excessive or intense jealousy can be distressing — for both parties — and it can destroy the relationship,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired. “As natural an emotion as it is, it can be stressful living with a jealous partner.”
The “green-eyed monster” can take many forms, she explains. “It might be that your partner is envious of your career success or the time that you spend with colleagues and friends.”
But for couples, Dr. Gabb says the most common form of jealousy is “romantic jealousy”, where one or both partners perceives a threat — real or imagined — to the relationship.
“Romantic jealousy stems from lack of trust, something that breeds insecurity and which can ultimately lead to controlling behavior,” she says.
“If you’re ever feeling uncomfortable or controlled by your partner, it’s worth seeking professional help and/or assessing the relationship. But if things aren’t at this point, there are ways to deal with a jealous partner.”
Jealousy won’t go away with wishful thinking alone, though, so you and your partner will have to work together to manage it. Below, Dr. Gabb shares five expert tips on managing jealousy in a relationship.
We all have emotional baggage, so it’s important to talk to your partner and understand why they feel the way they do in the first place. Maybe they were cheated on in a past relationship, or they’re self-conscious about their looks.
“The aim is to try to understand the root causes of their jealousy, such as past experiences or low self-esteem, and how these play out in the relationship,” says Dr. Gabb. “Listening is key here, as is validating their point of view. Don’t try and win the argument or try and fix the issue.”
Hearing your partner’s fears will shed light on their behavior and help you learn something new about them, ultimately burning you closer.
Honesty is the best policy, as the saying goes. If you’ve done nothing to make your partner distrust you, there’s no reason to keep secrets. This will stop your partner from filling in the blanks by themselves and overthinking things.
“Transparency will help both of you to feel more secure,” explains Dr. Gabb. “It will enable a jealous partner to feel reassured that nothing’s being concealed from them and help both of you to understand where their jealous feelings come from.”
Responding to your partner’s jealousy by saying “You should trust me” or “I did nothing wrong” won’t do much to solve the issue, says Dr. Gabb.
“Getting defensive will only create heat and fuel your partner’s insecurities,” she explains. “Instead, try to talk to your partner calmly and problem-solve the situation together. Talk through behaviors that are hurtful to you and damaging to the relationship, and agree on how to redress detrimental patterns.”
It can be helpful to also discuss and set boundaries. Boundaries can help you navigate your partner’s jealousy in a way that is supportive, but that doesn’t affect your mental health or sense of privacy.
Your partner’s feelings may seem irrational to you, but that’s not a reason to invalidate them. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable with your partner about jealous feelings, so you should try and be as supportive as possible.
“Owning jealousy can be painful and make the jealous partner feel ashamed or embarrassed,” explains Dr. Gabb.
“Take it steady and remember to hold on to the positives and why you’re with each other. Be attentive to your partner’s feelings, while also expressing how their jealousy is making you feel. Sharing positive endorsements will enable both of you to pivot feelings of jealousy into affirming sentiments that strengthen the couple's bond.”
Feeling unwanted or rejected can trigger feelings of jealousy, so try giving your partner the attention they crave. A simple show of love like planning a date night, telling them you love them, or being more affectionate is often all it takes.
Touch can help to reduce romantic jealousy when one of the partners is anxiously attached, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. “So when talking about the issue of jealousy, try reaching out,” says Dr. Gabb.
“Holding your partner emotionally and physically while you address feelings of jealousy can be reassuring,” she adds. “But don’t smother the conversation with hugs or stop any tears that flow. Let emotions come out.”