We’ve all experienced jealousy at some point in our lives, whether in a friendship, amongst siblings, or with a romantic partner. Jealousy is a universal emotion that can pop up in even the healthiest relationships and is usually related to fears of loss, abandonment, betrayal; and feelings grief, anger, and humiliation.
Jealousy is uncomfortable but jealousy alone doesn’t usually harm a relationship; harm can be done to a relationship when we act on those feelings maladaptively.. Here at CTWPS, when jealousy interferes, we help women develop greater understanding of why they are responding in maladaptive ways, and assist them in developing more adaptive ways of interacting with loved ones. A book titled The Jealousy Cure (2018), by clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Leahy, outlines common - though ineffective - behaviors that individuals often engage in to cope with their jealous thoughts and feelings. In romantic relationships, some of these damaging behaviors may include:
Snooping on our partner: We may respond to feelings of jealousy by checking up on our partner in various ways, such as by searching their social media to see who they are interacting with or surreptitiously scouring their phone for suspicious texts or photos. Such behavior is problematic because in our hunt for clues of betrayal, we may misinterpret neutral information (e.g. a benign text with a colleague) as a threat. Not only is such behavior likely to exacerbate feelings of anxiety and jealousy, but it may violate the trust of our partners, who will likely feel betrayed by the invasion of their privacy.
Interrogating or accusing our partner: When we are experiencing jealousy we may feel the urge to interrogate our partner (e.g. by asking them detailed questions about where they have been and with whom) or accuse them of betrayal. Such accusations and interrogations are unlikely to provide us with the reassurance and certainty we desire, and instead are more likely to put our partners on the defensive. Further, communicating in this way will almost certainly limit the possibility of having an open, productive conversation about our feelings.
Trying to control our partner: We may respond to jealousy by attempting to exert control over our partner, such as by isolating them from friends and family, insisting that we be by their side at all social events, or requiring them to text us constantly when we’re apart. Rather than increasing trust in our partner, these behaviors may serve to reinforce maladaptive assumptions about relationships, such as “if I don’t go to every social event with my partner, then he will cheat on me.” Such behaviors may also negatively impact relationships by prohibiting us from maintaining a healthy amount of independence from our partners.
Withdrawing from our partner: Sometimes we may respond to feelings of jealousy by withdrawing from our partner, such as by not answering their calls, blocking them on social media, or giving them the “silent treatment.” If our partner asks us if there is anything wrong we may “stonewall” them by denying that anything is bothering us, thereby closing off communication. Oftentimes we rationalize these behaviors by believing that our partner deserves to experience the same emotional pain and worry we are experiencing. However, retreating from our partner in this way will likely cause us to feel isolated and may further feed our jealousy. Instead, a relationship is more likely to benefit from an honest conversation about thoughts and feelings.
While all of the previously described behavioral responses may seem like a good idea in the moment, ultimately, they are likely to aggravate relationship issues, and exacerbate jealousy. Here at CTWPS we acknowledge that jealousy is an uncomfortable and distressing emotion, but also recognize that there are productive and unproductive choices we can make in how we respond to our jealousy. By addressing the emotional, behavioral and cognitive components of jealousy, we help women reduce ineffective behavioral responses and learn to cope with distressing feelings in healthier ways. If you feel that you or your relationships are being domintated by your jealousy, please reach out to us for support.
Stay tuned for Part II of this series in which we will address cognitive strategies for managing jealousy.