You CAN Control Your Jealousy...
Remember that jealousy occurs in all kinds of situations, not just in romantic relationships.
Jealousy is a reaction to feeling threatened with the potential loss of something that is valuable to us: the love or loyalty of a friend, lover, or family member, the quality of a relationship, time, sexual access, a job, possessions, wealth, our status or position in our family or community, or our health and abilities.
My experience has led me to develop this model for evaluating jealousy. For jealousy to exist, usually all four of these conditions need to be present:
1.) You want something very badly that you don’t have, a valuable resource such as:
A job, money, status, a relationship.
You want time, attention, affection, love, loyalty, priority, or sexual attention from a particular person in your life (spouse, lover, friend, etc.)
You already have that resource that you desire (any of the above) but you fear losing it to someone else.
2.) Another person wants that same resource, such as the same job, the same partner, love of a parent, sex with your partner, a business opportunity, etc.
3.) You believe yourself to be in direct competition with that other person to get what you want, and you believe there is a scarcity of this resource and that there is not enough for both of you to get what you want.
4.) You believe that if push comes to shove, you will lose this contest and your competitor will win out. In other words, you will be compared to your rival, and you will be found inadequate, and they will be seen as superior and/or more desirable, and they will walk away with the prize, whatever that is.
A good exercise to try when you are feeling jealous is to go through these four conditions and ask yourself if all four are met.
If less than all four are true, your jealousy is unfounded and you can take steps to get it under control.
Say you see someone flirting with your partner at a party, and you suddenly feel jealous.
If you look at the first condition listed above, you will see that this condition is met, because you do in fact already possess the precious resource (you are in a committed relationship which is valuable to you), and you fear losing it to someone else (the person flirting with your partner).
If you look at the second condition, you cannot say with any certainty that it is true, as you do not know whether this other person wants what you have.
You can’t immediately know their motives for flirting with your partner: they may be just flirting for fun, or to manipulate their own partner, or to impress someone else, or to validate their self-esteem, or because they think your partner can help them get a job or be useful in some other way.
Looking at the third condition, you cannot know if that is true, for two reasons:
1.) You do not know if this person intends to try to get involved with your partner, nor whether your partner is even the least bit interested in this person or if they are just being polite or just enjoying getting some attention.
2.) You have not established that there is a shortage of this resource, as it is possible that if your partner does get involved with this person, there may still be plenty of love and time and attention for you, and you may not experience deprivation.
If you look at the fourth condition, you will see that this is also not objectively true, for three reasons.
First of all, you don’t know if you are in any kind of competition with this other person or being compared to them. Even if your partner does get involved with them, they may receive very different things from that relationship than they enjoy in your relationship, so there would be no reason to compare the two.
Secondly, you have no reason to believe that if you are compared, that you will be somehow found wanting. Look carefully at your own insecurities to see why you feel this other person would be seen by your partner as more desirable and why you fear they will abandon you for them. This will give you strong clues about what makes you most jealous.
Thirdly, there is no reason to believe that your partner will choose this person over you. This is your own insecurity fearing that your partner will abandon you for anyone who shows a little interest in them.
Often you can see that one or more of these conditions are not met, and as a result you can allow your jealousy to subside naturally as it is not founded in a real threat to the stability or your relationship but rather on irrational fears.
What if you feel jealous and on going through these four conditions you discover that all four are met?
For example, Trish and Richard are a married couple, and Trish has started emailing John, an old boyfriend who lives in another state, and texting and phoning him frequently.
Richard discovered this when Trish accidentally left her laptop open with Jack's rather romantic email on the screen, and has become extremely jealous and suspicious.
Trish has been distant and seems to spend a lot of time on the computer and phone, and is giving Richard less time and attention.
She frequently is “too tired” for sex with Richard, which is a big change from their usually robust sexual relationship, and has started to complain the she and Richard “just don’t have chemistry anymore.”
Trish has admitted to Richard that Jack wants her to fly out and visit him, that he is recently divorced and wants her to leave Richard and get back together with him.
As you can see, this situation meets all four conditions for jealousy and any reasonable person would feel very threatened because their relationship is in grave danger.
Condition one is met: Richard has a relationship that he values very much, and fears losing Trish to Jack.
Condition two is met: Jack also wants what Richard has, and is pressuring Trish to leave him.
Condition three is me: Because Jack wants Trish to leave her husband, he and Richard cannot both get what they want.
Condition four is met: Trish is giving every sign that she is comparing Richard to Jack and that she sees Richard as inadequate, and that in a direct competition; Richard is in danger of losing Trish to Jack.
In this situation, jealousy is completely rational and is necessary for the survival of the relationship. If they are committed to their relationship and willing to work on it, they may be able to resolve whatever problems led Trish to become so heavily invested in an outside relationship that she would consider leaving her husband.
Sometimes, it is too late and the partner has already emotionally abandoned the primary relationship, and has decided to pursue the new relationship at the expense of the marriage.
If you find your jealousy is rational and reflects a real threat to your relationship, it’s time to seek couples’ counseling or some form of support to rebuild your level of trust and intimacy. Express your feelings as calmly and clearly as you can to your partner and don’t allow them to trivialize or discount your fears.
A counselor or therapist can help you and your partner see the situation as objectively as possible and identify what steps are necessary to get back on track.
Check out Kathy's new book: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships