When faced with a jealous partner, the most effective response is empathy and good communication...
First and foremost, listen carefully to your partner’s words, non-verbal communication, and actions. Ask them if they are feeling more fear, sadness, or anger, and roughly the ratio of those three primary emotions. See if they can describe exactly what the feelings are, and the source of these feelings. Acknowledge that you have heard and understood what your partner is experiencing.
Even if you do not agree, you can understand that they are in pain and can see how they got there. Giving your partner that validation can go a long way to helping to reduce the jealousy and repair the intimacy that has been disrupted by this incident.
Don’t try to “fix it” for them by trying to make those feelings go away or challenging the rational basis for those feelings. Allow them to have their feelings!
See if you or your partner can identify what part you played in triggering the jealous response, and take responsibility for any of your own behaviors or attitudes that you could consider modifying. You are bound to feel defensive and your natural response will be to argue with your partner and justify your behavior.
Instead, apologize for any actual mistakes you have made, even if your partner’s response seems out of proportion to the situation. Ask your partner if they are willing to listen to your feelings about what happened. This step is important, as they may be feeling too wounded right now to hear how you experienced this, and you may have to agree to talk about your feelings later when they are feeling more emotionally resilient.
Think carefully before making any agreements about what to do differently in the future. Don’t agree to something just to appease your partner if you are going to resent it later. You will just create more distrust and jealousy in the future if you commit to something just because you are so distressed by your partner’s pain or anger.
When your partner is in the midst of a jealousy attack, they need compassion and reassurance that they are loved. Often their jealousy triggers a defensive response and a huge argument.
Jealousy is all about feelings and an argument is all about intellectual analysis. You and your partner will be working at cross-purposes and not actually communicating. If you find yourself going down this path, ask for a brief time-out. Then start over by trying to be present, hear your partner’s feelings, and make your best effort to understand their experience and give them love and acceptance.
And, remember, if you are the one feeling jealous, try this simple exercise to help reduce the stress and panic brought on by the green-eyed monster:
Ask yourself the following questions and write the answers down:
- “What exactly am I feeling?”
- “Where do these feelings come from?”
- "What is it that I am really afraid of?”
- “What do I need to make this situation safe for me?"
- “What can I do for myself right now, and what do I need to ask for from my partner, friends, and support system?”
- “What is the worst thing that could happen and how likely is that to happen?”
If you are feeling too incapacitated by a jealousy attack to go through this entire exercise, an abbreviated version can be useful.
Just take a few deep breaths and answer these three questions verbally or in writing, whichever you can manage at the moment:
“What am I feeling?”
“Where is the source of my pain?”
“What do I need?”
For every jealous feeling there is an emotion behind the jealousy that is much more significant than the jealousy itself.
Behind jealousy there is an unmet need, or a deep fear that our needs will not be met. Recognizing those fears and unmet needs is the key to unmasking jealousy and taking away its power.
This article was excerpted with permission from: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Advice on Open Relationships, by Kathy Labriola, published by Greenery Press, 2010.
Check out Kathy's new book: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships