How to Deal With Jealousy in a Relationship

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Jealousy is a normal emotion, arising when someone feels insecure about their relationship (whether that relationship is with a romantic partner, a parent, a sibling, or a friend). Everyone experiences jealousy at some point in their lives. But problems can arise when jealousy moves from a healthy emotion to an unhealthy and irrational one.

Irrational and excessive jealousy can eventually destroy a relationship. Learn how to deal with jealousy and insecurities in a relationship so that you can overcome this emotion and strengthen your partnership.

What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat—real or imagined—to a valued relationship. The jealous partner fears that an outsider is trying to win the affections of their loved one. Along with jealousy, an insecure partner may also feel angry, contemptuous, anxious, and depressed, which is why jealousy can be dangerous.

A little jealousy can be reassuring in a relationship and may even be programmed into us. However, a lot of jealousy is overwhelming and scary, especially because it can lead to dangerous behaviors like stalking, digital dating violence, and physical abuse.

There’s no reason to believe that jealousy will improve without being addressed. Jealousy is not an emotion that can be banished with wishful thinking. It goes right to the core of the self and has deep roots, and it takes awareness and effort to overcome these feelings.

Normal vs. Unhealthy Jealousy

Occasional jealousy is natural, but when it becomes intense or irrational, it can seriously damage a relationship. Being able to distinguish between healthy jealousy and unhealthy jealousy is important to the success of your partnership.

Normal Jealousy

In relationships where feelings of jealousy are mild and occasional, it reminds couples not to take each other for granted. Jealousy also can motivate couples to appreciate one another and make a conscious effort to make sure their partner feels valued.

Jealousy also heightens emotions, making love feel stronger and sex more passionate. In small, manageable doses, jealousy can be a positive force in a relationship.

When a healthy relationship experiences jealousy, it comes from a place of protection. One person sees a potential threat to the relationship and expresses concern or jealousy. Together, the couple discusses the issue rationally and comes to an agreement on how to move forward. They are both committed to the relationship and are not insecure about who they are as individuals.

Unhealthy Jealousy

When jealousy is intense or irrational, the story is very different. Irrational or excessive jealousy is often a warning sign of a potentially abusive relationship.

Eventually, jealous people feel so overwhelmed by their emotions and insecurities that they begin to exert control over their partners. They may resort to financial abuse, verbal bullying, and violence in order to maintain control and alleviate or mask their feelings.

Unhealthy jealousy is rooted in fear of abandonment and a worry about not being truly loved. Unhealthy jealousy is characterized by:

  • Being paranoid about what a partner is doing or feeling
  • Demanding an account of where a partner has been
  • Displaying unusual insecurity and fear
  • Engaging in storytelling and making accusations that are not true
  • Excessively questioning a partner's behaviors and motives
  • Following or stalking a partner to confirm their whereabouts
  • Infringing on a partner's freedom or prohibiting them from seeing friends or family
  • Reading emails and texts or listening to voicemails expecting to discover infidelity or a lie
  • Texting a partner non-stop when the couple is apart

Causes of Jealousy

When faced with a situation that might provoke jealousy, someone who struggles with this emotion may respond with fear, anger, grief, worry, sadness, doubt, pain, self-pity, and humiliation. They also may generally feel suspicious or threatened, or they may struggle with a sense of failure.

Jealousy can happen for many reasons, including:

  • Being insecure or having a poor self-image
  • Fearing abandonment or betrayal
  • Feeling intense possessiveness or a desire for control
  • Having a misguided sense of ownership over a partner
  • Having unrealistic expectations about relationships in general
  • Maintaining unrealistic expectations of a partner
  • Reliving a hurtful experience of abandonment in the past
  • Worrying about losing someone or something important

Consequences of Jealousy in a Relationship

It is not uncommon for couples to misinterpret jealousy for love, especially if that jealousy is generally healthy and infrequent. But abnormal jealousy is anything but loving. Abnormal jealousy wreaks havoc on a relationship as the jealous person becomes more and more fearful, angry, and controlling.

"For those who experience abnormal jealousy, the emotion sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. As their [partners] try to avoid them, their worst fears of losing love and respect are realized," says psychotherapist Robert L. Barker in "The Green-Eyed Marriage."

Eventually, jealousy can lead to resentment and defensiveness. It also destroys the trust in a relationship and leads to more arguments, especially if the jealous person makes demands and constantly questions the other person.

Intense emotional experiences can also result in physical symptoms. Sometimes jealous people struggle with physical reactions like trembling, dizziness, depression, and having trouble sleeping.

Their constant anger and need for reassurance also can lead to the end of the relationship, especially if they become abusive and do not deal with their jealousy in healthy ways.

How to Deal With Jealousy in a Relationship

If you're experiencing jealousy, it is important to address it before it gets out of hand. Both you and your partner can learn how to handle jealousy in a healthy way.

Realize That Some Jealousy Is Normal

There will be people and situations that threaten the security of your relationship. Whether it is a flirtatious co-worker or a job that requires a lot of travel, it is normal to experience a little bit of jealousy. The important thing is that you take time to talk about your concerns and agree on some boundaries that will protect your relationship and your hearts.

For instance, you both may agree that limiting contact with a flirtatious co-worker is important for the health of the relationship. Or, you may decide that talking at bedtime while one spouse is on the road will alleviate concerns. The key is that you discuss the issues calmly and come up with solutions together.

Get to the Root of the Jealousy

When one partner is feeling jealous on a consistent basis, it is important to find out why that is happening. For instance, is the jealous partner feeling insecure because you are not spending much time together as a couple? Or, does the relationship have trust issues due to infidelity?

Ask questions. Try to understand where the jealousy is coming from and what can be done to lessen it.

Create an Atmosphere of Trust

One of the best ways to guard against jealousy is to create an atmosphere of trust. This process begins with both partners being trustworthy. In other words, they are faithful, committed, and honest.

Trustworthy people do not lie about how they are spending their time. They also do not cheat on their spouses. If you both guard against these pitfalls, trust in the relationship will grow and crowd out jealousy.

Develop a Healthy Attachment

A relationship involves showing affection, spending time together, and building an attachment to one another. Any threats to your attachment should be a cause for concern. Jealousy is appropriate when it is a signal that the relationship is at risk.

Recognize When Jealousy Is Abusive

Jealousy in response to a real threat to the relationship is normal. But if one partner is jealous for no reason, this could be a red flag—especially if the jealousy includes extreme anger, unrealistic expectations, and unfounded accusations. What's more, this type of jealousy is not a one-time thing. It is a pattern of behavior that repeats.

Another hallmark of abusive or unhealthy jealousy is an attempt to exert control over another person as well as making outlandish accusations. If you are regularly defending yourself against your partner's unreasonable or accusatory questions, that is a red flag. You need to get help right away before things spiral out of control.

Coping With Your Own Jealousy

If you are the one experiencing jealousy in your relationships, you may want to think about why. For instance, do you struggle with self-esteem or are you afraid your partner will leave you? Or has your partner been unfaithful in the past and you are worried it will happen again?

Either way, your feelings need to be dealt with. The best way to do that is to find a counselor or a therapist who can help you learn to manage your jealousy in healthy ways.

Like most other difficult emotional experiences, if treated correctly, jealousy can be a trigger for growth. Addressing jealousy can become the first step in increased self-awareness and greater understanding for both you and your partner. Steps to overcoming jealous feelings often include:

  • Accepting that jealousy is hurting your relationship
  • Admitting that you're jealous
  • Agreeing not to spy on your spouse
  • Discussing the roots of your jealous feelings
  • Making a decision to change your behavior
  • Realizing you cannot control someone else, but you can control your reaction
  • Seeking professional help as a couple if necessary
  • Setting fair ground rules that you can both agree to

A Word From Verywell

When jealousy becomes unhealthy, it can destroy relationships and create toxic marriages. For this reason, if you are experiencing overwhelming jealousy that is interfering with the health of the relationship, it is important to find a therapist or counselor to help you understand why the jealousy exists. They can give you tools for coping with jealousy in a healthy way.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is jealousy in a relationship?

    Jealousy appears to be common in relationships, although there is not a lot of information about just how common jealousy is. One study of married couples who sought relationship counseling found that 79% of men and 66% of women defined themselves as jealous.

  • What causes insecurities in a relationship?

    Insecurities in a relationship can stem from a partner's lack of confidence in themselves (feeling like they are not worthy of their partner's esteem and love). A perceived or real threat (such as infidelity) can also cause jealousy and insecurities. So can a loss of intimacy or attachment, or a failure to fully develop those bonds.

  • What is the difference between being envious and being jealous?

    Being envious means feeling angry, frustrated, or left out because someone else has something you don't. Being jealous is about the fear of losing something (or more typically, someone) that you do have to a third person. Envy is about comparing yourself to others and coming up short, while jealousy involves insecurity and feeling threatened.

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