Practical tips for the jealous man, his lover, and the couple as a team to conquer its influence.
You might feel it when that hot stud across the room at the gym gives your lover "the look-over." You might experience it if your ex-boyfriends ever cheated on you and then you project it onto your current man. Or you might experience it if you have an "open relationship" and you know your partner is out "tricking." Whatever its form, jealousy can take on many different faces and it can kill your relationship if it's not managed appropriately. If you're the one who's afflicted with jealousy, it can torment and consume you, zapping you of all security and contentment. If you're the partner of a jealous lover, your frustration at having to "walk on eggshells" and constantly reassure your guy of your commitment to him can be maddening.
Jealousy is not bad in and of itself. It is a feeling and all our feelings are ok; it's what we do with them that can mean the difference between relationship calm and relationship storm. Jealousy can actually benefit your partnership in its mildest form. But if it is a recurrent, pervasive theme that seems to dominate the climate of your relationship, it can sabotage your future together and lead to a lot of hurt and grief. This article will address some of the dynamics involved in jealousy and offer some tips for you and your partner in overcoming and defeating it.
JEALOUSY & ITS CAUSES
Jealousy can be defined as a feeling that arises from a perceived threat to your relationship. It almost always involves fear--fear of loss of abandonment or losing your partner, fear of being replaced with someone else, fear of not being important enough anymore and being excluded, etc. This significantly impacts one's self-esteem and leads to insecurity and using self-defeating behaviors to ward off these painful feelings and gain a sense of control (although it never really accomplishes that and creates vicious cycles of the same dysfunctional behavior over and over again). Self-defeating behaviors might include spying on your partner, excessive clinginess toward him, constant questioning of his whereabouts and activities, among others.
What are the causes of jealousy? There are "inner" and "outer" causes. Inner causes might include low self-esteem and confidence (believing one is unattractive or unworthy of being in a healthy relationship), a past history of experiences that created distrust, and beliefs that one will be single forever if he loses his partner. External causes might include how one's partner acts (expressing interest or flirting with someone else) or the actual involvement of a third person in the relationship. "Factors that seem to affect the susceptibility to jealousy include the length and stability of the relationship, maturity, dependence, and level of self-esteem of the individuals, their expectations for emotional gratification, and the perceived availability of alternatives to the primary relationship (Neidig & Friedman, 1984).
Low levels of jealousy can actually be positive for your relationship. It can be a signal that something's "off" between the two of you. It can help partners feel cared for and be an indication to not take each other for granted. It can also increase communication, commitment, and sexual intensity. "Jealousy becomes problematic when it is expressed indirectly, is experienced compulsively, becomes irrational, or leads to extreme levels of vigilance and control" (Neidig & Friedman, 1984).
The major consequence is that it also leads to a severe break-down in the level of trust and intimacy between the two men, core ingredients that are necessary for a healthy relationship to last. And the other paradoxical effect of jealousy is that it can create the very outcome that is feared and dreaded the most---the ending of the relationship.
TIPS FOR CONQUERING THE JEALOUSY BEAST
If you are the one suffering from jealousy...
*Acknowledge your jealousy. Avoid minimizing or denying its existence. Recognize that you are not your jealousy--it is a part of you, one aspect of you that you can learn to manage. Admitting its power over you is the first step to conquering it.
*Identify the cause of your jealousy. What feelings are underneath your jealousy? Work on developing more effective ways to cope with these specific emotions.
*Keep a journal and write about your experience of jealousy and what it means to you. Ask yourself such questions as:
·Do I trust my partner and believe what he says?
·Am I projecting my own issues and feelings onto him and blaming him? What is my jealousy really about?
·What hurts? What's missing in my life?
·What are the consequences of my jealousy? What do I get out of it that may be perpetuating it?
·Are my jealous feelings rational or irrational? Are they based more on real threats or insecurities?
*Identify your triggers to jealousy and either avoid them or find ways to confront them head-on in a healthy way.
*Live in the present. Your partner is not your ex-boyfriend. Learn how to control your anger and grieve past losses and hurts.
*Refrain from obsessing and compulsively questioning your partner's behavior. Monitor your own thoughts and always check your motives and feelings against reality.
*Realize that you are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You create your own interpretations and perceptions of events and situations. Learn to identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs and develop affirmations or coaching, coping statements to write on index cards for reference to help you through difficult times.
*Practice relaxation techniques to help you cope with your anxiety.
*Make sure to have a life separate from your partner to reduce dependency and bring more fresh air into the relationship. Reach out to your friends, build your support system, and seek out social outlets that inspire a sense of fun and purpose.
*Build your self-esteem by taking safe risks that boost your confidence and allow you to see the strengths you possess.
If you are the partner of a jealous lover...
*Be patient and endure through this difficult period. Understand how painful and difficult it is for your partner and empathize and validate his feelings. Provide reassurances of your love, but don't enable his behavior.
*Take care of yourself. Practice good stress management for emotional wellness.
*Identify ways you might be able to support your partner and show how you value him. Explore your own behavior to determine if you're reinforcing your lover's jealousies in any way.
And finally, together as a couple...
*Identify if the jealousy has its roots in an underlying problem in your relationship. What's missing? Are there any unmet needs that require your attention?
*Don't make assumptions! Avoid mind-reading and always check feelings or thoughts that you may have with each other.
*This is a great opportunity to open the channels of communication and see if any new boundaries or "relationship rules" need to be re-negotiated, created, or dropped.
*Make your relationship a #1 priority! Spend lots of quality time together and engage in activities that will re-vitalize your bond and restore some of that damaged trust and intimacy.
Jealousy doesn't have to rule your life. Make a commitment to aggressively minimize its influence so that there will be more energy available for your own self-care and for enriching your relationship. These are the things that really matter. So squash that bugger before it has the chance to contaminate what the two of you have worked so hard to build. Convert that jealousy into passion for yourself and for your partner and before long you'll no longer heed Jealousy's evil whispers. You can do it!
*Reference: Neidig, Peter H. & Friedman, Dale H. (1984). Spouse Abuse: A Treatment Program for Couples. Champaign, IL: Research Press Company.
© Dr. Brian L. Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach