How to Control Jealousy

control jealousy

Advice about how to manage jealousy, control your possessive tendencies and tame romantic envy.

Darwin believed it was our body's attempt to ward off competition for mates and protect our offspring. Psychologists often describe it as a close cousin to madness. Whatever its origins, romantic jealousy is often has no basis in reality and makes us feel like we've totally lost it. Not fun. Good thing we're capable of higher reasoning! How to put that thinking brain (and a few shallow quick-fixes) to use to get the jealous beast inside of you under control.

Power of Positive Thinking
You may not be able to control a jealous attack, but you can—with some concentrated effort—redirect the thoughts to a happier place. Psychologist Ayala Pines, author of Romantic Jealousy, recommends concentrating on recent happy times—"like, some loving thing your partner has done recently or of something wonderful that has happened that made you feel great about yourself."  It's not a permanent fix, but may keep you from dumping your glass of pinot in that other woman's face.

Get a Second Opinion
Before dissing my partner a jealous-fueled rant, I always call my best friend for a reality check. She does the same. Recently, her boyfriend took a female friend out to dinner on the friend's birthday, just the two of them on a Friday night! I told her that I didn't think he was interested in the woman, otherwise he wouldn't be so flagrant about taking her out, but that it's normal to feel jealous. Then, I told her that I was jealous my boyfriend wanted to hang out with his friends two nights in a row. We decided I'd boarded the crazy train and should keep this one to myself.

Own Your Jealous Freak
A friend of mine, Denise, 28, was recently convinced her boyfriend and his cute coworker, had snuck off to a hotel during their lunch hour. But because she felt un-entitled to the way she was feeling ("I knew I was being insane"), she pretended to be okay with their friendship. For folks with jealous tendencies, I entreat you: stop pretending you're not a jealous person. It ends up just bubbling up and exploding. A better method for coping is to start asking lots of questions about the situation/person that has triggered your jealousy. What does she look like, is he attracted to her, what do they talk about? In time, you may be able to ask these questions without sounding accusatory. Baby steps.

Meet the Competition
It's funny how when we imagine our partners running off with someone else, the other person is the most perfect human being in God's creation. These delusions can be remedied through fairly simple means: meet the other person. A former girlfriend of mine was always talking about her coworker, who shared my name, so I had her ask the coworker out to drinks with us. Boy was I relieved to find see she looked like an ogre. Of course, if the person is really hot and cool, you might want to skip to Find Her Flaws. Fyi, Pines says that work-related jealousies are the most common in relationships today.

Find Her Flaws
This is not the most enlightened piece of advice, but a great way to tamper a jealousy attack is to silently, privately study the other person until you identify a flaw to latch onto. "There are a ton of gorgeous people in the world and my boyfriend is good at befriending them," says Kari, 23. "So to make myself feel better I focus on the less than glowing characteristics of the girl—and before long I notice she kinda has horse teeth or hear that she has a degree at a community college or something like that."

Get a Life
Until a few years ago, I dumped everything into my relationships. I had few friends or hobbies outside of work and my partner. (Lame, I know) I got jealous constantly because losing my partner was a very real threat to my well-being. Somewhere along the way, I got very busy (potentially self-absorbed) and now I am just as invested in my job, my band, and my friends as I am my relationships. And voila! I'm less prone to jealousy because I'm just as likely to be the one meeting new people and choosing to do things outside of the relationship.

Steal the Secret of Therapists
Therapists use a process called "flooding" to treat jealousy, but—shhhhh—you can do it at home for free. Set aside an hour to think about the thing or person that is triggering your jealousy and avoid thinking about it at any other time. Make sure your cell is off and there are no other interruptions. Using props—mySpace pictures, that email you found—that create your most intense jealous aches, let your mind "flood" with those feelings. Repeat the process for two or three days, and believe it or not your jealous impulses actually begin to dull and eventually disappear.

Develop a Cheating Survival Plan
As the Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards sex scandals demonstrated, we can be pretty hysterical about cheating and often see it as the de-facto end of a relationship. But, most of us will cheat or be cheated on (it's happened to me twice, and I've committed it twice), and it's not a bad idea to discuss if you can get through it ahead of time. Carolyn, 31, says "My boyfriend and I agree that sleeping with one person for the rest of your life is a little unrealistic and unrelated to what it takes to make a relationship work. So, we've talked about what would happen if we slept with someone else once, and now I think we could get past it."??

Unpack Childhood Baggage
Dad was a big flirt? Mom was out of the picture? That may explain why you keep dating people that make you feel insecure, says Pines. "A child who did not feel secure in mother's and father's love, or as a teenager witnessed one of the parents being unfaithful to the other, is likely to grow up with a greater predisposition for jealousy," she said. Being aware of childhood issues are the first step towards overcoming jealousy triggers.

Trust Your Instincts
There are, of course, instances where jealousy is serving its purpose, and telling you that your relationship is in danger. When my ex-girlfriend started bringing this college girl around all the time, I felt very uneasy. My gut told me she was interested in the youngin'. My gf cheated on me with college gal a few weeks later and we did not have a cheating survival plan in effect. Of course, usually there are other things off about the relationship in a situation like this, but you get my point. Don't be afraid to trust yourself.

Follow the steps above and you'll have your jealousy in check in no time! At the very least you'll start to understand that jealousy is manageable; envy and possessiveness do not have to rule your life.