If you’ve felt jealous before, you already know: Jealousy is a powerful feeling. When it spirals unchecked, it can lead people to act in ways that destroy their relationship, such as spying on their partner or becoming aggressively possessive. So, if you struggle with jealousy, it’s a good idea to learn how to respond differently when those feelings strike.
Begin by questioning your reflexive reactions, and then choose to respond differently. Dr. Robert Leahy, a noted cognitive behavioral therapist, suggests healthy ways of handling some of the most common jealous thoughts:
“I’m feeling so jealous that I have to do something about it.”
While some people have this conscious thought, many others just experience the need to act on their jealousy without really reflecting on their experience. They focus on how they are losing (or might lose) the other person’s attention and affection; and they act on this, such as by asking for reassurance or demanding attention.
Instead, practice observing your jealous feelings. Acknowledge your concerns and fears about your relationship being threatened. Then assess the situation. If there is no realistic need to be concerned, reassure yourself that your relationship is safe for the moment. And remind yourself that feeling jealous does not mean that you need to act on that feeling. If you do have a good reason to feel threatened, then you can decide on a healthy way to address the situation, like talking with your partner.
Another good way to cope with jealous feelings is to do the opposite of what you want to do. For instance, instead of expressing anger toward your partner, you might think about the ways that they have been caring and then express your love.
“If you really love me, you won’t be interested in, or feel attracted to, anyone else.”
This can feel absolutely, positively true. But feeling something strongly does not make it true. When you find yourself feeling this, consider whether you really believe it. You have probably enjoyed spending time with someone else without it meaning that you were no longer interested in your partner.
“I feel like there is something wrong with me for feeling jealous.”
Sometimes people think there is something wrong with them for having certain feelings, such as jealousy. It can help to remind yourself that many people struggle with feeling jealous and are upset by this. Acknowledge that feeling this way can be difficult. By responding to yourself in this way, you encourage yourself to have empathy and compassion for your struggle. Then, rather than feeding your jealousy or anger toward yourself, you can work on nurturing your love and sense of safety with your partner. If you frequently get upset with yourself for feeling flawed, then you would also benefit from working on improving your self-image, perhaps even in therapy.
As you address these jealous thoughts, it can also help to distance yourself from them by telling yourself, “I have a jealous mind.” This can be especially effective when you believe that your partner is trustworthy and has not earned your mistrust. The focus here, as with the advice above, is on changing your reaction to your jealousy. When you are able to observe your reactions to your jealousy and choose to respond differently, you can nurture a happier, emotionally safer relationship.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.