Facing the green-eyed monster together
December 6, 2003
Do you suspect that your partner is secretly seeing someone else? That someone may be chasing after him or her? That your partner may be attracted to someone else? That s/he may be physically or emotionally intimate with another person behind your back? That s/he has a weak spot for other men or women?
Jealousy is an emotion that keeps you from feeling love, but also keeps you from falling out of love.
As a result of your jealousy, do you look through your partner’s drawers, purse or pockets for evidence s/he is cheating on you? Call him-her unexpectedly just to see if s/he is there? Strongly or repeatedly question him-her about previous romantic experiences? Say something nasty about another person if your partner shows an interest in him-her? Question your mate about his-her telephone calls? Question your partner about his-her whereabouts? Join in whenever you see your partner talking to someone who could be considered a romantic threat? Pay a surprise visit just to see who is with him-her?
The above questions, adapted from authors Suzanne Pheiffer and Paul Wong in a study on jealousy, reminds us how easy it is for jealous feelings to dominate our emotions and behaviors. Frank Pittman, in the book “Private Lies” (Norton), also reminds us that jealousy is a complex emotion. Indeed it can function as an early warning signal that things are amiss, but it can also mean that you are insecure and are easily threatened without just cause.
Jealousy could be a sign that the relationship has grown more distant and your sense of security is feeling threatened – but it can also represent a lack of confidence you have in yourself – that you are attractive or interesting enough to hold you mate’s love and attention. It can be used strategically, in that you can accuse your spouse of disloyalty as a way of demanding reassurance that you are really loved and wanted, and jealousy can sometimes arise from an expectation of disloyalty, betrayal or abandonment.
Indeed, jealousy is the surest way of getting rid of the person you’re afraid of losing. Conversation between the two of you turns into an inquisition: “Where were you? What did s/he look like?” The more possessive you are, the more you’ll demand love and fealty and the less you’ll likely receive it.
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So what do you do when you find yourself in a committed relationship with an extremely jealous partner?
First, if your partner’s jealousy is met with closeness and reassurance, his-her jealous reaction will usually lessen. Therefore, if you can, offer lots of reassurance about your monogamy, fidelity and your partner’s attractiveness and desirability.
Second, frequently what triggers a jealous reaction is the fear that your partner might be abandoned – or dumped for another. So if you can, give reassurance that you’re not going to leave your partner, that s/he need not worry about being abandoned by you.
Third, reaffirm the bonds between you as a couple, and find the behaviors that reassure your mate. You can even ask him-her what reassurances s/he would like.
Fourth, make sure you’re acting faithful, trustworthy and emotionally reliable.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boulder. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777 or e-mail at his Web site http://www.heartrelationships.com