What You Need to Know About Jealousy in Relationships
Written by Tiffany Dawn | March 2, 2018
Ten years ago, I sat in a restaurant booth with my boyfriend, my heart sinking into my chest as he flirted with the waitresses on our date night out. I became so used to this kind of treatment that I started to think I wasn’t worth more than that.
Through every subsequent relationship, the jealousy haunted me as I assumed every guy would treat me like my first boyfriend had. It all culminated in my marriage. Here was this man who pledged to spend every day of his life loving me, and I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if he was busy flirting with other girls when he thought I wasn’t looking.
Jealousy. It can eat you up inside, make you feel like your world is melting into nothing. It’s an emotion most of us have experienced, whether with a friend, boyfriend or family member. It’s a feeling of anxiety and sometimes anger that rises up when we fear we are losing something.
Jealousy can actually be a positive motivator sometimes—a warning sign, like with my ex-boyfriend. The jealousy warned me that something was not right, that he wasn’t the kind of guy I wanted to be with. But jealousy can also be a negative force, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, because when you act out on unmerited, jealous fears and assumptions, it can drive a relationship apart.
I’ve done some long, hard work in counseling on this issue, and there are now several things that I think are so important for girls to know about jealousy in relationships.
1. Jealousy can be legitimate or illegitimate.
I think there are two kinds of jealousy.
First, there’s the kind of jealousy that comes because a person is legitimately treating you the wrong way.
- Maybe your boyfriend is cheating on you, or spending lots of time with another girl without inviting you.
- Maybe your parent left your family for a new family.
- Maybe your best friend started spreading rumors about you.
This kind of jealousy is a warning sign, showing you that something is off in your relationship. Sometimes it’s an issue you can address and work through with the person, while other times it’s a sign that the relationship needs to end, or change.
Then there’s the kind of jealousy that is caused by your own insecurities. The other person is not actually doing anything wrong, but you feel like they are because you’re afraid of losing him or her.
- Maybe your boyfriend needs some time with just the guys, and you feel hurt.
- Maybe your parents missed your recital because of extenuating circumstances, even though they usually come.
- Maybe your best friend is hanging out with some other friends and didn’t invite you.
These are situations when the jealousy is not due to someone treating you wrongfully; it’s due to the insecurities in your own heart.
You might need a trusted friend or mentor to help you see a situation objectively, to know whether the jealousy you’re experiencing is legitimate or illegitimate.
2. Take responsibility.
No matter what causes your jealousy, it’s up to you to take responsibility.
If your jealousy is legitimate, caused by someone harming you, then take responsibility for your response to their actions.
- If your boyfriend is cheating on you, it’s time to end the relationship. Then find someone older and wiser who can walk you through the healing process.
- If your parent walked out on you, talk with an adult you trust about how to set healthy boundaries with that parent, to help protect your heart.
- If your friends truly are spreading rumors about you, talk with them about how that makes you feel. Find out if the friendship is repairable. If it’s not a healthy situation, you may need to distance yourself and look for a healthier group of friends.
However, if your jealousy is caused by insecurity, rather than by someone purposefully hurting you, it’s important to look for the core issues causing your insecurity.
- Instead of blaming the other person for how you feel, take responsibility for your own feelings and insecurities.
- Talk with the person involved. Share how you interpreted the situation and how you felt. Use phrases like “I felt” instead of “you made me feel.” Then ask how the other person understood the situation. Really listen to what he or she has to say. (Click here for tips on handling conflict.)
- Start asking yourself “What is causing my insecurity?” Is it hurts from your past, lifelong fears or something else? It can even be helpful to talk about this question with a mentor or counselor as you try to get to the core issue behind where these unwarranted feelings of jealousy are coming from.
3. Talk about how the other person can help you.
This is especially important in romantic relationships. Sometimes there are little things your significant other can do to remind you that you are loved during situations that trigger your insecurities.
My husband and I realized that if he put his arm around me when we were having a conversation with a pretty girl, that simple gesture reminded me that he had chosen ME. He wanted to be with me. He wasn’t wishing he was with her instead of me.
I also realized that sometimes I have to speak up. No one’s a mind reader—especially not guys! So in moments when I felt insecure, and my husband had no idea, I had to swallow my pride and my desire for him to read my mind, and find a space to gently whisper to him, “I’m feeling forgotten right now.” He told me that is very helpful for him and he appreciates it so much.
So talk about it together. Find out if there’s a healthy way that the other person can remind you that you’re important to him or her. Asking your boyfriend to give up his guys’ nights out is typically not a healthy option. But how about asking him to send you a short text before his evening begins, reminding you that he cares about you? That could be a great alternative.
4. Rewrite your narrative.
After I got married, I began seeing a counselor. I knew my feelings of jealousy were caused by my past relationships, and they were hurting my relationship with my husband. One of the most profound things my counselor told me was “You need to rewrite your narrative.”
He said I had this story running through my head on repeat, and it was full of fallacies. It went something like this: “Guy falls in love with me. Guy will eventually notice another girl. Guy will eventually leave me for her.”
It was like seeing all of life through a smokescreen, and seeing only what I feared. I needed people to help me rewrite that narrative. My counselor said I needed people who loved me to point out when I went back to that narrative in my head, and when I was using it to define my present and future.
I’m starting to realize that my husband really does love me, and all my worst-case, what-if scenarios aren’t happening. It’s taken a lot of patience from my husband (and kind-but-honest conversations with him and with my counselor) to work through this, but it’s been worth the effort. I’m still a work in progress, but I’ve finally reached a point where I’m no longer immediately insecure when a pretty girl walks into the room; I no longer assume my husband would rather be with her than with me. Instead, I finally, deeply believe that he really, truly loves ME and wants to be with ME.
So, girls, if you too struggle with jealousy, then I hope these tips can help you as they’ve helped me.
Comment below: What else helps you with jealousy?