Dealing with Jealousy in a Relationship

Everyone has experienced jealousy in a relationship at one time or another. Regardless of your partner's response, you'll probably feel something if a co-worker shows a little too much attention or an old flame calls out of the blue. When you feel a little bit of jealousy, it can remind you how strongly you feel about your mate, that other people still find her attractive or that you're lucky to have him.

As Maya Angelou said, " Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, be life-threatening." Jealousy has been called the "green-eyed monster" for a reason. Excessive or irrational jealousy can destroy a relationship and damage both partners' self-esteem. In extreme cases, it can even lead to verbal and physical abuse.

Jealousy becomes a problem in relationships for one of two reasons: (a) because there is a foundation for the jealousy or (b) because the jealous partner is dealing with insecurities about themselves or the relationship. There is a big difference between the two, as eliminating the foundation for the jealousy can fix the problem, but dealing with deeper insecurities can be much more difficult.

If you are dealing with jealousy or with a jealous partner, then ruling out the first reason is key. Ask yourself, as objectively as possible, is there any solid foundation for the jealousy? Is one partner spending too much attention on someone outside of the relationship? Are they spending time on the phone with someone they know is interested in them, even if that person is just a "friend"? If one partner is acting in a way that disrespects the relationship, even if they're not cheating, then that needs to be addressed. The two of you have to come to an agreement on what is and is not appropriate within the relationship. With mutual trust, a couple should be able to find a comfortable medium. For instance, if a woman at work keeps hitting on your boyfriend despite knowing he's taken, then you can request that he ask her to stop.

If there is no foundation, and the jealousy is irrational, then it is usually caused by insecurity. This can mean that the jealous individual is suffering from low self-esteem and is feeling insecure about their worth as a person and, subsequently, about their worth in the relationship. Since they do not feel good about themselves, they are afraid that the person they love must see them the same way. Most of the time, irrational jealousy has nothing to do with the other partner-it is a self-contained storm brewing inside the jealous mate. Reassurance by the other partner can often make a jealous partner suffering from insecurities feel better.

Sometimes, however, jealousy in irrational circumstances can be spawned by a history of infidelity. When infidelity occurs, the partner who was cheated on usually feels terribly hurt and betrayed. Simply put, the betrayed partner's trust has to be regained. During that process, there is likely to be quite a bit of jealousy, whether the other partner is going on a business trip or simply having lunch with a relative. This is natural, as the betrayed partner needs to know that the affair will not happen again. If the jealousy does not improve over time after the infidelity, then further counseling may be needed to determine if the trust that's necessary for a healthy relationship can be re-established.

If left unchecked, irrational jealousy can be both a sign of and catalyst for abusive relationships in which one of you is the controlling boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. If nothing you do seems to make the situation better, then that relationship could be or could quickly evolve into an abusive one. The relationship you are in may be abusive if

  1. You believe that your partner's extreme jealousy is a sign of love.
  2. Your partner has hit, kicked, shoved or thrown things at you when jealous.
  3. You give up seeing family and friends or doing activities because your partner doesn't like them.
  4. You find your partner following you around, questioning you about phone calls and otherwise investigating your personal life.
  5. Your partner accuses you of lying and cheating when you are not.

Although some jealousy can be normal, it is important not to ignore excessive or irrational jealousy in a relationship. Some causes of jealousy, such as past infidelity or insecurity, can be worked through as a couple. But if the jealousy cannot be cured and it is damaging to you, then it's best to end the relationship. Since extreme jealousy can easily lead to abuse, the most important thing is putting yourself first and nurturing relationships in which you are trusted and loved.

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