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We see our partner chatting with a gorgeous human on the other side of the room.
They’re laughing. It seems like they are enjoying each other’s company. Wait. Is our partner flirting with them?
Our stomach clenches in knots. Our eyes narrow to mere slits, the stories that flash across the theatre screen of our mind can fill libraries. “I’m not a jealous person,” we tell ourselves. “That is clearly a sign that my partner is tired of me and wanting something better.”
Maybe we storm over to break it up while making it known that we are unhappy with their actions. Maybe we disconnect from the discomfort and pretend that everything is fine. Maybe we go to put our arm around our partner communicating they are ours. Maybe we start flirting with another person ourselves to give our partner the taste of what we’re feeling.
Whatever our reaction, it’s not solving the problem. But do we even know what the problem is? Luckily, I’ve got eight tips on how you can use the feeling of jealousy as an effective tool for strengthening love and ourselves.
Jealousy is a painful emotion, and most of us hate to admit that we ever feel it. Jealousy is the feeling of vulnerability as a symptom of some need that’s not being met. In relational terms, it’s a perceived threat to one’s relationship from a real or imagined rival. It’s the “I have something that I think you want, that I think you’re coming after” thought.
Jealousy is also a universal human emotion—one of many that are part of the multilayered experience of love; and yet, we reject it as if it’s an experience that’s unattractive and only reserved for “those people” who are less evolved than we are. The problem here is that when we don’t claim it and give attention to it, it will continue to fester below the surface, creating more havoc in the relationship than was there before.
We unconsciously and automatically try to navigate it ourselves. Perhaps we put our arm around a spouse at a party or try befriending a partner’s cute coworker, all to deter the potential threat to our partnership from actualizing, which makes sense if we consider jealousy as having evolved as an evolutionary mechanism to defend our interests and reproductive opportunities.
Mate-guarding, researchers call it. And when it arises, we can see our partner not as a free-thinking individual, but as an extension of ourselves, sometimes compelling us to attempt to control them or the situation. Often to the detriment of our relationship.
If instead, we label jealousy as a tool instead of a hindrance, then we can utilize it for our own personal and relational evolution.
Jealousy is an umbrella term for a constellation of feelings including envy, competitiveness, insecurity, inadequacy, possessiveness, feeling excluded, fear of abandonment, feeling unloved, and feeling left out. It marks the “you are here” spot on the map of your heart and gives you the opportunity to see where you might want to go from there. This is the gift. We stand face-to-face with an opportunity that shines a light on what we want in our lives and what is inhibiting that from occurring.
The discomfort it creates can be a catalyst for improving relationships that we may have dropped the effort to take care of out of habituation and comfort. If we could just learn to listen to it, we could improve our romantic and sexual lives.
Here are a few ways that being present with jealousy can actually become the catalyst to creating the relationship we’ve been desiring:
1. Jealousy may stimulate aliveness and remembrance to the value of the relationship.
A little jealousy can benefit a relationship, showing how much we value this person being there. It can be irritating to have a partner glance at our phone to see who we are texting, yet we may also feel an internal excitement and reassurance knowing they have an interest or worry for us.
We may also feel compelled to pay more attention and compliment them. Too much jealousy or acting upon it in a negative way can have potentially bad implications. Ultimately, it is a balance we are seeking.
2. It can be a need we are not giving to ourselves.
Perhaps we are jealous perceiving our mate is giving someone else more attention, love, and acceptance. Are we giving attention, love, and acceptance to ourselves?
3. It can help us identify and challenge assumptions about relationships that we didn’t realize we had.
These may include beliefs that our lover’s past relationships are a threat to the one now; or the belief that our partner should never be attracted to anyone other than ourselves; or the belief that our feelings are fact, and thus projecting them as evidence of a reality that may or not exist outside ourselves.
None of these beliefs will support healthy relationships to form. We may instead need to update old scripts.
4. It could be attachment activation.
We all have basic human needs of intimacy, availability, and security with our partner. Should one of these not be met, it can activate our internal stress response, shifting our nervous system into fight, flight, or freeze to navigate threat. We may even have problematic beliefs about how to feel more secure.
For example, perhaps we believe that we can force our partner to love us or force them to lose interest in someone else. We may believe that withdrawing and pouting will influence them to make an effort to get closer to us. Unfortunately, these acts of manipulation can also backfire, causing our partner to move away or lose interest instead.
5. It could be a sign of low self-worth.
Perhaps we question who would want to be with us; we create confirmation bias by viewing everything through a lens that filters out anything that doesn’t support the notion that we are less than.
6. It could be a sign of high self-esteem.
Jealousy can be a sign of high self-esteem if we are tuning into our bodies and without blame are vocalizing what we need and will not put up with.
7. It could be the result of past unprocessed trauma.
Sometimes our ideas about relationships are influenced by our childhood experiences or past intimate relationship injuries being projected onto this present situation. Here, we get the opportunity to look at old wounds so we may begin the healing process.
8. There might actually be something problematic in the relationship.
Perhaps your partner is using a new relationship as a conscious or unconscious way of avoiding issues in your own relationship, sounding the alarm in your system. It can be tricky separating the jealousy that’s a warning sign to real issues versus jealousy that is projected. Hence why conversations around clarity and vulnerability are crucial.
Ultimately, jealousy is a complex human experience with many layers and tangles. Yet it is also one of the most profound experiences leading to personal and relational evolution if it is harnessed and consciously utilized.
Contrary to popular belief, jealousy is not a less evolved emotion, or even one to have disdain for, but rather it’s how we choose to see it and work with it that is more evolved.
Intimacy is developed in the ownership and revelation of all that is our humanness. When it can be shown and received with love and compassion from another, we can then experience our most healing endeavor.
For more, join Dr. Cat’s Meyer’s online masterclass, “Navigating Jealousy in Relationships.”