“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Shakespeare had it right, jealousy is not pretty.
There is still a romanticised concept about jealousy, that it is a sign of love. That the one who loves very fiercely and deeply is supposed to get possessive. That somehow being in love justifies the feeling of getting jealous over stupid things.
I never believed that talking about my past loves would be a good idea in a relationship. They were part of my life at one point, they taught me lessons, gave me memories, and it ended eventually one way or the other — someone’s heart got broken. Often both hearts did. But I always thought that the past belongs to the past. There is a good reason we parted, and my memories with them belong to me only.
I never believed I needed to earn someone’s attention by making them insecure about our relationship, making them desire me more by proving how much I am desired by others. I never thought that competition or creating a sense of it has a place in a healthy relationship.
My ex thought about both of them differently.
He was telling me a lot about his exes, about his heartbreaks, about the good and the bad too. He was also telling me a lot about the attention he got from other women, pointing out girls who had a crush on him or making me notice that someone was eyeing him on the street. I wouldn’t have noticed, I didn’t care and I didn’t mind. It was me who he chose to be with, his exes or random women eyeing him were no threat to me. I should have recognised this as a red flag, but I didn’t.
Also, he was exceptionally curious about my exes and he himself pointed it out if someone was ogling me while we were together. I didn’t notice that either, I had only eyes for him, and no one else. I learnt only later that it was all part of his abusive and narcissistic nature. He cared about other men for two reasons: #1 to prove he was better than them, and #2 to use it all against me later on.
He pried out of me the number of my past lovers and he was stalking me on social media and also flipping through my papers at home to gather some evidence — I learnt about that only when it was too late. With all the information he got out of me, a number in the low range of single digits, which was still too many for him, and some splinters of my past put together from puzzle pieces found on my facebook and within my box of old photos, he started to torture me, and torture himself too.
When I confronted him about it, asking why he even cared about what happened 15+ years ago, he said he loved me too much and he couldn’t bear the thought of me leaving him.
It sounded romantic enough. But it had nothing to do with romance or love.
In reality, jealousy can be a major relationship problem. Marital therapists claim it to be a recurring theme for as much as third of their clients.
These clients claim that their jealousy is stemming from the love for their partner, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jealousy can stem from several different sources, none of them related to love. The reason it is linked to love is merely correlational, as the real reason and romantic feelings are present at the same time.
The motivation for jealousy can be linked to several traits, some of them are more severe than the others, such as
- Low self-esteem
- Neuroticism, anxiety, emotional instability
- Insecurity and possessiveness
- Dependence or co-dependence
- Feeling of inadequacy
- Unhealthy attachment style
In general, jealousy is more about the insecurity of jealous people than about the love they have for their partner.
Jealousy is not about love — it’s about insecurity
The main reason for any jealous behaviour is the fear of losing the one they love to someone else. While this fear is usually irrational and unfounded, it’s grounded in reality in the sense that their partner could theoretically fall in love with someone else. Even in this case, insecurity could result in problems that weren’t even there in the first place, can instil doubt, lead to arguments about trust and eventually can poison an otherwise healthy relationship.
The threat of not being good enough to the point that their partner leaves them for someone else is possible even if not likely.
Jealousy can cause anger, fear, anxiety and paranoia. It can make the sufferer do irrational things like snooping through their partner’s phone, or spending hours interrogating them. It can undermine a relationship and poison a seemingly perfect love match, turning it into another failed experiment — in some cases bringing on a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Jealousy is hard to cure, first because jealous people don’t really believe that the problem lies with them. And also because to be able to help it there is a great need for self-reflection and working on the underlying motives. This is significantly more different than shifting the blame on the other, accusing them with unfounded claims.
Intellectually people suffering from extreme manifestations of jealousy know that it’s crazy to feel anxious about it, but emotionally they’re unable to shake the feeling there’s something wrong with them or with their partner. In a sense, it is very similar to depression, anxiety or OCD. You cannot just snap out of it, as it is highly irrational to get triggered and to experience it in the first place.
Unfortunately, empty phrases such as “get over it” mean little to someone feeling the disastrous insecurity caused by jealousy. If all they had to do was to stop thinking about it, they would have already done it.
Jealousy has a purpose
Evolutionary psychologists see it as a way people ward off mate-poaching. “When there is a threat and people become jealous, that jealousy motivates them to engage in behaviours that interfere with the partner going somewhere else,” says Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland.
There are actions, called mate-retention behaviours, such as putting your arm around a spouse at a party, befriending a partner’s cute coworker. Research indicates that such gestures can be quite effective in reeling partners back in. And they also found that participants reported greater levels of commitment to their relationship after a partner took mate-guarding actions.
So, what is there to do?
Recognising and addressing the underlying motivation is imperative. Communication can help with insecurity and possessiveness. Consciously addressing low self-esteem with self-reflection, understanding fears can help with moving into a more healthy attachment, into a less dependent stage of the relationship. Therapy can help with emotional instability and general anxiety. Just by accepting that jealousy stems from the jealous party can help a great deal in seeking help and saving a relationship. Moreso, it can also be considered as a means to ward off potential competition and reinforce the relationship, by showing mate-retention gestures.
Separating fantasies from reality
In most cases with jealousy, the triggering thought is followed by vivid mental images, that are usually made up. The first step is to identify whether the thoughts are real or just made up fantasies to torture both of the parties in the relationship.
It is needed to work on your own self-confidence in order to lessen the fear that your partner may find someone “better” out there than you. At its core, jealousy is anxiety over losing a partner to someone else — and it might have nothing to do with the partner’s behaviour. It has to be discovered, what traits jealous partners don’t like about themselves that they fear their partner won’t like either. That’s where the work has to start.
Letting go of judgment
Jealousy in some cases is related to a strong judgmental aspect related to a perceived stereotype. There is a huge element that can keep the jealousy alive in the mind is a feeling that their partner might have done something they shouldn’t have done in the past. Or it can bring up a deep-rooted judgment towards our partners — as in women with many sexual partners will be more prone to cheating or breaking off the relationship, and men with lots of experience being players.
It is important to note that judgments, stereotypes and past experiences can only give assumptions of a partner, but in reality, they have nothing to do with how this person will behave in the present or the future. And as a healthy approach to a relationship, it needs to start from the point of meeting, and be based on the common experiences, not perceptions, past or stereotyping.
Learning to attach in a healthy way
In lots of cases, the insecurity is coming from an unhealthy attachment style or dependency. When you consider your partner to be someone who completes you, who makes you whole, who gives meaning to your days and life in general — you are putting way too much pressure on the other party. You need to be self-sufficient in your own happiness, cherishing and appreciating your significant other, but to an extent, where you both remain two separately functioning individuals.
Forming a healthy attachment also means understanding that being together doesn’t mean owning the other. It means respecting the boundaries and trusting your relationship enough not to accuse the other with being unfaithful.
Take it as a wake-up call
In long-term relationships, jealousy tends to die down over time, but if it arises, it can be viewed as a wake-up call. It can mean that something is off, some things need to be addressed. Longtime couples might fall into a routine of having routine sex, or even none at all, not expressing affection, not showing attention. And all of a sudden, when our partner is appreciated by someone else, this is all it takes to remember how attractive they are and how much we are taking them for granted. They are deserving of someone else’s attention, so they are deserving ours too.
Remember, jealousy has little to do with love. It’s about insecurities and possessiveness. The way to address it starts from working on the underlying motivations. Or to take it as a wake-up call, and show that much needed and well-deserved appreciation.
Anyhow, it is a sign that something is not quite right and you should start talking about it, working on yourself or working on keeping your relationship satisfying and healthy.