One of the common themes that arises during couples counseling sessions is jealousy. For instance, when Stacy, 36, talked about anger toward her husband Jeff, 39, it usually came down to her feeling jealous and mistrustful about his relationships with female colleagues and his former girlfriend, Kendra, who was still in touch with him through social media.
Jealousy is the polar opposite of trusting someone. Taking ownership of your jealous feelings will allow you to face them head on and reduce them. Tackling a tendency to be jealous takes a commitment, practice, and skill. The first step in overcoming jealousy is self-awareness. These feelings won’t magically disappear and they can spell disaster for your intimate relationship if they fester too long.
When I explained this dynamic to Stacy, who would often check Jeff’s phone for text messages from female co-workers, she became defensive and justified her actions by saying, “How else will I know if Jeff’s being faithful, you know he’s very flirtatious and many women would take his behavior as an invitation for a hook-up?”
In fact, many people such as Stacy sabotage their relationship and create a toxic dynamic with their partner by being suspicious, rather than assuming the best of him or her, and extending trust. When I asked Stacy if she had an evidence that Jeff was unfaithful, she admitted that he demonstrated trustworthiness by his actions since he generally came home on time and spend weekends with her.
An inability to trust a partner may take on several forms – ranging from feeling they are dishonest or secretive; or doubting they are going to keep their promises or be dependable. Often people are jealous of a person who they feel will replace them. The bottom line is that insecurity and fear of loss are usually at the root of jealous feelings.
Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. For instance, Stacy grew up with two unfaithful parents, which set the stage for her being insecure and mistrustful of partners as an adult.
Working through feelings of mistrust is likely to be an uphill battle if you’ve been cheated on in the past or experienced one of both of your parents’ infidelity. However, it is worth the journey and will free you up to feeling happier and more confident in relationships.
Rather than accusing Jeff of being unfaithful, Stacy can show trust by her words and actions – demonstrating her confidence in him by not checking his text messages. Likewise, Stacy is learning to take ownership of her feelings and reactions. She has begun to examine her thought processes. Stacy’s is learning to pause and reflect, asking herself: Is my mistrust grounded in reality or a fragment of my past? She must be willing to let go of self-defeating thoughts – to free herself from baggage brought from the past.
Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life.
Here are 5 ways to deal with jealous feelings toward your partner:
- Don’t assume the worst of your partner if you don’t have all the information. Gather information in a non-judgmental way and don’t made accusations of your partner. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt if they are late or make a mistake.
- Examine how many of your mistrustful feelings stem from your past or present relationships. When you become aware of your jealous or mistrustful feelings toward your partner, stop yourself and ask: “Is my jealousy or mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it related to my past?”
- Take responsibility for your own reactions and focus on changing your mistrustful mindset. Be vulnerable and let your partner know if you have insecurities based on your past and tell him or her that you’re ready to work on your trust issues.
- Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of rebuilding trust and don’t issue ultimatums such as “I’m out of here” or “This relationship is over” before you’ve collected all of the facts.
- Challenge mistrustful feelings and practice being more trusting in small steps. Learning to trust is a skill that can be nurtured over time. With courage and persistence, you can learn to extend trust to a partner who is deserving of it.
Trust is more of an acquired ability than a feeling. Many people have become jaded because their trust has been betrayed and they have adapted by putting up a wall. However, intimate relationships afford us the opportunity to rebuild trust. Every person is born with the propensity to trust others but through life experiences, you may have become less trusting as a form of self-protection.
Ultimately, extending trust to a partner and dealing with jealous feelings in a constructive way can lead to a more satisfying relationship because trust is the foundation of deep, long-lasting love.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy A Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships,