Jealousy occurs as a response to a real or imagined threat of losing a partner. We then become suspicious and show a tendency towards control. It is accompanied by states such as fear of rejection, irritability, anger, insecurity and possessiveness. What is infidelity that often triggers jealousy? We define it individually with our partner, setting boundaries together that we commit not to cross.
When is jealousy morbid?
A little jealousy shows us that our partner is still important to us and we do not want to lose him or her. The aforementioned emotion does not destroy the relationship as long as we are able to manage it and do not let it take over our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes confuse facts with how we feel. We use emotional justification. Since we feel jealousy, it means that our partner is cheating on us or looking for an opportunity to do so. Adequate jealousy occurs when the other person crosses mutually agreed boundaries. He or she commits infidelity or emotionally distances himself or herself, contributing to the disappearance of closeness in the relationship. Irrational jealousy is not justified. While outsiders often perceive our relationship as successful, we are the ones who find problems and get carried away by our own perceptions. An extreme case is Othello syndrome. It most often occurs in people who abuse alcohol. It causes delusions on the basis of which absurd accusations are made. Morbid jealousy makes us believe that our partner is cheating on us with many people. This is evidenced by frequent visits to the bank, school, clinic or housing association.
Unhappy in the relationship is then both the person suspected of infidelity and the person making the accusations. Jealousy – how to deal with it in order to save the relationship and improve the quality of life? I will discuss this issue later in this article.
What influences suspicion in a relationship?
Why am I jealous? This is a question I get asked by many of my patients who come to couples therapy. Each of us has our own history and experiences that have shaped how we approach relationships. Suspicion in a relationship sometimes stems from a betrayal committed by a partner. We have decided to forgive him or her and have given up on the break-up, but we have not fully worked through the crisis of trust. His lack of trust bothers us and makes us suspect him of infidelity when he does not answer our phone calls. Although there are times when jealousy in a relationship has a rational justification, very often its cause lies within us. It is the result of:
-patterns dating back to childhood or a previous relationship;
-childhood rejection by parents;
The impact of self-esteem on suspiciousness
Constant anxiety, irritability, insecurity, fear of rejection and betrayal all significantly reduce our quality of life. It robs us of the energy we could spend on our careers, hobbies, meeting friends and nurturing a close relationship with our partner. When we recognise this, we wonder how to control jealousy. Let’s look at our own self-esteem. Low self-esteem makes us feel unworthy of love. We think we don’t deserve our partner and their interest. The other person will sooner or later abandon us for someone better, once they realise our flaws. It is possible that we have already experienced rejection in the past. Our parents didn’t have time for us, or they divorced and we lost contact with one of the carers. When our needs were not met in childhood, we probably developed a non-secure attachment style. This forms the matrix on which we build relationships with other people. Fortunately, the type of attachment, like self-esteem, can be worked on. Self-awareness, reaching for valuable psychological counselling and individual psychotherapy can help.
Causes of jealousy, or why am I jealous?
Why am I jealous? There are many potential causes. Above, I drew attention to low self-esteem. When our self-esteem is healthy and stable, we do not fear that our partner will abandon us for another person. We do not spend the time and energy to prevent this through excessive control or emotional blackmail. Other causes of jealousy will be briefly discussed in this section of the article.
-Emotional and/or physical distancing of the partner – Adequate jealousy is characterised by the fact that it has a rational justification. It is felt when the closeness in the relationship disappears. The other person prefers to spend time apart and rarely talks to us, so we don’t know why. He or she surrounds himself or herself with new friends and pays more attention to them than to us. Jealousy informs us that a relationship crisis is developing and it is worth reacting before it is too late.
-Childhood/previous relationship patterns – we learn by drawing on our life experiences. Sometimes we are aware of this and sometimes we are out of touch with certain content that has become encoded in our mind and remains deeply embedded. These make us unable to trust others, including our partner. We attribute bad intentions to people. This is the case when, for example, parents have been notorious for betraying each other or failing to keep their promises. Very often, childhood patterns harm us because they remain unconscious. Working on them is best done with the professional support of a psychotherapist.
-Cognitive distortions – make us perceive reality in the wrong way. Some of us suffer from black and white thinking. We say: if my partner loved me, we would spend every moment together, while he goes out with his friends on Saturdays. Catastrophising is also a big problem. After giving birth I have big problems with my skin and hair. I no longer look as attractive as I used to. He will probably leave me for a younger and prettier one.
-Parental rejection and hunger for love – when we don’t receive unconditional love from our mother and father, we try to compensate through a relationship. We believe that a partner will respond to our deficits. We forget that romantic relationships are governed by their own laws. A partner will not replace our parents and will not respond to all our needs. The love in a relationship is completely different from that between a child and mother.
-Personality disorder – we are shaped by different childhood experiences. Sometimes they turn out to be so difficult and dramatic that they project negatively on the structure of our personality. This makes us behave inappropriately to the circumstances. For example, it is not uncommon for a narcissist in a relationship to betray himself, but he expects 100% fidelity from his partner. He or she can be very possessive and prohibit the other person from seeing family, friends and even work. Psychotherapy for the treatment of personality disorders is very successful if you come to it on your own initiative and are highly motivated.
-Substance abuse – alcohol and drugs sometimes trigger states in which we reach delusions. We begin to blame our partner for cheating on us with a number of people – a boss, a colleague, a co-op worker, a shop assistant and a telemarketer. We have no convincing evidence to support our suspicions; we are driven solely by substance-induced imaginations.
The effects of suspicion and jealousy in a relationship
Morbid jealousy, which is irrational and unjustified, very often causes a crisis in the relationship. We lose trust in our partner, accuse him of infidelity, try to control him by checking his phone and laptop. Sometimes we also search the pockets of his clothes, follow his activities during the day and try to limit his contacts with other people. We make unrealistic demands, e.g. we expect our partner to leave his job because we don’t like his relationship with his manager.
We accuse our partner of infidelity, by distancing ourselves from him or her emotionally and physically. We waste time and energy that we could spend nurturing the relationship. By strengthening the foundation on which the relationship rests, we reduce the risk of the potential infidelity we so fear. We fail to see that our suspicion is counterproductive. The person suspected of infidelity eventually gets fed up with our accusations. The atmosphere of interrogation and scrutiny becomes overwhelming for her. She tries to detach herself from it and approaches other people who show her more understanding and trust. This encourages betrayal. Irrational jealousy often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is worth bearing in mind.
How do you stop being jealous and suspicious in a relationship?
Is there a proven way to deal with jealousy? It is difficult to point to a one-size-fits-all solution, as this emotion has different origins. Sometimes it is appropriate to the situation because we intuitively sense that our partner is cheating on us because he or she has been behaving differently for some time. In this situation, a frank conversation is helpful. Sometimes couples therapy comes into play because both parties want to work on the relationship. Sometimes a partner doesn’t want to end an affair they have entered into and a break-up is the only solution. How do you stop being jealous? It is worth addressing the area and behaviour that causes us the most difficulty. In eliminating irrational jealousy, it helps to:
– a conversation based on trust;
-giving up control of your partner;
-working on self-esteem;
-cognitive reprogramming – replacing distorted beliefs with their more realistic counterparts;
– acceptance of jealousy – but let’s not confuse it with treating emotions as equal to facts. We become aware that we feel it, we look at it, but we don’t reinforce it. We tell ourselves that
it’s just an emotion that informs us that we don’t want to lose our partner because they are important to us;
– individual psychotherapy.
Improving the relationship in a relationship is possible if both parties feel motivated to work together. Sometimes we do not have enough resources. We find it difficult to talk to each other about our needs and emotions. We also fail to see certain correlations and hidden patterns. In such cases, it is worthwhile to take advantage of couples’ therapy. In addition, the specialist may recommend individual psychotherapy if there are indications for this.
Trust and talk in the relationship
There are different ways to deal with jealousy, and sometimes it is useful to combine several solutions to reduce the intensity with which we feel this emotion. We will not get rid of it completely because it is an important part of humanity. We need all emotions because they act as signposts. The problem is that we sometimes misinterpret them or get carried away by them. It is only up to us how we react to a particular emotion.
How do we deal with jealousy? Talk about it with your partner. This doesn’t mean accusing him or her of infidelity. Let’s tell him or her about our emotions and needs. E.g. I feel concerned because you have been paying a lot of attention to your work colleague lately. You travel to her in the afternoons to repair faults in her flat. This situation is difficult for me because I feel that she is becoming more important to you than me. We spend less and less time together. It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken to each other, only exchanging messages about childcare. There’s a reason why, when we think about what a relationship should look like, we think about respectful conversation. Only by articulating our emotions and needs can we make our partner see them. It is possible that he or she does not realise that a situation is difficult and uncomfortable for us. While he may not have bad intentions, he is unknowingly acting in a way that hurts us. By raising the issue, we can get him to change the behaviour that makes us jealous.
Bottom line – how do you deal with jealousy?
Many of my patients come to me with the question: how not to be jealous? I answer them that it is impossible to completely eliminate this emotion from our lives. It testifies to our humanity and plays an important role. It informs us of what/who is important to us, because we don’t want to lose that something/someone. The problem is irrational jealousy that is not only not justified, but is expressed in the wrong way. When we accuse our partner of infidelity and try to limit and control him or her, a relationship crisis occurs. There is a lack of mutual trust, closeness, care, interest, tenderness and desire. We move away from each other emotionally and physically, and this increases the likelihood of infidelity and separation. The partner we suspect of infidelity feels overwhelmed. We, in trying to control him or her, only intensify our difficult emotions, including the fear of rejection. If we are uncomfortable with something, let’s talk to the other person about it. Let’s tell them about our emotions and needs, and there’s a good chance they will want to reach out to us. For example, he or she will introduce us to new friends he or she sees regularly, and this will reduce our concerns. A conversation based on mutual respect and assertiveness yields very good results when we have no trust issues. Sometimes irrational jealousy goes deeper and stems from our deficits, patterns, cognitive distortions, emotional problems and low self-esteem. It then requires that we work through certain issues on our own, which, in the long term, will contribute to a higher quality of life and an improved relationship.