No one enjoys feeling jealous or insecure, even though jealousy is an emotion that almost all of us will experience at one point or another. The problem with jealousy isn’t that it comes up from time to time, it’s when we don’t get hold of it. It can be frightening to experience what happens when we allow our jealousy to overpower us or to shape the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. That is why understanding where our insecure/jealous feelings actually come from and learning how to deal with them, in a healthy way, is key to happiness in so many areas of our lives.
So, why are we jealous?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of studies have shown that increased jealousy tends to correlate with low a self-esteem driven by our critical inner voice. This inner voice is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others and is at the root of much of our self-destructive and maladaptive behaviour. The critical inner voice is not an actual voice that speaks to us, it’s best described as self-limiting thoughts and beliefs that exists in all of us and stop us from achieving our goals. Many of us are unaware that we have a critical inner voice because it comes so natural to have self-critical thoughts about ourselves.
This isn’t about blame, it’s about our inner voice fuelling our feelings of jealousy by filling our heads with critical or suspicious commentary. In fact, the reality is; what our critical inner voice tells us about our situation is often more difficult to deal with than the situation itself. A rejection or betrayal from our romantic partner is painful, but what often hurts us even more are all the terrible things our critical inner voice tells us about ourselves after the event. “You’re such an idiot. Did you really think you could really love you? You are going to end up all alone. You should never trust anyone again.”
It’s a basic reality that relationships go smoother when people don’t get overly jealous. Concern over ones relationship is healthy whereas jealousy is destructive and unhealthy. The more we get a hold of our feelings of jealousy and make sense of them, separate from our partner, the better off we will be. Remember, our jealousy often comes from our own insecurity - a feeling like we are doomed to be deceived, hurt or rejected. Unless we deal with this feeling in ourselves, we are likely to fall victim to feelings of jealousy, distrust or insecurity in any relationship, no matter what the circumstances.
These negative feelings about ourselves often stem from our early childhood experiences. We often take on the feelings our parents or caregivers had toward us or toward themselves. We then, unconsciously, replay, recreate or react to old, familiar dynamics in our current relationships. For example, if we felt cast aside as children, we may easily perceive our partner as ignoring us, or we may choose a partner who’s more elusive, or even engage in behaviours that would push them away.
The extent to which we took on self-critical attitudes as children often shapes how much our critical inner voice will affect us in our adult lives, especially in our relationships. Yet, no matter what our unique experiences may be, we all possess this inner critic to a certain extent. Most of us can relate to carrying around a feeling that we didn’t want to have. Often, lurking behind any jealous/paranoid feelings towards our partners, or a perceived third-party threat, are critical thoughts toward ourselves. Thoughts such as, ‘What does he see in her?’ can quickly turn into ‘She is so much prettier/thinner/more successful than me!’ Even when our worst fears become a reality and we learn of a partner’s affair, we often react by directing anger at ourselves for being “foolish or unlovable”
Our critical inner voice then tells us not to trust or be too vulnerable. It reminds us we are unlovable and unsuitable for a romantic relationship. It’s that nagging voice that plants the seed of doubt, suspicion and uncertainty. “Why is she working so late?” “Why is she choosing her friends over me all the time?” “What is he even doing when I’m away?” “Why is he paying so much attention to what she’s saying?”
For those of us who are familiar with how jealousy works, knows that, all too often, these thoughts slowly start to sprout and blossom into much larger, more engrained attacks on ourselves and/or our partner. “She doesn’t want to be around you. There must be someone else.” “He’s losing interest. He wants to get away from you.” “Who would want to listen to you anyway? You’re so boring.”
These jealous feeling can arise at any point in a relationship and in an attempt to protect ourselves, we may listen to our inner critic and pull back from being close to our partner. Yet its catch twenty two because we tend to feel more jealous and insecure if we know on some level we’re not making our relationship a priority or actively going after our goal of being loving or close. That is why it’s even more essential not to blindly act on jealous feelings by pushing our partner further away.
What Can We Do About Jealousy?
There are of course times when a gut feeling/suspicions about our partner might be founded. However, it is important to ensure you try and work with evidence as opposed to running away with jealous feelings. Relationship counselling can help you understand your thought process when jealousy strikes and then subsequent unhelpful behaviour that follows. It will also allow you the time and space to discuss your concerns in an open, calm and honest way. The process will enable them to really listen to and take on board your perspective, because it won’t get lost amongst an angry, critical, accusing outburst.
A question I am often asked is - “What Counts as Cheating in a Relationship?”
My summary reply is - “When you do, say or write something that you wouldn’t want your partner to see, hear or read then you know you are being unfaithful”
Cheating or unfaithfulness is difficult to define because people often differ in what they deem appropriate contact or interaction for a partner to have with someone else.And to make matters more problematic, many people don't like to define what counts as cheating because by keeping the rules vague and ambiguous, it makes it easier to cheat. If you don't know what the rules are, you really can't break them perhaps?
There may not be an approved checklist for what qualifies as cheating, but here are some questions that might help clarify the issue for you:
1) Even if you’re not sure if you are cheating, would your partner perhaps say that you are?
Do you know what your partner’s expectations are? Do they know yours? Are those expectations acceptable to you both? If not, then it would be wise to have a conversation to discuss what you consider appropriate and inappropriate behaviour – This way, you are both clear and there are no grey areas.
2) Are you secretive about seemingly harmless things?
Sometimes we hide things, such as website, e-mail or social media passwords or innocent interactions with attractive colleagues or friends. There is always a reason for this. We might convince ourselves that we are not doing anything questionable, but if we’re really honest, are we doing this just in case we want to do something questionable in the future? If this sounds familiar, you might not be being unfaithful at the moment, but don’t fool yourself, by doing this you’re open to the opportunity - which is not a good sign.
2) Are you anticipating the next step?
Even if anyone observing your actions would agree you’re not breaking rules, are you secretly eager to see how the third party responds and what might develop? Every time you interact, are there subtle shifts in how that relationship feels? Is it progressing toward something that is not entirely platonic in nature, and do you find yourself looking forward to each progressive step before it occurs?
3) Would you be uncomfortable if your partner acted in the same way you do?
A helpful reality check is to turn the situation around and determine if you would get upset if your partner behaved in the same way. If you have a friendship with an opposite-sex that’s gotten a little too cosy, ask yourself if you’d want your partner to have that kind of relationship? If you’re checking up on an old boyfriend or girlfriend on Facebook, ask yourself if you’d want your current partner doing the same?
4) What’s the intent behind the interaction?
More often than not – the question of cheating can be boiled down to one single word: motive. Why do you banter with the man/woman at the gym? Why are you sending text messages to your ex? Why are you meeting that person for coffee? Be warned - even the most self-aware individuals sometimes deceive themselves about their true motivations. Be honest with yourself in order to be honest with your partner.
If in doubt - take a big step back and think to yourself - Are you crossing the line between trustworthy and untrustworthy behaviour? If so, ask yourself why? If you answer that honestly and discover it’s actually problem within your relationship, then it’s this which needs dealing with - before you go looking elsewhere.
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to improve our mental and physical health. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t just enhance our individual well-being. In fact, it’s now being shown to have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships.
Mindfulness is a skill we can learn; which we can integrate into our everyday lives. This allows us an easy, always available, method to calm ourselves down when we feel distressed. Mindfulness increases our awareness of what we are experiencing and allows us the space to decide how we want to act in our daily lives. Therefore, it stands to reason that by enhancing this ability that we have within us would lead to better outcomes in our relationships.
Begin by imagining you are having a disagreement with your partner. Picture yourself in that moment - everything feels overwhelmingly wrong, anger is bubbling up inside you and you feel intense upset or hurt. Now imagine being able to feel your thoughts and emotions without reacting to them in that moment. Imagine observing the emotions and thoughts that are arising without getting caught up in them — being able to keep your emotional balance. This allows you to think about how you would like to respond in the situation versus how you would instinctively react. Mindfulness is a means by which we can get to know our thoughts and stay connected to our feelings without falling victim to inappropriate, intense reactions based, commonly based on unresolved issues from our past.
When it comes to leftover emotional pain from our earliest relationships, no one will trigger these feelings of hurt like our romantic partner. How many times have you found yourself saying something in a moment of anger that you later deeply regret? Why is it we find ourselves lashing out at the person we love the most? Ironically, our closest relationships tend to present us with the biggest challenges in our lives. Relationships test us in many ways, redefining how we see ourselves and the world around us. In addition to bringing us joy, finding love can cause us a great deal of anxiety and sadness.
In our romantic relationships, we make ourselves vulnerable to our partner. Our fears of being hurt in this vulnerable state can make us more reactive and we run the risk of self-sabotaging, not acting in our best interest in relation to the ones we love.
Mindfulness is a valuable tool for facing the daily challenges of staying close to our partner. It allows us to become more centered and calm, so we can talk things out instead of spiralling into a screaming match. When we on the defensive with our partner, overreacting to every word they say, we fail to really hear what’s going on with them. We fail to listen to what they are saying, what has triggered their upset and what are they really saying or asking of us.
A typical conversation between a couple may involve one partner remarking, “You used to be up for anything when we first met” This comment may spark a defensive response in the other: “What? You’re saying that I’m not spontaneous anymore and you think I’m boring?! What about you? You never get off the sofa!” This type of angry and accusatory response tends to have a snowball effect. “I never said you were boring! But now you are saying I’m lazy?! How dare you! I work day and night to make you happy. You’re so ungrateful!”
Things then escalate and both partners end up ‘flipping out’ with any resentments toward each other starting to spill out. At this point, the higher functions of their brain are offline and the emotional centers are firing out of control. Strong, exaggerated, hostile statements fly back and forth. However, if either person could be more mindful in the interaction, they would pause before responding. They could notice that they are triggered and angry and then choose to do something else, take a break or do something that will help them calm down. This may mean taking a few deep breaths or a long walk. This will allow them to gain some control, come back and react in a more constructive manner. It’s important to take time to reflect and to notice the feelings but to consciously choose how we deal with them. This time allows us space to not cause our partner any unnecessary hurt. Once we have centered ourselves and calmed down, we are able to communicate more clearly.
Mindfulness isn’t about denying or burying our emotions. It’s simply about cultivating a different relationship to our feelings and experiences, whereby we are in the driver’s seat. We can see our feelings and thoughts like a train roaring through a station; however we alone can choose if we want to get on board.
When we find someone we care for, someone we want to be with no matter what they bring to the table and the relationship is worth working on, then half the battle is won. Mindfulness enables enable you go after what you want, not only in your relationship, but also you own person goals. It’s an ongoing practice that can help you to become the person you want to be every day for the rest of your life.
In an ideal world, we would all be born with perfectly attuned parents who love us and are there for our every need but who also give us just the right amount of space and independence to flourish and fully develop. All our parents would provide a solid base from which we could venture out as separate individuals because we would feel safe and secure.
However, the reality is for most people are; the relationships with our early caregivers are complex and likely include some frustration and pain. Yet, whether we grew up with a secure or insecure attachment pattern, one thing is for sure, our present relationships are heavily influenced by our earliest attachments.
The way we experienced relationships in our very early lives creates an “internal working model” for how we view relationships throughout our lives. In other words, our past relationships affect everything from who we choose as a partner to how we are likely to interact with them and what behaviour we will illicit from them. Our early relationships provide a template for how relationships go; can I depend on others? Will they sooth me when I need it? Will they see me for who I really am?
How we adapted to our early relationships, the defences we formed, also shape how we will behave toward romantic partners. For example, do you believe you are better off not depending on others and taking care of yourself? Or do you believe the opposite, that you “need” to get your significant other to take care of you, and therefore, you are preoccupied by getting their attention? Are you trapped, on the one hand being afraid to get close to anyone and on the other terrified of being alone?
In many ways the attachment style we formed early on impacts how we behave in relationships and how we expect others to behave. If we’re wondering why certain dynamics keep playing out or patterns keep developing in our relationships, it’s important to consider the working models we’re bringing to the table.
The early attachment styles we experienced shape these internal working models. For example, many people grow up with an avoidant attachment to a parent. They may not have felt they could get their needs met easily by that parent, and therefore, adapted to become more self-contained and self-sufficient. As adults, they carry this model with them. They may not think people will be there for them, so they rely on themselves and resist trusting or getting too close.
On the other hand, many people grow up with an ambivalent attachment style in which they felt they had to cling to their parent or caretaker in order to get their needs met. Their parent may have been available and attuned some of the time, and then all of a sudden they’d be neglectful or rejecting. The parents may even become emotionally hungry at times, attempting to get their own needs met by their child. As a result, these people may grow up feeling desperate, insecure and clingy toward a romantic partner.
Our working models affect the way we see the world. We often perceive people as reflections of our past, assuming they will think and behave in certain patterns. We may also unconsciously choose partners who fit these patterns – whose own attachment styles complement/ mesh with ours. For example, if we grew up feeling ignored, we may find ourselves in relationships with people who are unavailable, aloof, cold or flat out rejecting. If we felt intruded on as kids, we may choose people who are controlling, jealous or demanding.
When two people come together, they both have their own working models that affect each other. Both partners may engage in behaviours that push or provoke each other in ways that encourage each other to play the other half of these old, familiar dynamics. As couples play out their side of the model, their relationships can start to look more and more like those of their past. This reinforces each partner’s working model, confirming what they already believe about love and relationships.
The good news is, we are not doomed to repeat the patterns of our past. We can change our model, but we have to identify it, so we can challenge it. Because our expectations and ideas about relationships form from our early experiences, it’s necessary to make sense of those experiences in order to create healthier relationships in the present.
Allowing our past to consume us emotionally doesn’t work but neither does burying the past and pretending like it doesn’t affect us. What does work is creating a coherent narrative. This is something that helps us to integrate new information with what we already know, so that we can heal and move on.
Creating a coherent narrative as a technique for developing inner security allows us to form more healthy adult relationships. People can make sense of their life and develop inner security. If you can make sense of your childhood experiences—especially your relationships with your parents—you can transform your attachment models toward security.
The reason this is important is that relationships— with friends, with romantic partners, with present or possible future offspring—will be profoundly enhanced. And you’ll feel better about yourself, too!”
This is well worth a watch; it's somewhat tongue in cheek, however, experience has shown - it's very accurate.
If couples could get their heads around this fundamental difference between how (a vast majority) of men and women think - then it would go a long way in making a long term, happy, harmonious relationship.