Jealousy Ruins Relationships: Escape the Trap

Jealousy wife listening“My partner’s jealousy and suspicious questions are overwhelming. I get constant texts when I’m just out with friends or a few minutes late.”

“All this jealousy becomes so controlling. I feel smothered! I love my partner, but this can’t continue. It’s tearing us apart!”

“I don’t understand why my partner is so worried. I haven’t done anything to cause concern. I’m loyal, loving and we have a great time together. Yet, the jealousy and the constant questioning has gotten worse the longer we’ve been together.”

Indeed, jealousy is incredibly harmful to even the best relationships. Jealousy, when not understood and talked about, can push couples further and further apart.

We’re going to help you look beneath the jealousy to gain a better understanding. And, if you’re the jealous one, you may find some keys to helping you calm your fears.

Understanding Jealousy

Jealousy is simply defined as a real or imagined threat to a relationship. Some experts point out that there is both “good” and “bad” jealousy. A little jealousy may be okay because it is a sign of commitment to and love in the relationship. In fact, one study showed that 75% of people said they tried to make their partner jealous at one time or another.

Many people see more severe jealousy as “bad” in relationships because we don’t understand how it can occur, and couples typically don’t know how to navigate through the patterns of jealousy and misunderstandings that are taking place. A lot depends on how jealousy happens in the relationship and how the partners handle these feelings.

The difficulties can often stem from not yet understanding the issues faced by the jealous partner. He or she can be very sensitive to any signs of rejection. An “alarm bell” happens in their brain that signals that something might not be secure in the relationship — even though the worries may not be logical. Then, sometimes automatically, the anxiety turns to action. The jealous partner then acts in ways to try to make the relationship more secure, but actually may drive the couple further apart.

As in the examples above, the anxious partner is attempting to make sure the relationship commitment is solid — by calling, texting, asking questions — yet the other partner can become increasingly overwhelmed.

The “Negative Cycle” That Is Your True Enemy

In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, we help couples see the pattern that develops in their relationship where there is arguing and a growing distance between them. If you look back at the beginning of this post, you’ll see examples of that negative cycle — the arguing takes over and, unfortunately, the core issue never gets resolved.

In a negative cycle, couples develop a variety of ways of coping: One partner may be seeking answers and wants to talk, but the other shuts down or even leaves the room. One partner attacks with mean and unkind words; the other may interrupt to defend his or her position.

For some couples, there is a decline in intimacy because the “blamed” partner is so upset by all the arguing and accusations. Unfortunately, this can add fuel to the jealous partner’s fears if they feel intimacy is no longer welcome as it had been in the past.

What Jealousy Looks (and Feels) Like with Couples

Jealousy, if not understood, leads to a variety of feelings. For the partner:

  • Not feeling trusted by the jealous partner, but not fully understanding why
  • Feeling controlled. The jealous partner wants to know where they are, with whom and for how long
  • Giving up time with friends, family and activities because the jealous partner will become upset and, then possibly . . .
  • Building a resentment because of the lack of trust, for feeling controlled and for limiting  activities once enjoyed with important friends and family members

Meanwhile, the jealous partner:

  • May struggle to explain his or her concerns while feeling at times that the jealousy seems to take over his or her daily thoughts and feelings
  • The fear about the partner’s commitment in the relationship can become a constant preoccupation and burden that makes them feel increasingly misunderstood
  • Can become angry easily because their partner doesn’t seem to understand the concerns, or cooperate

The couple finds they’re walking on eggshells because both have become afraid to bring up the topic for fear that a negative cycle of arguing will be the result. Too, they may be concerned about the impact on their children of their arguing and the tension in the household.

What Lies Beneath for a Jealous Partner

Many times, beneath the jealousy is a great fear of losing the partner, of being deeply hurt. There may also be a fear of not being enough for the partner to hold and keep the spouse or partner’s love and affection. Jealousy at its root is really a type of panic that is unprocessed and makes you to things automatically, without understanding how to actually pull for something soothing from your partner. 

Jealousy may have its roots in a past loss: such as a previous partner who cheated or left the relationship for another person. The pain of that loss can be profound — and can unfortunately linger into new relationships, no matter how secure.

When we take a scientific view, we can recognize that humans are wired to bond with another special person. This powerful bond began in primitive times when we needed others for survival. Then, we learned to fall in love — and this person then became more important than any other. Therefore, a hurtful ending of a relationship can leave a wound not easily healed. This baggage can pop up in new relationships, and you need to discuss it. 

Another clue to the jealous partner’s fears may lie in childhood. While our parents may have had the best of intentions, we may not have received the attention and connection to our parents or a caregiver that we needed. These primary wounds can also make us more prone to feel insecure and panicky (read: jealous).

Make New Meaning out of Jealousy

When any behavior, including jealousy, is more deeply understood, change can become more possible.Jealousy about phone

Couples can begin to resolve difficulties between each other by gently bringing the issue or concern to the surface. A calm conversation with a goal of truly understanding each other can reveal a new awareness of each partner’s viewpoint.

It’s important to go slowly, avoid interrupting and listen fully to each other. Set aside time with no distractions and when neither of you is tired.

Be curious. If something isn’t clear, let your partner know. “I hear what you’re saying and that this is important to you. Help me understand a little further. I wonder about . . . .”

Be soft with each other. Put kindness at the forefront. Keep in mind that both of you want to learn how to defeat that negative cycle together. Communication in Relationships can be tough, but there are many ways to get support.

It’s important for both partners to get a chance to be understood. The jealous partner is in pain, AND the partner who is dealing with the jealousy is suffering the impact of that as well.

Watch for Control Issues

Partner demanding phone out of jealousyWhen is jealousy toxic? These fears, if left unchecked, can make the jealous partner try to control that feeling by controlling their partner. The thing about jealousy is that sometimes there can be the belief that if their partner makes them feel insecure (on purpose or not), they deserve to be punished for that, or taught a lesson (“If she makes me jealous, this is what she has to deal with”). Sometimes, partners were raised to believe certain things about the role of women or spouses. If you have a jealous partner and you are increasingly inhibited and feeling afraid of setting your partner’s jealousy off, or you yourself can’t get unstuck from being on guard and making demands, this is a sign that it’s becoming a bigger deal and you may need outside help. We all feel jealous at times, but toxic jealousy can be a symptom of other aspects of power and control issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, and rarely get better on their own. Click here for more information on controlling relationships.

When Couples Continue to Struggle

Our hope is that reading this post helps you realize that you are not alone — either as the person who experiences jealousy and anxiety about the security of the relationship or as the partner who struggles to truly understand the other person’s fears and concern.

When jealousy has taken a deep toll on the relationship, many couples can feel hopeless. Couples counseling may be an important step. Emotionally Focused Therapy offers a brief, proven approach to addressing conflict and the breakdown of communication.

Couples can learn to become more compassionate and understanding of each other while also learning to work through jealousy and other challenges that are limiting their closeness, joy and loving kindness toward each other.