Dealing with jealousy in a relationship

Dear Alice,

I've been dating the same girl for about two years now, and the only problem we have in our relationship is jealousy, both from her and myself. We both deal with it differently. I actually don't mind when she gets jealous and take it as a type of re-assurance that she still wants to be with me, while she reacts in a much different way and says that I don't trust her or something similar to that, so how do I fix this? I've tried keeping any jealous thoughts I had to myself, but found the "feeling" that yielded seemed worse then having one of our arguments and in the end I found myself unable to keep my mouth shut. Any advice is appreciated :D

— A frustrated Boyfriend...

Dear A frustrated Boyfriend..., 

You and your girlfriend aren’t alone in your feelings of jealousy; in fact, it may be part of human evolution! Jealousy often describes an attitude or feeling—negative or uncomfortable—associated with a person's lack of relationship(s) or possessions in comparison to someone else. In many cases, jealousy stems from insecurity or mistrust and typically manifests after the person suspects some sort of threat whether it be real or imagined. In the past, being vigilant and aggressive around romantic rivals may have allowed people to avoid infidelity and mate abandonment, leading to successful mating, however it may also lead to conflict within the relationship. Jealousy is a universal emotion in humans and has been observed in babies as young as five to six months and in almost every culture around the world! That said, there’s no one direct cause of jealousy, but some variables may lead you and your girlfriend’s feelings to get worse over time. 

Studies have shown a clear link between envy and a desire to be dominant over people that a person perceives to be more attractive than themselves. Since everyone has a different perception of what it means to be beautiful, how and when people experience these emotions can vary. However, research also suggests that the mere existence of these “more attractive people” isn’t necessarily what leads to jealousy problems in a relationship. Instead, it’s theorized that people adjust their feelings of jealousy based on how trustworthy they perceive their partner(s) to be and how stable their relationship is. 

Jealousy can also be the result of past experiences. For example, if either you or your girlfriend experienced infidelity in an earlier relationship (or in your current one), that betrayal may have led to some insecurity-induced jealousy. People who lack trust in their partner(s) are also more likely to feel jealous. Similarly, it’s common for the person in the relationship who has had fewer romantic relationships to experience jealousy and be more attuned to threats of infidelity. This could stem from not having those same experiences or feeling like they've missed out on things with their partner that others have not. Even though this emotion is so common, many people find it difficult to deal with and fully resolve. 

Unresolved feelings of jealousy may take a toll on relationships. Not only could they lead a person to feel stressed, irritable, and nervous, but they might often lead to conflict between partners. Someone who feels jealous may start accusing their partner(s) of being disloyal or of lying to them. Suspicion may also lead them to feel negative about their partner(s)’ other relationships, which could lead to self-criticism and comparison. 

Before diving into a conversation with your partner, it may help to think about how your relationship is serving you. Are you happy with the current state of your relationship? Are you getting the emotional support that you need from your partner(s)? Do you feel like you are able to give your partner the support that they are asking for? Is your current state of jealousy something you believe could get worse over time or damage the relationship. 

Once you have taken the time to decide how you feel about the sustainability of your relationship, the next step may be discussing it with your girlfriend. You mentioned that keeping your jealousy to yourself only seems to make the tension between you and your girlfriend worse. Perhaps it’s time for the two of you to have a conversation about your feelings. Here are some steps you both may consider taking before you address the green-eyed jealousy monster in the room: 

  • Recognize: Ask yourself why you’re feeling jealous. What happened that caused this feeling to emerge?
  • Reflect: Identify past experiences that may have led you to feel this way. It may be helpful to redirect your feelings away from your partner and acknowledge where this jealousy stems from if it’s not something they did. 
  • Take accountability: Remember that it’s possible to change how you feel. You may want to pursue a conversation with a mental health professional or even just meet with a friend to talk it out. 
  • Communicate: Take some time to clearly express how you feel to each other. Instead of attacking your partner, own up to your jealousy and what may be triggering those emotions. Honest communication from both partners is essential in maintaining a stable and safe relationship and can help you strategize a plan if jealousy pops up between the two of you again. 

If the thought of having this conversation between just the two of you feels overwhelming, you might consider bringing in the help of a mental health professional. You could even trycouple's therapy. It may be helpful to have an outside party present to help mediate the conversation. While chances are that jealousy will always be present at some point in a relationship, it doesn’t always have to result in problems. Together the two of you might work, patiently and progressively, to find the best mutual solution. 

Good luck,

Last updated Aug 04, 2023
Originally published Jun 18, 2009

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