Jealousy in Relationships
What is jealousy in relationships?
Jealousy in relationships can essentially be defined as the insecurity you feel when a rival threatens your relationship in some way. But within your feeling of jealousy, there are a number of different features that can typify what you are experiencing:
• In addition to your jealousy, you may also be feeling helpless, anxious, angry, resentful, vengeful, betrayed, distrustful, lonely, depressed and disgusted.
• The way that you perceive your rival leaves you feeling (physically and emotionally) inadequate and worthless: “They must have something that is better than what I have got.”
• As your jealousy persists, you lose your sense of what is real and what is imagined. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are affected and can become obsessive. You put yourself into negative situations that reinforce your negative beliefs.
• Your jealousy can be sexual in nature: you know or believe that your partner has been or they want to be promiscuous. Sexual jealousy can also be provoked where there is no case for actual promiscuity, but an intention for external sexual desire e.g. your partner idolising a celebrity or watching pornography.
• Your jealousy can also be emotional in nature: you know or believe that your partner shares a special bond with your imagined rival. Perhaps your partner and imagined rival share the same opinions about an issue or enjoy the same hobby. This bond could develop intimately and threaten your relationship with your partner. Emotional jealousy can also be triggered where your partner’s attention or affection is shared with another person even though there is no sexual connection e.g. giving more attention to a child or parent whilst believing that your partner is neglecting you.
• Your jealousy can be projected. This is when you are having thoughts of betraying your partner, but you fail to act on these thoughts because of guilt. Your suppression of these feelings leads you to project these feelings onto your partner, only you believe that your partner is acting out their intentions. You falsely imagine the existence of rivals, even though none exist.
• What you have (or believe you have) and value in your relationship is about to be (or has been) lost. So, an agreed (or assumed) boundary with your partner has been wrongly broken by your partner’s supposed involvement with another person i.e. you believe that someone else is gaining what you own or deserve.
Examples of jealousy in relationships
It is a commonly held view that a small amount of jealousy in relationships can be healthy. Jealousy can remind you how important your partner is to you and it can motivate you to be a better companion. Jealousy can also create the spark to protect your relationship from external threats, particularly when you can discuss the nature of these threats with your partner.
In jealousy’s healthier form, consider a typical situation when your partner glances over at an attractive person. You are left with only a mild feeling of unease. You might question your partner by asking them “is something taking your fancy?” With an innocent, yet embarrassed expression they reassuringly squeeze your hand and then reply “just admiring the view!” In this situation, the sensitive communication between you helps any elevating jealousy to be vented. Your open reactions build trust into the relationship because you express your feelings, rather than suppress them.
But jealousy has a more destructive side. The reactions can be spiteful, causing you both to feel imprisoned in your own relationship. So, in the above scenario, the reactions would take a different course. The glance is interpreted as a threat to your relationship. There can be an immediate, aggressive attempt to punish your partner as a way of redeeming the worthlessness that you have just felt. If the guilty act has taken place in public, you disguise your anger, giving a fake laugh to ward off any hint of social embarrassment. But it’s just a temporary let-off for the loss of control that you have suffered. The damage has been done and the “fuse” has been lit, steadily burning towards its fatal blow of destruction when you are both home alone. Your partner will think twice next time!
Some forms of jealousy can be more insidious. You are helplessly ashamed of your own reactions, so you disguise your direct aggression and retaliate in a way that is disconnected to the offending act; you wreck something that they value and claim ignorance over the damage that has been done.
Or maybe your jealous reaction is delayed (but never forgotten). When they next go out with their friends, you find a way to spoil the evening by plaguing them with text messages and phone calls. How else can you divert your brooding anxiety that they might see someone more attractive than you? You seek pity from them for a feigned illness, demanding an early finish to their night. Ultimately, guilt overwhelms them and their return home is the trophy for your strengthening possessiveness.
Some of the situations above are typical ways of expressing jealousy in relationships. Your jealousy will have a cause.
Jealousy in relationships: What causes jealousy?
Some psychologists consider jealousy to be an innate and instinctive response needed for genetic survival; as a species you are genetically pre-disposed to protect what could be taken away from you. But this theory ignores that not everybody suffers with the same level of jealousy. Indeed, there are some individual learned factors that can cause your jealousy in relationships.
Your childhood situation and experiences can contribute to your feelings of jealousy. This can include your position in the family (e.g. being the oldest child), your parent’s handling of sibling rivalry and the way in which you perceived their distribution of time, attention and praise to you and your siblings. Family values of competitiveness can also create an acceptable culture of jealousy at home.
Typically, being an only child is considered a situation where feelings of jealousy can be high because as a child you lacked the experience of sharing attention. But this can again vary on the type of attention that you have received from your parents and the way in which you interpreted their attention. Destructive jealousy experienced in adult relationships can originate from the child having too much parental attention (being spoiled) or contrastingly from parental neglect.
These background influences of jealousy can lay dormant. They may not always affect your loss of friendships at a young age (unless you believe that you ‘own’ your friends). But as you start having close relationships and establish a trusting bond with your partner, you become aware of how much there is to lose and how painful a break up can be.
When your parents have displayed jealous beliefs or have been involved in affairs, it is easy to form early patterns of repressed insecurity and distrust. At that young age, you would not have known if your parent’s affairs would have caused a divorce. Neither would you have known what its implications would have then meant for you. Fear of abandonment is a common insecurity from early traumas like these and can surface later in your life as jealousy in relationships.
This distrust can also be learned from other significant people in your life e.g. siblings or friends who have similarly been betrayed by their partners. The effect of learning this trauma may not be as deep as the effect of your own parents, but it can act to reinforce an already-frail jealous disposition.
The effect of a personal betrayal from a past relationship is one of the most powerful contributors to learning destructive jealousy in relationships. If it hasn’t been acquired from the above situations, the effect of this sole past betrayal can overwhelm your handling of a new relationship. Your new partner might be a Saint, but the emotional distrust learned from the previous betrayal influences you to keep your ‘guard up’. Inevitably, you believe that your new partner is destined to cheat on you in the same way as your previous partner did before.
Sometimes there has been more than one betrayal in the background which accumulates your jealous feelings. Or maybe you’ve endured a lengthy relationship with a persistent liar who has deceived you for years, despite your friends warning you of what has been happening. You didn’t want to believe it at the time or were not ready to accept that it could be happening to you. When reality hits you, it shocks you and can generate a vengeful attack on your deceitful partner. It can shatter your concept of trust influencing you to believe that all future relationships will go the same way.
Insecurity in relationships is the belief that in some way (consciously or unconsciously), you aren’t good enough for your partner. Given time, your partner will realise this, come to their senses and find somebody else that is a better match for them. Insecurity can relate to one or several issues e.g. you can feel insecure about your attractiveness, an aspect of your personality or your perception of your success. But whatever the nature of your insecure attribute, you are totally convinced about your worthless feature and reject that anyone else could love you for it. When your partner socialises, your fear and possessiveness escalates. You hopelessly compare yourself to your imagined perfect rival, only causing you to feel more insecure and jealous.
Your insecurity can also be associated with feeling undeserving of a happy relationship. This can be due to a deeper fear of abandonment. You can cope with poor or mediocre relationships because there is less pain to fear if it goes wrong. But as soon as the relationship is thriving, you panic. You fear that the pain of abandonment will return as you make a commitment with your partner. So you engage in self-sabotaging tactics to push your partner away (a form of “secondary gain”). One method is to make false accusations of their infidelity to down grade the relationship. You play the jealous partner to ease this deeper fear that lives inside of you. It then justifies your break up with them because, you claim, “they were being unfaithful”.
You view your partner as a commodity
Believing that your partner is really “yours” is a term that is deeply ingrained in the common use of our language. But beliefs about “ownership” can be a cause of your jealousy in relationships. Even by saying “your partner” or “your other half” assumes that they belong to you. For the majority of the population these terms are harmless references to someone you share a relationship with. For others, it indicates the existence of a contract e.g. by marriage. But with jealous values dominating in the background, the objectification of your partner heightens that fear of you losing your “property”. Consider that you can only really lose that which you believe you own in the first place.
You want feelings to stay the same
Fixed beliefs about your feelings can be a cause of your jealousy in relationships. In your unrealistic relationship ideals, you believe that the feeling of being in love should never change. You hope that the honeymoon period of your relationship will last forever. But when it does end, your feelings of insecurity increase. You continue to make commitments with your partner e.g. by getting married, buying a house and having children (not always in that order!) But you hopelessly believe that these commitments will bring the old feelings back. The emotional void is filled with resentment as you envy those around you having the excitement of new relationships as you once did during your honeymoon period. You may even develop feelings of attraction towards other people as a way of coping with this void. But rather than accept these common fluctuations of feeling, you begin to become suspicious of your partner also craving these feelings and finding others attractive too. Jealousy starts to filter into your relationship as a projection of what you crave in your own life and believe about feelings staying the same.
You demand guarantees
Your expectation of relationships is unrealistic. As a response to your past betrayals, you now seek certainties from your partner that holds them to unreasonable commitments. The time at which they say that they will return home must be fulfilled or it justifies your aggression. You are eagerly clock-watching as the time ticks up to the agreed arrival time ready to pounce if the “contact has been broken”. This drives your anticipatory anxiety so that even when they make the deadline, you are already wound up and suspicious of minor signs of betrayal evidence. But this insecure handling is not just on a day-to-day level. Your long-term view of the relationship also demands knowledge of the future, as if you can fortune-tell what will happen as “facts”. You have to know that the relationship will last forever. Can that ever be guaranteed? And this unrealistic expectation causes your anger when anything threatens to destroy your dream.
You have a general fear of loss (being replaced)
A fear of losing your partner (or some aspect of them) to a rival defines your jealousy in relationships. But due to your past experiences, your fear of loss is a much deeper fear that causes your jealousy. For example, you may have feared being replaced as a child when siblings were born or when your parents divorced, and this fear is now transferring into your adult relationships. Your fear of loss is also in evidence at work, where you constantly fear losing your job to another colleague despite constant praise from your bosses. Regardless of the situations where this fear of loss presents itself, it has a debilitating effect on your sense of responsibility and confidence. You end up being victim to circumstance; hopelessly clinging to what you have, and fearing that it will be snatched away from you by perceived rivals. With this fear, your partner, your job, your friends etc. are all vulnerable. You may also consider that your favourable outcomes are due to you “being lucky”. It’s as if you have not played an active part in any of your achievements.
Personal psychological factors
In addition to your childhood background and past betrayals, your individual personality traits can cause your jealousy in relationships. Low self-esteem is a core issue closely linked with insecurity (see above). With low self-esteem, you put yourself down and struggle to accept yourself as you are. You rely heavily on acceptance and reinforcement from others. You believe that you don’t deserve good things in life and that you are ‘lucky’ when happiness does come your way. Since you don’t believe that you can contribute to your own success, you live in fear of losing it to someone else. This includes the handling of your relationships, a situation that serves only as a temporary release from your feelings of worthlessness. At the start of your relationship, being desired by your partner boosts your esteem, lifting you into a state of romantic euphoria. But external sources of esteem are more difficult to safeguard. As the relationship settles, your low self-esteem is gradually exposed again. You crave this feeling of importance as before, but lack the internal resources to lift your esteem yourself. So when a rival then threatens your relationship, jealousy can be your defensive reaction to protect this feeling of importance and your relationship.
There are other psychological issues that can also cause your jealousy in relationships. Obsessions can be triggered by having general anxiety and numerous traumas related to the same issue e.g. having a number of betrayals in relationships can cause you to obsess over the fear of future betrayals. In an obsessive state of mind, you have difficulty recognising the rationality of your jealous thoughts because your traumatic history prejudices your perspective. Extensive and numerous episodes of betrayal can influence states of paranoia, another cause of jealousy in relationships. With this condition, you can have the exaggerated suspicious belief that numerous people are involved in the betrayal and are constantly scheming to deceive you. In extreme cases that can accompany a mental illness, you can suffer delusions with your jealousy in relationships. With this condition, you are firmly convinced of your betrayed reality despite very strong evidence of the contrary.
Quality of your relationship
There are many factors that can affect the quality of your relationship and the likelihood of developing jealousy. In addition to those listed above, they can also include:
• The mismatch between you and your partner’s values e.g. when there has been a row, your partner might use attention from others to lift their own feeling of insecurity and divert the tension in your relationship. Contrastingly, you seek a quick internal resolution between you, causing you to feel jealous and frustrated in your partner’s actions.
• The level of each other’s dependency is sometimes called your ‘attachment’ style. When you have an insecure attachment style, you may seek more reassurance and attention from your partner. You can be prone to feelings of jealousy when your partner prefers their own personal space in preference to being ‘glued’ to you.
• Your partner is extrovert and you are introvert. You struggle to cope with your partner’s sociability (extroversion) because you prefer to have evenings in together. You may feel jealous when your partner wants the freedom to socialise in larger groups, whilst you feel anxious in larger groups, preferring to socialise in smaller numbers.
Many couples can manage these relationship issues above. Your communication styles will play an essential part in how you cope with each other’s differences and feelings of jealousy.
Jealousy in relationships: How do you know that your jealousy is destroying your relationship?
In a trusting relationship, mild forms of jealousy can be quite endearing to your partner. Due to your naivety, your partner “protects” your insecurity with constant reassurance. Essentially, you recognise that your allegations of jealousy are false and you can readily dismiss your suspicions as pure foolishness.
But when you have a fixed, fatalistic belief that your imagined partner’s behaviour is reality, your responses can change from charming to near-abusive. Here some signs that your jealousy is destructive:
• You are controlling
The relationship may have started with amorous signs that you are head-over-heels in love with each other, but as time goes by, the interest in your partner’s life becomes a fixation. You are inquisitive about every detail of what they are doing, where they have been and what they are going to do later. Your constant questioning is aimed at exposing a hidden lie, so your suspicion interrogates your partner with infinite details. If their answers don’t satisfy your suspicions, you will plague their friends or even strangers until each story corresponds with what you want to believe. If there is still no joy, then you can secretly plough through their physical evidence like a private investigator. There are endless sources to test their honesty including checking their phone history and usage history, emails, website search history, car mileage, credit card statements etc.
• You are distrustful
You live in fear that the past wounds of distrust will surface again, but have probably forgotten the events that have caused your original pain. These past events confuse your interpretation of what is happening around you. You see evidence of deception in the most innocent comments, twisting their meaning to signal a threat. A compliment paid to a colleague by your partner is enough to register danger that this colleague could jeopardise your relationship. You may even begin to doubt the integrity of family and close friends; those whom you would otherwise normally trust. Your distrust is so severe that you consider that anyone has the potential to deceive you. But it is not just comments that rattle you; any subtle changes in behaviour can also be viewed with suspicion. Your partner’s desire to get fit or “better” themselves in some way is seen as a sinister attempt to attract a new partner.
• You are possessive
You spin a spidery web of possession and seek to dominate your partner. You want to eliminate their friendship circle by subtly criticising their friends as if they are a bad influence on them. If your partner praises any of your friend’s qualities e.g. hairstyle, you hastily upgrade your hairstyle to shift the attention onto you. You then aim to gradually suffocate your partner’s individuality. You want to be attached to them wherever they go and participate in whatever they do. You won’t allow them the freedom to spend time on their own, nor allow them time with their friends; you are ever-present. If they want to start a new hobby, then you will suddenly be enthusiastic about that activity too, just so that you can be their partner in the class. In the extreme form of possessiveness, you stalk them! You win your trophy when they live a possessed existence and can only turn to you for just about…everything.
• You are aggressive
You seek to control your partner by intimidation. In the early stages of your relationship, your aggression is subtle. You question their whereabouts, wanting to know who they were talking to or why they took so long. But as the relationship develops, you retaliate when you haven’t had the answer that can satisfy your suspicions. So if they were not available at work to give you reassurance when you wanted to speak to them, you will become mysteriously unavailable when they need you; that way, they can get a taste for how it feels! But when that moment of painful jealousy is so overwhelming and they are not available to speak to you, you will seek to destroy those things that they value. You “accidentally” break one item from their collection or destroy something that will take them time to repair. If your perceived rival is available, you may even focus your aggression on them, punishing them for attempting to take away what belongs to you.
• You are convinced that there is a conspiracy
Your alertness to betrayal maintains your suspicions that it’s not just your partner who could deceive you. Gradually, your circle of distrust has extended to your friends and work colleagues. But it continues to grow with the prospect that the whole world is going to desert you. When people talk quietly, it must be about you. You are paranoid that they are making plans to set your partner up with someone who has everything that you lack. Each event is becoming a threat to your security. You struggle with any secret celebrations because you are convinced that the occasion will showcase your biggest fears.
• Your partner is anxious, depressed and isolated
Since you aim to dominate your partner, you may not acknowledge your partner’s deteriorating health and well-being. They have become a model of how you want them to be; controlled and possessed. They used to have their individuality, but in order to placate you, they have stopped having friends and hobbies. Very few courageous people have tried to enlighten you with what is happening, but your jealousy doesn’t hear their cries. You think their depression is related to something else.
How can hypnotherapy help jealousy in relationships?
Hypnotherapy can break the obsessive thinking patterns
Once you get immersed in repetitive jealous thinking patterns, your anxiety increases. This has the effect of intensifying your controlling behaviour, your distrust, possessiveness and aggression. In a relaxed state, your unconscious mind is more responsive to new hypnotic suggestions that can ‘switch off’ your anxious thoughts and help you learn how to replace them with more confident ones.
Hypnotherapy can help you build your self esteem
The change in your jealous thinking patterns is also enhanced by building your self-esteem. This is an essential part of your treatment for jealousy. When you dismiss your positive attributes, you are more likely to feel threatened by what your perceived rivals have over you. Suggestions are used to help you appreciate what is positive in you and your relationship; it’s so easy to take what is positive for granted!
Hypnotherapy can identify and treat your associated fears and beliefs
Fixed views about how a relationship ‘should be’ can create an inflexible communication style with your partner. Jealousy can be your defensive reaction that masks other associated fears and beliefs e.g. because of your insecurity, unconsciously you want to ‘own’ your partner. Recently you may have completed some relationship therapy with a mention that you have some issues to resolve, or you have come to your own conclusions from your constant relationship break ups. Either way, you are now ready to recognise that you have some unconscious negative beliefs (‘issues’) that could be treated by a skilled hypnotherapist.
Hypnotherapy can release the emotion from past betrayals
The emotion from past betrayals can still be affecting how you are coping with your current relationship. You may be thinking that you are “over it” or have “moved on”, but if your jealousy is destructive, the beliefs and emotions will still be influencing you. Or maybe you are the type of person “who knows what to do but just can’t seem to help yourself”. By treating your self-esteem and releasing the emotion from these past traumas, it can liberate your mind from the negative emotions that are still overwhelming your jealousy. Learning to trust your partner (and your own thoughts) is part of your jealousy treatment.
Encourage effective communication in your relationship
Throughout the course of treatment, your reactions will disclose your communication style and how you are interacting with your partner. Combined with your appraisal of jealous situations in your relationship (and past relationships), you can be guided towards more effective way of communicating. The treatment process will also encourage assertiveness by helping you identify what values your partner brings into your relationship. Your partner’s interest in this process can help you both appreciate the intended resolution of your jealousy. It can make way for a more trusting and rewarding relationship.