Jealousy is a complex emotion with many elements. Some even say that it’s quite “normal” to feel a certain level of jealousy every now and then. However, not many people realize what causes us to feel this emotion.
According to experts, here’s why we get jealous in relationships:
Annemarie Lafferty, CECP
Neuro Emotional Therapy Specialist | Owner, Healing Within Wellness
Jealousy tells us we care deeply about something
Jealousy is a normal human emotion; it comes from us feeling like something, or someone is more important than we are while being paired with a feeling of being out of control. Our mind and physical body may interpret this as “losing something” and becomes hyper diligent with protecting ourselves from further loss.
Some thoughts that came to mind around jealousy are:
- not feeling good enough,
- comparing ourselves and feeling we need to compete with someone,
- we feel a need to be complete, but we are already complete despite what society and media tells us,
- not feeling seen or being valued,
- low self-esteem that leads to self-doubt
- and low self-worth and feelings of being unloved or unlovable.
Any one of these or a combination of them leaves us feeling vulnerable; do we take a chance and communicate our true feelings or expect the other person to know what we are thinking?
Jealousy is a wound. Jealousy tells us we care deeply about something, and maybe that same care or affection is not being returned in our direction as we had hoped.
What are the expectations that aren’t being met and how can those be implemented so all involved feel respected? We are responsible for how we respond to events in life but are you responding or reacting?
Responding is when you can look at a situation from the outside, looking in with a sense of maturity and grace; reacting may cause a faster response without thinking everything through and comes with emotions attached.
When we come from an emotional place of being wounded, we can become victims. These patterns can run in families, so paying attention to how your family members interact can give you insight into your own ancestral patterns of communication.
Hard to discuss jealousy without bringing up trust; somewhere, there is a lack of trust that causes us to feel insecure.
The best ways to embrace jealousy:
- Staying aware of our thoughts and feelings,
- expressing them in a healthy way
- and having open conversations when we are feeling vulnerable
Invite jealousy through conversation, journaling, being curious, and asking yourself during quiet time why is this surfacing now? Our subconscious remembers smells, sights, voices, and memories; this may be from some time in the past that can be healed now in the present!
How cool is that, but at the moment, it feels more painful.
How to stop or heal feeling jealous? Sounds weird, but forgiveness will set you free. Depending on the circumstances of the jealousy, this may take more than one time to work through but start by writing out a list of people or events that brings discord to you.
Your body may tighten, you may feel a lump in your throat develop or start to cry, hold those thoughts or people in your mind as you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Decide here to let go of any feelings attached to this person or event, wish them well and say, “I forgive you.”
This doesn’t cancel what happened (what they possibly did to you), but it diffuses the energy around the event to the point the body and mind can let the imprint of it go.
Continue to breathe and wish them well, staying here and repeating until it no longer feels physically uncomfortable. Do this for every person or event on your list. Give a day or two between each one, so your body has time to process and heal. A feeling of peace will come when the tears stop; keep breathing through it.
Some significant events, such as a divorce, may take several times to soften, and having regular salt and baking soda baths will help your healing process.
Related to: How to Move on After Divorce
Jealousy that comes in and feels yucky and even embarrassing can be a blessing; see it, feel it, and now you can heal it.
Jealousy is a part of our lives, and the more you work to clear them from your memory, the less you will experience it because the energy that feeds those feelings will be less and less. You will no longer be living from a place of hurt or anger but a place of empowerment.
Certified Psychodynamic LMFT | Licensed Psychotherapist | Confidence and Assertiveness Specialist
We feel threatened when another is taking the attention we usually receive
We can get jealous when we feel a threat to our relationship; this could be due to low self-esteem/self-worth or a kind of insecure attachment style. Your love language could also trigger it.
Jealousy lets us know that we are afraid of losing the person/thing we are jealous over. Feelings of jealousy illuminate our attempt to control or our desire to possess things, people, or experiences.
You want to be around your partner or have special access to them, and you feel threatened when an “other”(job, person, family member, etc.) is taking the attention you usually receive from your partner. If you have an insecure attachment style like anxious or disorganized, you may be more likely to get jealous.
Related to: The 4 Different Types of Attachment Styles
If you don’t have high self-esteem or self-worth, you may feel like you are not good enough or attractive enough and lack the confidence to believe in yourself or that your partner loves and values you.
Additionally, your love language might connect to what you are becoming jealous about (let’s say your partner is giving someone else quality time or another person is taking their time which means less time with you).
It is important to note the distinction of jealous versus envious. Jealousy is related to fear of someone taking something you perceive as yours, whereas envy is the belief that someone else has something you lack.
Dr. Brenda Wade
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online for Love
They show some form of affection to someone else
Jealousy can stem from many things, including attachment. Once we have feelings for someone, we feel attached to them. The threat of losing them or losing the connection is genuine and is built into our subconscious.
Jealousy can also stem from self-esteem issues, in which it is difficult to believe you are worthy of the love you are receiving and begin to compare yourself to others.
This feeling of inferiority around other people breeds jealousy and can become very toxic in your relationship and to yourself.
Related: Can Toxic Relationships Be Healed?
Healthy vs. toxic
There is healthy jealousy and toxic jealousy.
With healthy jealousy, you feel a little bit jealous when your partner is showing some form of affection or attention to someone else. This is a very normal emotion.
In a healthy relationship, you would talk about it and see how you can protect and nurture your feelings and continue to feel connected and safe in the relationship.
An example of a healthy discussion with your partner is, “I felt uncomfortable about that interaction that occurred. I am curious, what did that mean to you?”
It is ok in a healthy relationship for your partner to have an innocent flirt with someone (i.e., smiling at them) but there has to be healthy boundaries so there is a way to talk about what happened, be curious, be open but don’t get angry.
Toxic jealousy involves anger, which doesn’t solve anything and can make what could be a small bump in your relationship turn into a huge roadblock.
Toxic jealousy can also lead to self-blame once the jealous rage has ended and becomes toxic to individuals that are already feeling low self-esteem. In addition, toxic jealousy can create insecurity and a lack of trust.
Dealing with jealous feelings
Unless your partner does something that crosses the line, such as touching someone or getting someone’s phone number, the best way to handle it is together with open communication.
Use this time to become aware and conscious of your feelings and where they are coming from and determine if they are valid. Have a healing and clarifying conversation and move forward.
Silva Depanian, MA, LMFT, CAMC
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Certified Anger Management Counselor, Sessions with Silva
We fear the loss of our partner’s overall presence in our life
At its core, jealousy is the fear of losing something that you believe belongs to you and being replaced in importance by someone else. In a relationship, this can mean fearing the loss of your partner’s affection, their free time, their desire for you, or their overall presence in your life.
With that in mind, jealousy can occur in relationships for a handful of reasons:
- The jealous individual might struggle with feelings of insecurity,
- They might have unrealistic expectations of what it means to be in a relationship, or
- They might experience a sense of possessiveness or ownership of their partner.
Like any other emotion, personal factors influence jealousy. Past experiences gained during childhood and adulthood can affect a person’s likelihood of experiencing jealousy.
If you grew up in a household with parents who displayed jealousy, lack of boundaries, and unhealthy communication styles, then that environment likely became your norm for how you expect relationships to function.
Being raised in that kind of environment can also influence attachment styles, which increases the likelihood of jealousy.
For example, a partner who has an insecure attachment style typically craves a constant stream of attention and reassurance from their significant other. But they might experience jealousy if their more securely-attached partner prefers firmer boundaries and likes to take personal time for themselves or to spend with others.
In a similar vein, if you were raised in a codependent environment (that emphasized little to no personal boundaries or experienced highly possessive codependent relationships in adulthood), your expectations of how healthy relationships function are likely skewed.
Related to: How to Break Codependency Habits
Whichever reason is behind the feeling, jealousy can act as a blaring signal to the person experiencing it, indicating that the individual might need help with their self-image or abandonment issues.
They could benefit from learning some humility and improving their emotional intelligence, or that there is something wrong with the relationship, which requires this individual to start asking some pertinent questions.
We get jealous in relationships for a handful of reasons:
- We might struggle with feelings of insecurity due to our attachment style,
- We might have unrealistic expectations of what it means to be in a relationship due to growing up with or experiencing unhealthy codependent relationships, or
- We might experience a sense of possessiveness or ownership of our partner due to low emotional intelligence and unhealthy beliefs about how relationships work.
Albert Nguyen, LCSW, PPSC
Licensed Psychotherapist | Founder, OptiMind Counseling & Consulting
Jealousy serves as an indicator of distress that something of value is affected
Let me start by saying that jealousy is not bad. Jealousy is a protective quality, and we can use it to protect (even enhance) our self-esteem and preserve (even deepens) social relationships. It’s a universal experience.
It is imperative that you validate your jealousy as a natural and normal human experience. Otherwise, you will not benefit from the power that comes from this intense emotion.
In fact, no emotions are inherently bad. And jealousy, while unpleasant, serves as an indicator of distress that something of value is affected – simply, it’s trying to get your attention that something is off and in need of extra support.
Like all emotions, jealousy evolved to provide feedback and data that help inform us uniquely about ourselves and our relationship with others. It can enhance our quality of life and relationships only if we learn to pay more attention to the feelings of jealousy – more on how to manage and leverage jealousy later.
Why do we experience jealousy?
Jealousy is anxiety – and anxiety is a survival mechanism that heightens in response to actual or perceived threats.
These feelings exist and act as a warning system that can activate four fear-based responses – fight, flight, freeze, or fawn – and help us decide what to do in a particular situation. But, over time, an overactive warning system that is not regulated can lead to pathological conditions and controlling behaviors that can be very traumatic in relationships.
I believe that the root cause of most jealousy comes from the basic human need for approval – the need to be accepted, to be loved, to be wanted, to be worthy, and to feel “good enough.”
The pain of possibly being betrayed, humiliated, taken for granted, made to look bad, or anything that may shatter their current world is a threat and in direct violation of this need. And it’s how we manage this deep sense of need that determines where our jealousy falls on the intensity spectrum.
Our core beliefs intricately connect to this need for approval – our fundamental ideas, preconceptions, and opinions about ourselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs are the lens through which nearly every situation and experience is seen.
Simply, our core beliefs make up our self-esteem.
Therefore, jealousy is an inward-focused experience because it has more to do with one’s self-esteem and internal script and dialogue than any triggering event or person. Jealousy, by nature, involves behavioral and thinking patterns of making comparisons.
As a result, when someone or something triggers feelings of jealousy, the person experiencing it is often left with many negative thoughts – self-doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty.
As a trauma-informed therapist, I also believe the foundation of our self-esteem and the need for approval trace back to our upbringing and childhood.
Childhood experiences and memories can leave a lasting impact, especially traumatic events, abuse, or neglect. Many people internalize these early ideas and concepts, such as “in order to be loved or worthy, I need to be the best.” This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
The jealousy paradox
Jealousy is very paradoxical as it is often associated with someone who struggles with low self-esteem. Still, it has tendencies towards perfectionism and narcissism – which gets complicated because they can be outwardly seen as “confident or successful” or, on the flip side, “stuck up, mean, and judgmental.”
Yet, underneath, they struggle with inferiority complex issues – an intense feeling of inadequacy, not feeling good enough, or good enough is never enough.
When looking through the lens of someone struggling with low self-esteem, you can see that they are in a constant state of fear. These individuals have greater tendencies to be very hard on themselves (and on others) and set unreasonably high expectations and standards.
So, anything or anyone can be a “threat” to an already fragile self-esteem. In the end, the fear of failure and abandonment becomes very, very real.
Self-esteem issues become even more prominent in intimate relationships. It’s easy to understand why jealousy intensifies in relationships.
With more than ten years of mental health service, I have a good sample size of well over 1,000 individuals, couples, and families I’ve treated and worked with as a therapist. And I can say with 100% confidence that most people’s problems connect to some relationship or interaction with someone else.
Being in a romantic relationship is one of the most vulnerable states a person can be in. It’s about trusting each other, opening up, giving, sharing, and loving; our public and private personas are exposed and converged as we offer another person a part of ourselves and let them into our world.
When we’re single, it’s much easier to guard our private selves with our public selves. What’s more, individuals in intimate relationships really do experience greater emotional risks, pressure, and higher stakes vs. someone who is single and enjoying serial dating with no strings attached.
And since most of us have experienced some level of distress and pain (whether as a child with our parents, peers, or previous intimate relationships), our jealousy radar will kick into gear in present relationships to raise our awareness towards an unresolved issue, or to inform us to take action on something that matters.
The takeaway here is that jealousy is actually there to protect you. It’s a defense mechanism to protect us from psychological pain, motivating us to improve social bonds.
It can be a helpful tool to deal with real relational and interpersonal threats. However, the pain and suffering from an overactive jealousy system can urge us to forge elaborate weapons and build strong walls around our hearts.
Sooner or later, we find ourselves locked in by the very defenses we have constructed for our own survival and protection.
Beyond feeling jealous
There’s a huge difference between feeling jealous and acting jealous. We tend to think of jealousy only as a feeling. But other components of jealousy also include how we feel and what we do.
You should always permit yourself to feel your feelings. In fact, I call this emotional courage. But, behind every feeling of jealousy is a core belief and way of thinking.
Learning to identify this mechanism is hard, which is why many of us struggle to distinguish the difference between the feeling, the thoughts we’re having that reinforce it, and what we ultimately act on.
We go from 0-60 in a blink of an eye – most of us act jealous instantly after feeling jealous, which trains us to be more compulsive. This gives us little to no fighting chance to slow down and respond more effectively to the distress signal of jealousy.
It’s like driving a car while intoxicated and speeding through the streets recklessly. We can’t expect ourselves to function when we are impaired and under the influence of a high level of jealousy. You need to understand your level of tolerance.
And yes, we can make the feelings of jealousy worse from its initial state. How? One word: catastrophizing. What we focus on gives that thing power. And the more “why’s” we have, the stronger the motivation.
So, it’s easy to convince ourselves of the worst-case scenario when we stack one negative thought after the other. And when we start to believe these thoughts, the feeling intensifies – ultimately acting as motivation that activates the four fear-based responses mentioned earlier. And then the cycle repeats.
As mentioned previously, our past can also leave a lasting impact that becomes our core beliefs – narratives or stories that we continue to operate on without realizing it. Unresolved trauma and unacknowledged thinking patterns can show up in many ways – low self-esteem, intense jealousy, anger, or social withdrawal.
How to put jealousy to good use
There is hope. All emotions serve a purpose. But we need to learn how to put them in the passenger seat, not the driver’s seat. Emotions are friends that you need to take care of – and sometimes that means ensuring that you are the designated, responsible driver during emotional times.
The human impulse of jealousy does not have to be a negative thing. It can lead you in positive directions you never expected or thought possible. Here are some ways to get started:
Be more self-aware
Noticing what you feel and naming it is an important first step to managing your emotions.
And to build on that, it’s vital to:
- Understand your triggers and what pushes your buttons,
- Understand your early signs of distress,
- Understand the signs when you’re escalating,
- Notice when you’re calm,
- Determine your window of tolerance or limitations.
To work with emotions, we must first learn to slow down. The simplest mindfulness exercise is breath control.
I recommend you focus on your breath and use it as a reference point when you need a reset because you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, upset, or confused. Think of your breath as a lighthouse, shining a ray of light to guide you back to the present moment.
Acceptance and self-validation
This is a big one. Many of my patients come to therapy to get rid of difficult feelings and emotions. But this is not how healing works. Relentless efforts to get rid of painful or challenging emotions actually make it harder to heal.
Healthily managing your jealousy starts with you validating it. Acknowledge that you’re feeling jealous. The solution and healing come from accepting and confronting what is viewed as unwanted and undesirable parts of ourselves.
Acceptance is the practice of embracing your thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them. This may seem confusing at first – but it creates a safe, internal working space to deal with the difficulties creatively and productively.
When you practice acceptance, you can stop beating yourself up and understand the underlying problems and needs. The easiest way to practice this is to treat or talk to yourself as if speaking to a best friend.
Identify the positive side of jealousy
What are the negative thoughts and feelings that reveal about you that are awesome? What does it tell you about your values? For example, does it show you that you really care about your relationship and are curious and competitive?
Identify the benefits of jealousy
Consider the advantages of maintaining those negative thoughts and feelings associated with jealousy. Does it help motivate you? How is it serving you?
Then consider how much of this jealousy feeling do you really need to maintain those great qualities and benefits.
Identify the thinking traps or cognitive distortions
This is one of the foundations of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – without getting too much into the jargon.
Cognitive distortions are just any thought that is unhelpful and negatively biased. The narrative that goes on in our head – the story and interpretation that you tell yourself – greatly increases the intensity of jealousy. And it is these thoughts that have the power to influence how you ultimately act.
Give yourself permission to feel jealous. Jealousy is one of those painful emotions that many of us feel ashamed of having – and it’s this sense of shame, and sometimes even disgust, that makes jealousy so hard to regulate and manage in adaptive ways.
Just remember, you are not bad for feeling it.
Be honest and be vulnerable
Pain and suffering thrive in secrecy and silence. You don’t need to suffer in silence. It can be beneficial to open up and be transparent about your experiences with a trusted person or professional.
Sometimes this process can lead you to be more compassionate with yourself, build insight, feel less shame, and learn that you are not alone or that you do not need to be alone with it. What’s more, talking openly can strengthen relationships and help directly address the underlying problems.
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” ― Albert Einstein.
This is one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein and holds a powerful lesson.
It’s much easier to work with painful emotions, such as jealousy, when you see them as a friend rather than a foe. Plenty of respectable studies shows the power of perception – that believing something is bad actually makes it worse (e.g., placebo effect). So, you need to decide.
Jealousy offers us an opportunity to go inward and learn more about ourselves – what we want and need, how we want to be treated. It motivates us to preserve social bonds and relationships.
Although jealousy is an unpleasant emotional experience, it’s important not to ignore the signals and take heed of them. Ignoring this distress signal is a huge mistake because it’s trying to tell us something valuable.
Jealousy often becomes a problem when we don’t talk about it or communicate it effectively.
Not opening up and sharing how you feel when you are jealous, for example, may lead you to find other ways to alleviate those intense feelings.
- controlling behaviors
- passive-aggressive behaviors
- substance use
In relationships, you may hope that the person will notice what you are feeling and makes efforts to support your needs – but no one can read our minds. And when we expect this, we experience constant disappointment, which only adds to the complexity of jealousy.
Unmanaged jealousy can lead to a very slippery slope and ruin lives and relationships – and unmanaged and unregulated jealous people can behave in detrimental and dangerous ways.
I do, however, want to clarify that you don’t need to fix jealousy on your own. Working towards self-mastery by adapting and expanding our psychological landscape is a difficult journey.
If jealousy negatively impacts your quality of life and relationships, and impairs how you function daily, please seek help. Jealousy can easily cross the line into more aggressive, controlling, and violent behaviors.
Many of the individuals I’ve supported who struggled with intense envy or jealousy have a history of emotional trauma – e.g., such as being bullied, abused as a child, sexual abuse, etc. Emotional trauma, when left untreated, leaves a big rift in your self-image and self-esteem, making it hard to satiate the natural need to be loved.
Relationship and Dating Coach | CEO, Core Confidence Coaching
We respond rationally to what our genes have evolved
Jealousy is an emotion that varies in degree and intensity in reaction to:
- a real or imagined threat to the relationship, or
- a real or imagined threat posed by someone or something that stands between the partners in the relationship, and
- their ability to relate to each other, or that interferes with the relationship.
In other words, jealousy is the feeling of displeasure towards seeing your significant other interacting with someone else – but why do we get jealous?
The evolutionary perspective
Evolutionary psychologists have come up with a compelling explanation for jealousy, arguing that it emerges from deep-seated biological programming.
They argue that our caveman ancestors needed to be sure they had a healthy and protected child by mating with only one partner, so they evolved something called mate guarding, which drove them to get territorial and jealous when their partner was seen with another potential mate.
It may not make us feel any better when we’re suffering through an episode of unreasonable jealousy, but at least now we know we’re not making it up.
The selfish gene hypothesis
According to biologist Richard Dawkins, jealousy is an evolved behavior that has been programmed into our DNA through time. The basic idea behind his hypothesis is that our jealousy is fueled by the fear of others poaching our possessions or partners.
So when we’re jealous, we’re not simply acting irrationally—we’re responding rationally to what our genes have evolved to tell us over thousands of years.
It may sound counterintuitive at first; after all, aren’t humans more advanced than other animals? Shouldn’t we be able to overcome these animalistic responses by now?
Yes and no. Humans are unique because they possess self-awareness, consciousness, a sense of free will, and morality. All of which gives us some control over our impulses and thoughts—but that doesn’t mean we don’t still feel jealous. All it means is that we can choose to respond to those feelings thoughtfully instead of impulsively.
How to manage jealousy
There’s no doubt that jealousy is an unpleasant emotion to experience. And it’s pretty clear from both scientific research and common sense that when we find ourselves feeling jealous, it’s rarely a good thing for our mental health—and often leads to unnecessary (and avoidable) conflicts.
A great way to learn to manage jealousy in your romantic relationships
is to understand what’s causing you to feel jealous. For most people, feelings of envy are rooted in a lack of self-esteem or insecurity about yourself or your partner—in other words, low self-confidence.
Take some time to reflect on whether something about yourself makes you feel insecure about being with someone else; if so, do something positive for yourself (e.g., take up fitness or a new hobby), even if it isn’t directly related to attracting a partner.
I often encourage my clients to determine what specific traits or qualities make them attractive to their partners, making anyone else seem less than ideal by comparison. At the very least, this will improve their self-esteem and hopefully alleviate some of the jealous feelings they may feel.
Author | Founder, Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy
We don’t like other people having access to them
Jealousy is a terribly toxic trait in any relationship, be it platonic or romantic. Mutual respect, trust, support, and healthy communication should build relationships and friendships.
If a person in your life—a friend or partner—is jealous of you or shows jealousy towards you, they are an unhealthy presence in your life. Jealousy is not a flattering or romantic trait. Someone jealous is possessive, controlling, and insecure.
There is a big difference between being jealous of someone and wanting what they have. To be to the level of jealousy means they are unwilling to put in the work you’ve put in to have the characteristic, relationships, and things you have.
If you think about it, how would you feel if you knew that a person you had a relationship with resented you because of the people and things in your life? It doesn’t feel good, right? That’s jealousy.
In our relationships, we often frame jealousy as a way of showing love or romance. “Oh, they’re jealous when I spend time with other [insert gender]; they must really love me!”
No, they don’t like that other people have access to you. They are nervous that they don’t have control over you.
If they were healthy and secure, they would trust that you wouldn’t do anything with somebody else because they trust you. Romance is trust and honesty. Romance is showing love, not isolating you from the other people in your life.
So, all in all, don’t mistake jealousy for romance and flattery.
It is simply a means narcissists and insecure people use to control, manipulate, and isolate you from the other people in your life. It’s important to be aware of jealousy as a toxic trait to avoid sacrificing relationships with healthy people for relationships with toxic people.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you want to increase your average and grow, you have to surround yourself with the people who inspire and motivate you.
Dr. Carissa Coulston
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Expert, The Eternity Rose
The most common reason is due to feelings of insecurity
It’s quite normal to have some jealousy when you’re in a romantic relationship. Couples naturally feel some jealousy if they feel that there is a threat to their special connection or if they’re worried another person could soon replace them.
However, in most cases, jealousy is mild and only happens occasionally. For some people, though, jealousy is felt to a severe degree, which can lead a relationship to an untimely end.
There are a few different reasons why we get jealous in relationships. We’ll take a closer look at them here.
By far, the most common reason we feel jealous in relationships is due to feelings of insecurity. If one partner has poor self-esteem and feels as if they aren’t good enough to maintain their partner’s interest in the long-term, they’re likely to feel very jealous whenever their relationship feels threatened by another person.
Someone who lacks self-confidence is likely to feel that they don’t really deserve their partner’s attention and are likely to look at others as rivals for their position who could swoop in and take their love away instantly.
Obsessive thought patterns
Another relatively common cause of jealousy in romantic relationships is obsessive thinking.
People with OCD or who have some of the traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder are at particular risk of experiencing thought patterns that lead to jealousy. Someone with obsessive thought patterns has a brain that works on overtime continuously. As a result, it generates new concerns and anxieties on an ongoing basis.
This way of thinking is applied to every situation in that individual’s life, and their romantic relationships are no exception. They tend to obsess and overthink about every little thing and have a unique fear of the unknown.
Most people are capable of handling quite a lot of uncertainty, but for those with obsessive thought patterns, tolerating the unknown is impossible. This translates into relationships in a negative way.
If, for example, their partner is late home from work or fails to respond to a message straight away, their mind goes into overdrive. They simply cannot cope with not knowing where their partner is and what they are doing, and this causes their mind to fill in those blanks to create answers which are usually negative in nature.
As a result, they create facts from thin air that center around their partner’s likely infidelities, making them feel highly jealous and anxious.
Jealousy can often stem from having a paranoid approach overall to everything in an individual’s life. Many people have some characteristics of paranoia, even when it isn’t serious enough to get diagnosed with paranoid disorder.
Even people with moderate or mild paranoia:
- Struggle to trust other people and tend to assume that others’ motives are malicious.
- They also tend to feel persecuted and victimized, being convinced that other people are “out to get them.”
- They tend to perceive that they have been rejected, patronized, and put down, even if witnesses can confirm that this wasn’t, in fact, the case.
In essence, people with paranoid personalities assign blame to other people rather than looking at themselves and taking responsibility for their mistakes or flaws. That paranoia also leads to jealousy, as they hold on tight to their belief their partner is unfaithful, and even in the face of evidence to the contrary, they fail to believe the truth.
Many jealous people can cite examples of times in their life when their jealousy was justified.
They were cheated on by a partner – perhaps more than once. When someone experiences a pattern of cheating, they are naturally wary in relationships in the future.
They are hyper-vigilant about looking for the signs of infidelity, and they are naturally worried about history repeating itself. As a result, they are far more likely than other people to react with jealousy in situations where they feel threatened or believe they spot the perceived signs of infidelity.
Can jealousy be a positive for a relationship?
It’s tough for any couple to weather the storms of continuous negative behavior and accusations. However, it’s possible to use jealousy to make a positive difference to a relationship, too. In many cases, extreme jealousy will signal the end of a relationship.
Good communication is the bedrock of any solid partnership, so if you’re experiencing jealousy, it’s important to understand why you feel this way and what is triggering those feelings. Once you’ve identified why you’re feeling the way you do, you need to talk to your partner about those emotions and find ways to work through them together.
If certain behaviors that your partner displays make you jealous, it’s important to raise them calmly and maturely. For example, if you feel anxious when your partner goes out without telling you where they are, it’s sensible to have a conversation about this.
You can’t just assume that your partner knows what you want and need from your relationship in every respect – you need to communicate those needs.
It’s relatively easy to address this problem by explaining the situation to your partner and asking if they could send you a message to let you know where they are. In most cases, that can resolve the issue immediately.
The more couples talk, the better and healthier their relationship becomes. Being upfront and open with each other is key to a positive partnership since transparency makes you both feel a lot more secure.
Although jealousy can be very problematic to deal with in any relationship, it doesn’t need to be the final death toll.
By taking the opportunity to discuss your thoughts and feelings and by taking positive steps to address them together as a strong couple, you can work through those challenging emotions and come out the other side with a partnership that is stronger and more loving than ever before.
Jennifer Hettema, PhD
Senior Clinical Director, LifeStance Health
It may stem from deeper concerns like low self-esteem or self-image
It’s completely normal to experience challenging emotions, including jealousy, in any relationship. While jealousy may occur in response to a variety of situations, the root cause may stem from deeper concerns like low self-esteem or self-image, or fear of losing the relationship.
If you notice you frequently feel jealous in a relationship (whether romantic or platonic), I’d recommend taking a closer look at what is triggering this emotion.
While it may be beneficial to spend some time in self-reflection, it could also be therapeutic to talk about the challenges you’re experiencing with your partner or friend so they can understand how you’re feeling.
Of course, if you’re feeling confused about how to navigate intense or recurring challenging emotions like jealousy, don’t feel embarrassed or shy about reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for support.
Song “Audrey” Paik, MS, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Paik Counseling Services, PLLC
We don’t know what our partner is thinking
When we are in love, we want to close the gap that exists between us as soon as possible. That gap might mean a physical, emotional, mental, and psychological gap that naturally exists between any two people.
We want to know what our partners are thinking, what they believe, what their values are, what they ate for lunch, what they don’t like, etc. – all so that we find a sense of security and predictability in our relationships.
Because, for most of us humans, unpredictability and the “not-knowing” are scary, and it produces anxiety.
Jealousy reminds us that our beloved is their own person
We get jealous for a host of reasons, like past relationship trauma,
the relationship from your parents/caretakers that you grew up witnessing, etc.
But at the end of the day, it all goes back to feeling like we’re losing our beloved when faced with the threat of a third.
When we see our partner interact with another person that seems more attractive, confident, all the things that we feel like we are not – we feel jealousy arise within us because, in that very moment, it feels like we don’t know what our partners are thinking.
They’re suddenly a separate being with their own thoughts, feelings, observations, behaviors, preferences, choices, and it feels unpredictable. They’re no longer the person we have a deep influence on in their decision-making or thoughts.
This “not knowing” produces anxiety. All of a sudden, this “not knowing” means to us that we might lose our beloved. Take in mind that the level of anxiety might be different depending on the person’s history, too.
Dr. Lea McMahon LPC, EdD
Licensed Counsellor | Chief Clinical Officer, Symetria Recovery
We obsessively think of problems that weren’t even there in the first place
People can often get jealous in a relationship due to their own vulnerabilities. That’s because they have a poor self-image and have had a bad experience with past relationships.
Sometimes people are insecure about certain features of their bodies. So, they tend to be jealous upon seeing their partner with someone they consider more attractive than them.
You must learn to love yourself first and be confident in who you are. This sense of security will automatically translate into your relationship. As a result, it allows you to maintain a healthy companionship with your partner.
If you’re an obsessive thinker, chances are you’re creating problems that weren’t even there in the first place.
For such people, managing uncertainty can be a huge challenge. They’ll start overanalyzing things, such as their partner coming home late from work. Thus, resulting in anxious and jealous thoughts.
The best way to overcome this is to talk to your partner and tell them you need reassurance. But, if you feel like the relationship is getting toxic, it’s essential to take a step back and seek professional help.
Josiah Teng, MHC-LP
Mental Health Clinician, Vivid World Psychology PLLC
We might be overly protective of what we have
When we think about jealousy in the context of relationships, vignettes involving love triangles, cheating, and all things melodrama instantly pop into our heads.
Jealousy has an overwhelmingly negative connotation, but that stems from fundamentally misinterpreting its nature. Whereas envy is longing for something absent, jealousy is protecting something present.
Relationships can be understood as emotional contracts that both parties consent to. Implicit are exclusive emotional and physical rights that include allocations of time, affection, intimacy, and trust.
While the intensity of these rights is variable to the relationship itself, they still exist and need to be maintained while the relationship is present. It involves work and commitment, and when what we have invested time and effort into is infringed upon, jealousy springs up to protect us.
But what if our alarm system sensitivity level is set too high? Our jealousy can be triggered by a partner’s platonic hug to a friend or their spending much time texting someone else. In this case, we might be overly protective of what we have.
Research has shown that personality traits, such as lack of self-esteem, sense of inadequacy, or codependency, can predispose one to lower thresholds of jealousy.
Fear of abandonment, trauma, and anxious attachment styles cultivated from lived experiences can also contribute to feeling more jealous. In these instances, we’ve learned to interpret actions and behaviors as threats to our relationship when there might actually be none.
Couples should communicate to align meanings of actions and words and set expectations of appropriate behavior reflecting the relational contract they have created to enjoy.
Amy Muscarello, MS LASAC
Mental Health Professional
Your jealousy wants to tell you something
All emotions are messengers, even the uncomfortable ones.
- Anxiety and fear alert you to threats.
- Love and contentment tell you that your needs are being met.
What about jealousy?
Consider jealousy an emotional telegraph, letting you know that you feel lacking in something. Constant feelings of jealousy in your relationship might be trying to tell you that you are not receiving enough validation, attention, or effort from the other person.
The green-eyed monster might also be telling you that your partner’s social mask is way more generous, compassionate, outgoing, or affectionate than the personality they show you.
The first step to listening to what your jealousy is saying is to tune into yourself. Although it sounds like an arcane concept, tuning into yourself is as easy as doing a little breathwork, following a guided mindfulness meditation, or dancing around to get back into your body.
The next step is to listen—actually listen—to the messages you’re sending yourself and not judge them, no matter what comes up.
Sometimes, what’s missing is internal
Think about the times you feel jealous. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your relationship, but you still constantly feel jealous. This is possibly a sign that you think something is lacking in another area of your life.
- Are you more jealous your partner is getting attention from an outside source, how they react to it, or who it’s coming from?
- Do you feel jealous when your partner’s friends and family invite them somewhere without you, or when a stranger asks them for the time?
Or maybe that doesn’t bother you, but you go through the roof when people you believe are more attractive or successful than you talk to your partner. If you can identify patterns in your jealousy, you are one step closer to dealing with it.
Your jealousy might be justified
Sometimes your jealousy might be triggered by suspicious vibes in your relationship. If your jealousy started when the dynamics of the relationship changed, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
- Has your partner been taking you for granted or changed the way they communicate with you?
- Does your partner suddenly run out of the room to take a call or seem preoccupied with their text messages?
Although these scenarios might signal a cheating partner, your jealousy can also be telling you that your partner might be getting complacent, you’re growing apart, or the relationship is no longer fulfilling to one or both of you.
If you can see yourself in any of those scenarios, it’s time to have an honest chat with your partner about the state of the relationship.
Matchmaker and Relationship Expert | President, Select Date Society
Our thoughts often consume us
There are several reasons for jealousy in a relationship. When you have deep feelings for someone, it brings up a range of emotions.
It’s natural to feel jealous at times, but when jealousy becomes a consistent emotion in your relationship, it’s time to take a deeper look at what is causing your feelings of jealousy.
Our own insecurities
Jealousy often has less to do with our partner’s behavior and more to do with our own insecurities.
If you have experienced hurt in past relationships and have not taken the time to deal with that experience, you will bring insecurity into your next relationship. When you have low self-esteem or lack confidence, those insecurities will show up as jealousy.
Sometimes jealousy can be a result of obsessive-compulsive disorder. When someone tends to obsess about details, their thoughts often consume them.
These people tend to need certainty, and their thoughts wander when they feel uncertain. They obsessively worry about the unknown. These individuals have a hard time controlling their obsessive thinking or reasoning.
Related to: How to Stop Worrying About Everything
Your partner’s actions
Your partner’s actions can spark jealousy. When your partner does not honor your commitment and breaks your trust, it will leave you feeling uncertain about the future of your relationship. This often leads to jealousy as you worry that your partner will hurt you again.
Your partner may also act in a flirtatious manner and fail to set boundaries with members of the opposite sex even if they don’t go so far as to be unfaithful.
When your partner’s actions leave you feeling jealous, it’s time to ask that they show you more respect. If they are not willing to make changes, it may be time for you to re-think your relationship.
Dating Expert, Datingscout
Fear is an excellent motivation for jealousy
Jealousy is a complex human emotion. It involves different feelings such as suspicion, anger, fear, and even humiliation.
Jealousy often ties up with romantic relationships, and a real or imaginary threat to the relationship always triggers it. Research has identified various causes for jealousy, including low self-esteem, possessiveness, and fear of abandonment.
A person with low self-esteem can be jealous of anyone they think is better than them. They have very low regard for themselves and believe that their partner will choose someone better than them.
A partner like this would often question their capabilities and compare themselves with others, adding more fuel to their jealousy.
Possession comes in many forms and has different after effects, especially in relationships. When someone steals your food in the office pantry, you get mad. It’s a normal reaction because that is your food, you own it.
“You are mine, and I am yours” is a standard unwritten rule in most romantic relationships. When we feel that someone else snatches our partner, we feel jealous and enraged. We know that we don’t own and control them, but we still feel threatened and disturbed.
Fear of abandonment
We can all agree that being left behind is not a good feeling. Being abandoned hurts and makes us question our worth.
Fear is an excellent motivation for jealousy. Relationships can be pretty demanding when a person has a strong fear of abandonment due to unprocessed trauma. They tend to be clingy, overreactive, and extra jealous.
Professional Relationship Coach | Founder, Ex Boyfriend Recovery
We feel the fear of missing out
Jealousy within a relationship, be it romantic or platonic, is solely down to the insecurities of the person showing that jealous emotion. It is driven by low self-esteem or poor self-image.
Be it that they feel insecure that their partner is going to find someone else and be unfaithful, or that their best friend is going to go and meet new friends, and they will be replaced.
There is also the jealousy of missing out, commonly known as FOMO, where your partner or friend spends time with another person, and you feel that they should be spending that time with you, that you are missing out on a good time because you are not there.
Even if your partner and friend’s family remind you all the time that you are a great person and they love you, it can be tough to feel that way when you do not love yourself.
This will eventually create unrealistic expectations of your relationships around you, leading to jealousy and breakups/fallouts.
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