As an emotion, jealousy gets a bad reputation, which isn’t really fair to our experiences as complex human beings. In reality, jealousy is a normal, natural, and pretty much universally experienced feeling that can help you evaluate your needs and desires. No matter how emotionally mature and in tune with yourself you are, it will likely come up in all kinds of your relationships, but particularly romantic ones. And that’s actually a good thing.
Where does jealousy come from?
At the root of jealousy is an unmet need or feeling that you’re lacking something in your life or relationship. It could be something you never thought you’d want or a desire you’ve buried deep because you feel shame around it. Often, we assume that our jealousy exists simply because our partner is spending a lot of time with someone else or is going out after work more than usual. However, more often than not, there is an underlying explanation for that raging feeling gnawing at the pit of your stomach. It can have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with your inner desires.
“Jealousy is the feeling that lets us know that we are seeing, hearing, or witnessing an experience that we want for ourselves — that’s it,” says relationship therapist, educator, and author Shadeen Francis, LMFT. “That might mean quality time with your partner. That might mean recognition or some material item. Whatever it is, noticing your own jealousy helps you get clear on what it is that you want or value and feel like you might not already have.” That’s a good thing.
Still, before you share these jealous feelings, do a self check-in to evaluate whether what you feel is something you can nurture from within yourself. If not, proceed with a discussion about the issue and where you want to grow in your relationship.
Remove shame from the scenario.
“Anything that you feel is giving you information about the world around you and helping you clarify what you need,” Francis says, “So feeling shame about these really functional elements of our lives doesn’t serve us.”
When you notice shame starting to creep up around your jealousy, take a moment to invite in some curiosity about what’s going on. Ask yourself how you can use your emotions as an opportunity to both grow with your partner and work on yourself. Jealousy may be an invitation to build up your self-worth from within instead of relying on someone else to validate you. Or it’s possible you are simply craving a sense of closeness with your partner — and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“I’m always embarrassed when I feel jealous, [but] know that I need to force myself to say what’s making me feel that way,” says Katy, 26. “In the end, it’s always less embarrassing when it’s out in the air. [It] seems a lot less scary or insurmountable.” Allowing your jealousy to see the light of day makes it possible to move forward with your partner in ways that feel tangible.
Manage jealousy with your partner.
It can feel intimidating, but when you’re able to be transparent about your needs and desires, you can build a more powerful connection with your partner.
“When I feel jealous, I tend to kind of go into myself for a little while. I ask myself a lot of questions,” says Ness, 31. “But then at some point, I have to bring it up. So I [mention] like, ‘this thing that happened, this is how I feel about it.’ And then [my partner] will respond and let me know what she meant in the moment. Usually, from the conversation, I realize she wasn’t trying to make me jealous at all, I was just feeling a little insecure.”
Ness and her partner, Nia, make an active effort to support each other and affirm their right to feel jealous while gearing the conversation toward how they can work through that feeling.
According to Francis, this is important. Focusing only on eliminating jealousy can lead to unhealthy habits like blaming, resentment, doubt, secrecy, and stonewalling. “None of those things are particularly helpful and can make us feel incredibly anxious, depressed, and very insecure about our ability to make change in our lives,” she says.
It’s not helpful to avoid the jealousy and pretend it will simply dissipate on its own. You need to face it straight on, and that means communicating with your partner about the discrepancy between your current reality and what you truly want and need. Instead of blaming the other person for how you feel, ask them how you can work together to meet both of your needs. You might say something like:
“It’s making me feel kind up jealous that you keep choosing to hang out with your friends after work over me. I’ve realized that’s because I miss going out on fun dates with you, and we haven’t done that in a while. Dates are something that help me feel more connected to you. Do you think we could set aside one night a week for an intentional date together?”
“I’ve been having a hard time with jealousy since you went on that first date with X last week. I’ve realized it’s because you didn’t tell me about it beforehand, so I felt kind of blindsided when I learned about it afterward. I didn’t know this was an important boundary for me until now. How would you feel about agreeing to let each other know about new dates beforehand?”
Jealousy is often seen as a shortcoming or connected to a “failed” relationships — but when you’re able to find clarity amidst the chaos of your feelings, it can allow your connection with your partner to deepen. The more your practice this intentional communication, the better you’ll be able to understand and have compassion for jealousy in all relationships. Holding space for sometimes intimidating, sometimes embarrassing conversations proves you can be honest without losing any love.