I can’t escape it, it’s in the news every day, and it fills my counseling office. Yesterday, the news told of a four-year-old who was shot to death by his own father, because the father was jealous of his divorced wife’s new relationship. “O, beware… of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster” wrote William Shakespeare in the sixteenth century. In four hundred years, we don't seem to have been able to tame or conquer this monster. Jealousy is still very present with us, and rears its ugly head often in all relationships. It disturbs me that so many people seem to think it’s OK to be jealous, so I thought it might be valuable to explore it.
What Is Jealousy?
The experts differ about the nature of the monster. “Jealousy,” writes sex researcher Arno Karlen in Threesomes, “can mean as many things as love or intimacy. It involves various combinations of fear, suspicion, envy, rage, competitive failure, humiliation, grief, self-contempt, betrayal, and abandonment. Freud [and others] have seen jealousy as a delusion rising from excessive dependence and lack of self-esteem. [Others] say that no one person can entirely fill another’s needs; it is natural for anyone to want to fill different needs with different people, so jealousy is illogical and unrealistic. …[but] many people, perhaps most, consider jealousy normal. It is lack of jealousy they want explained.”
Jealousy is a “corrosive emotion” writes sexologist Isadora Alman, in her syndicated column, “Ask Isadora”, which “stems from one's own feeling of inferiority that ‘some one will be more this or better that than I am, and I will suffer by comparison in my lover's eyes’… Jealousy is far less about some one else's behavior than it is about your interpretation of it.”
Jealousy can lead to upsetting arguments, tears, resentment and recriminations, even if no actual infidelity exists. Friends can be jealous, and so can family members and spouses.
Overcoming the Monster
“I used to get very jealous, but then I realized I had a choice,” said a female participant in one of my relationship workshops, “I could choose to feel scared, angry, or even to feel generous and loving instead of jealous, if I thought about it. I don't regard jealousy as a desirable emotion, and when it comes up, I work to overcome it.”
Most jealousy arises when someone feels insecure or threatened— either you're afraid of losing your relationship, or that someone will get the attention (love, affection) you want. The most important thing you can do is to remember that when you handle jealousy properly, it does not have to be a disaster. Here are some guidelines you can use to overcome jealousy in your relationships:
• Make sure you and your partner feel comfortable with your agreements. Discuss the possibility that one or both of you might be jealous. Make some agreements about how you’ll behave, and make sure you’ll be willing to keep them. Don't frighten yourself or your partner by testing too hard, demanding the impossible, or risking too much. keep in mind that jealousy breaks down trust. if you begin to be upset, talk about it and encourage your partner to do the same.
• Keep each other informed. Lying to your partner about whether you have broken an agreement does more damage than breaking the agreement. If you slip up, tell the truth. If it's your partner who has slipped, be open to listening to him or her without blaming or getting upset, so the two of you can negotiate a solution to the problem. If you or your partner continually create situations that aggravate jealousy, you may need to find a counselor to help you solve the problem.
• Give yourselves time. Patience and communication are your best allies. As you learn and grow together, trust gradually builds. As trust grows stronger, you can begin to relax the rules and allow yourselves more flexibility and freedom.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and each other. Don't be angry with yourself or your partner for being jealous. You'll have much better luck if you just see jealousy as a normal, human problem and work it out together. I wish you peace, within yourself, within your family, within the world.