How to Reduce Jealousy in Your Relationship
By: Julian Zarate
Jealousy is something many of us have encountered at one point or another in our relationships. Jealousy is a very complex emotion that often includes touches of anger, frustration, fear, sadness, and even depression.(3) In romantic relationships, jealousy originates from the feeling that one’s relationship is at risk, which are often caused by various belief patterns and experiences.(3)(6) Maybe you have experienced jealousy when you compared yourself to the hot bartender that tried flirting with your significant other? Or maybe a past relationship led you to develop trust issues and that feeling of doubt is always wriggling in the back of your mind?
It’s important to recognize that these feelings are completely natural, and potentially even helpful. Research suggests jealousy has an evolutionary advantage which motivates us to strengthen our relationship when faced with a threat. Specifically, these feelings and their associated actions are believed to secure paternity for males and maintain security and resources for females.(3) However, extreme jealousy can actually become a threat to the relationship itself when it interferes with one or both partner’s trust and freedom. Consider the following tips to protect your relationship from the negative effects of jealousy.
- Reflect on the Meaning of your Feelings
One of the most basic ways to fight against feelings of jealousy is to understand exactly why you feel jealous. It might seem obvious on the surface, but there is often a deeper reason why the green-eyed monster is popping his head over your shoulder. It may seem tempting to blame your partner’s behavior for your feelings of jealousy, but many sources of jealousy are actually internal! Jealousy in relationships often stems from feelings of insecurity or the desire to control your partner. Interestingly, the desire to control your partner can also originate from deeper feelings of insecurity! (2)(6)
However, beyond recognizing the internal origins of your feelings, it is often beneficial to reflect on the specific moments that incited the jealousy.(2) Are there certain things your partner does which remind you of an ex who strayed? Or perhaps you only feel jealous when your partner hangs around “that friend”. Pinpointing specific events that triggered feelings of jealousy can shed light on why you felt jealous in the first place.(2) Even more importantly, it can tell you what situations you can try to avoid or at least prepare for to minimize the effects of jealousy.(4)
At the same time, it is important to try not to get caught up in the feeling of jealousy itself. Sometimes when we think back on specific memories or events, we can get caught up in those negative emotions and fall into a cycle of negativity. This is what psychologists call “rumination”. It might be difficult, but try your best to avoid “re-playing” the scenes in your head. Instead, use them solely as reference, and focus on how these events affected you. (1)
- Have an Open Discussion with Your Partner
Once you have taken time to understand your own jealous feelings, try to communicate this understanding with your partner. Let your partner know that you’d like to talk and find a quiet place and time when you won’t be interrupted. You deserve a space to share your feelings and the inciting events. At the same time, your partner deserves a space to share their side of the story. Together, partners should work to establish boundaries and compromises that can alleviate both partners’ concerns.(2) For instance, if your partner has a friend that makes you feel insecure, your partner may not find it fair to be forced to completely cut that person out of their life. However, perhaps a compromise to lessen the frequency of outings with that friend would work, or better yet, an increase in quality time with your partner instead!
Unfortunately, vulnerable discussions like these often lead to heightened emotions. If one partner feels persecuted or distressed, it could lead to anger, disappointment, frustration, or worse. For this reason, it is important that both parties attempt to limit destructive communication and behaviors. For a productive outcome, both partners should refrain from verbal or physical aggression and from weaponizing jealousy through intentionally making one another jealous. If either partner notices that emotions are flaring, take a break and continue the discussion later, after tempers have cooled. (4)
- Reaffirm the Relationship
Beyond the boundaries and compromises of a couple’s open discussion, it may be beneficial for the two of you to intentionally reaffirm the security of the relationship. Little gestures can go a long way if they are genuine. If a partner is prone to jealousy, occasional reassurances of the relationship’s strength can work wonders! (4)(6)
Sometimes reassurance can be as simple as a few key words. There is nothing wrong with giving a bit of unsolicited support, and there is nothing wrong with asking for reassurance in moments that you feel insecure or vulnerable. If you know that your partner has a tendency to get jealous in particular situations, you can make an effort to remind them of their meaning to you as a partner.(4)(6) And if you feel that words aren’t enough, small gifts can offer support as well! (6) Ideally, these affirmations and gifts should go both ways; if you are prone to jealousy, then your accommodating partner deserves assurance and gifts as well.
These reassurances go a long way in open discussions as well. If your partner opens up to you about their jealous feelings (or about other vulnerabilities in their lives), then aim to accept these feelings as openly as possible. Try to avoid overly expressing defensiveness, but also don’t be afraid to assert your own feelings. Boundaries should be set by both parties; you can make compromises on how to fight against jealousy while still reaffirming your partner about their position in the relationship.(6)
- Consider Outside Help
If open communication and compromises haven’t been successful, then you may wish to consider outside help.(3) Sometimes feelings of jealousy stem from sources that are difficult to work on without a third-party perspective, particularly if the feelings are long-lasting, frequent, and interfering with relationship satisfaction.(4)
The OurRelationship program is an excellent free (or low-cost) online resource for couples struggling with jealousy because it allows each partner to develop a DEEP understanding of the issue. In the program, partners learn about their Differences, External stressors, underlying Emotions, and Patterns of communication. Learning about each partner’s DEEP understanding fosters empathy and awareness within the relationship whenever jealousy arises in the future. Even further, the program guides the couple to make specific changes which may include avoiding situations that evoke jealousy or changing communication styles when a partner feels jealous. Throughout the program, couples meet virtually with a relationship coach to help them communicate their issue, DEEP understanding, and desired changes effectively.
However, if you want to work through this issue more intensely with a therapist, couple therapy can also be a great resource.
Jealousy can be a difficult hurdle in any relationship, but it can be overcome with a little preparation and effort. Simply working with your partner can be enough to stabilize a relationship burdened by jealousy. Open, judgment-free communication and self-reflection are useful for various relationship problems even beyond jealousy. Implementing these tips and communicating openly with your partner should allow you to work together to overcome jealousy in any form.
1 Elphinston, R. A., Feeney, J. A., Noller, P., Connor, J. P., & Fitzgerald, J. (2013). Romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction: The costs of rumination. Western Journal of Communication, 77(3), 293–304. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1080/10570314.2013.770161
2 Guerrero, L. K. (2014). Jealousy and relational satisfaction: Actor effects, partner effects, and the mediating role of destructive communicative responses to jealousy. Western Journal of Communication, 78(5), 586–611. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1080/10570314.2014.935468
3 Harvey, J. H., Wenzel, A., & Sprecher, S. (2004). The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.)). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
4 Marelich, W. D. (2002). Effects of behavior setting, extradyadic behaviors, and interloper characteristics on romantic jealousy. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 30(8), 785–794. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.2224/sbp.2002.30.8.785
5 Redlick, M. (2016). The green‐eyed monster: Mate value, relational uncertainty, and jealousy in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 23(3), 505–516. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1111/pere.12140
6 Selterman, D. F., & Maier, M. A. (2013). Secure attachment and material reward both attenuate romantic jealousy. Motivation and Emotion, 37(4), 765–775. https://doi-org.access.library.miami.edu/10.1007/s11031-013-9340-y