We've all experienced episodes of jealousy in our lives. Closely linked to envy, jealousy, according to clinical psychologist Ayala Malach Pines, "is a complex reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship or to its quality". But unlike envy which usually centres around a desire to have something possessed by another, jealousy always involves three people, and a fear of loss.
The reason jealousy is such a complex reaction is due to the fact it encompasses so many thoughts, emotions and behaviors:
Thoughts: blame, comparison of yourself to the rival, resentment, self-pity, insecurity about self-image
Emotions: fear, humiliation, envy, rage, sadness, grief, anger, distrust, anxiety
Behavioral reactions: Accusations, questioning, spying, seeking constant reassurance
In very small doses, jealousy can actually be healthy for a relationship. It reminds us of what we have in our partner, and to make a consistent effort to show our appreciation for having them in our lives. It heightens our emotions, and can make love feel stronger, and sex more passionate.
When the jealousy gets out of proportion however, is when problems quickly arise. Because there are so many intense emotions involved, many people find themselves being overwhelmed by these feelings, and overreacting in ways they wish they could take back later. One example of such a scenario might be reacting to your partner talking to another man/woman at a party. Watching this, you have a strong physical reaction, your heartbeat increases, and you feel threatened. Before you know it, you're going over there to publicly and obviously intervene. These types of reactions are extremely stressful on a relationship, causing the accused to walk around on eggshells for fear of inciting jealous reactions in situations that often don't warrant any reaction at all.
It never feels good to be jealous, so if you are the one with the jealousy problem, there are things you can do to help yourself before these feelings get out of hand and end up ruining your relationships:
1. Give yourself a reality check, and do this when you are in a state of emotional calm. Trace back to when you remember first feeling jealousy in your life. What was the cause then?
Chances are you're holding past trauma inside and relating it to your present situation. Are your reactions overreactions? Has your partner actually done anything to warrant these reactions? If he/she reacted the way you did had the situation been reversed, would it make sense?
2. Communicate for realistic reassurance. It's often better to let your partner in on the fact that you have jealous feelings. You must acknowledge to them however, that you understand your reactions are overreactions. Ask for their help, and help them understand that some kind words of reassurance will go a long way to making you feel more secure. If you find however, that nothing your partner says can reassure you, you need to go deeper within yourself to find the root, and consider getting some outside help, either through books or therapy.
3. Talk to yourself positively about it. When you start to feel those twinges of jealousy, breathe. Remind yourself that your partner loves you, and remind yourself that jealousy does the exact opposite of what the compulsion tells you it will. Jealous feelings are overreactions which will not allow you to get a "tighter reign" on your partner, but will actually push them away - the last thing you want!