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How to Spot Jealousy in Relationships + How to Deal with It

by | Aug 3, 2020 | RELATIONSHIPS

This is a picture of a black man and white woman fighting over jealousy in their relationship.

Jealousy is an instinctual response. It is a feeling that comes from a sense of survival tactics in evolutionary terms. Jealousy’s purpose is to avoid betrayal, obtain a sense of control, and seek reassurance after a real or perceived threat. Jealousy is an emotional response to a real or imagined threat of losing someone or something valuable in a romantic relationship. Most everyone experiences jealous feelings at some point in their life, usually in a romantic relationship, and they may be more susceptible to experiencing and expressing jealousy, if they have experienced infidelity in past relationships.

Whether you are in the beginning stages of a relationship or deep into a relationship, chances are you or your partner have experienced some type of jealousy. First, it is important to learn to recognize and navigate your own jealous feelings. Second, learning how to practically cope with the fact that  you and your partner are likely to get attention from people other than each other.  It is completely out of your control whether other people are attracted to you or your partner, however, feeling and expressing jealousy is within your control.

Sneaky ways jealous behaviors can show up in your relationship

  1. Self-critical thoughts. Feelings of jealousy often sound like a self-defeating internal narrative.
  2. Trying to control your partner. A lack of trust in your partner or the relationship, can result in trying to control your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, giving the jealous mind an illusory sense of relief.
  3. Pushing your partner away. If you don’t care, it can’t hurt as much, right? Wrong.
  4. Projecting past experiences onto our current relationship. Past instances of infidelity can lead a traumatized brain in a state of safety-seeking; and can lead to hyper vigilant projection in new relationships.
  5. Feeling the need to interject when your partner gets attention from someone else. It can be a real challenge not to intervene when you someone approach your partner, but a sign of a healthy relationship is when your partner sets the boundaries, so you do not need to.

Ways to handle jealousy in relationships

  1. Turn the threat into pride. Reframe your thought to one of confidence. After all, your partner chose you!
  2. Assert your standards of loyalty to your partner. If it feels like you and your partner have different boundaries around loyalty, talk with them. Let them know what you need to feel safe.
  3. Focusing on all the different aspects you bring to the relationship and diversifying them. If you feel insecure, improve yourself where you feel inadequate. Nothing beats insecurity like organic confidence.
  4. Use your jealousy as a trigger to work on yourself. Let any jealousy that surfaces be a teacher for you. What is it trying to tell you? What wound feels tender? What boundaries need to be revisited? Let the feeling rise and fall, and then get to work.
  5. Share any insecurities or doubts you have in a vulnerable way. It can be easy to get defensive, but often the message gets lost when a partner sense defensive posturing. Speak your truth, and take the risk. If your partner has a negative reaction, that is good information for you to have in thinking about moving forward.

Accepting Jealousy + Processing Jealousy 

If you constantly view other people as a threat to our relationship, or if you believe your partner is cheating, you are going to exhaust ourselves and your partner. A practical tool to use when you feel threatened by another person or situation is to turn that threat into pride. Having a partner who is attractive is something to be proud of! By shifting your perspective to feelings of pride, about having a partner other people also find attractive, it can raise your confidence in your partner because they are choosing to be with you.

The second step is to realize that you cannot control who comes on to your partner, nor can you control how your partner reacts to those people. However, you can control the conversations you have with your partner about respect, loyalty, and standards for the relationship. And you can choose your partner, if you cannot come to aligned position on how to handle other people’s flirtations.

If you’re around your partner when someone hits on them, it’s can be tough to witness. However, it is a chance to see your partner’s standards for loyalty by how they respond to the situation. If your partner reacts in an inappropriate way, then it is time to reevaluate the relationship and decide whether you want to be with that person. For example, if someone is proactively hitting on your partner, you may question if you should go over and make clear that they are with you. However, this moment is not a situation that you need to break up right away, let your partner lead the way, and don’t feel the need to rush over.

Feelings of jealousy offer a chance to give your partner the space and trust to handle the situation on their own. However, if it’s been a while and you do decide to go over, make sure that you are coming from a place of wanting to help your partner get out of an awkward situation, not from trying to break something up and mark your territory. Any partner worth having is fully capable of communicating that they have a partner without you having to step in and do the work for them. Read that last sentence again.

The Importance of Trust, to Combat Jealousy in Relationships

One of the most attractive things in a relationship is genuine trust. However, let’s say your partner does something disrespectful, like flirting with someone in a way you don’t like. Now, you have an opportunity to talk to your partner to tell them how it made you feel and express that you have different needs and definitions of loyalty. Instead of starting an argument you are simply sharing your needs, that way, from then on, you are both on the same page when it comes to navigating other people’s advances. Having a conversation with your partner about both of your loyalty boundaries in the relationship can prevent future miscommunications, especially when it comes to jealousy, and unintended hurt.

A healthy internal dialogue can sound like, “As long as my partner knows what is acceptable for me, then I know I can trust them, when I’m with them or not.”

Always remember that your partner goes out without you sometimes, and when they do, you are not there to break anything up if they get approached. So, you must have a level of trust even when you’re with them, to know that whether you were there or not, they would be respectful to you and your relationship. Your partner is entitled to talk to other people of the opposite or the same sex. Doing so is not something that should incriminate them, any more than you having a conversation with anyone else ought to lead to immediate red flags.

When in Doubt, Talk it Out with Your Partner 

If you have insecurities or doubts, it is okay and healthy to share them with your partner about the jealousy you’re experiencing in your relationship. However, it is important to not attack or accuse your partner before you know all the facts, because accusing will put them in a state of defensiveness, even if they didn’t do anything wrong. By sharing your insecurities or doubts in a vulnerable way, you allow your partner to respond with sensitivity. Don’t let insecurity ruin something amazing, and also don’t be afraid to walk away if your needs or feelings are ignored, minimized or devalued.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Emma is an enthusiastic intern for the 2020 Psychotherapy Internship Program with the intention of fostering education, insight, and experience involved with running a successful practice. Emma is working towards obtaining a BA in Psychology at the University of South Alabama, with the overall goal of becoming a Clinical Psychologist and owning her own practice.



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    • Kate Balestrieri

      Thank you! We are glad you liked this article!


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