Take the Quiz: how savvy are you? Stop falling into the trap!
“Suspicion…keeps us apart, Suspicion…why torture me?” sings Elvis on a golden oldie. “Hey jealous lover, you’re acting so strange…” tell the lyrics of an even older tune from the late 50s. So do our popular songs recount the suspicious fears that our lover is wanting to be with someone else: worse, that s/he may be having a secret affair right this moment.
What we call being jealous is a pattern common to lovers, often mistaken for an indication of great love. While it’s true that the jealous lover has a big investment in his or her object of desire, jealousy itself is not really about loving: it’s about anxiety and a sense of being ‘one down.’ It could be fear of losing out to someone perceived as more alluring and attractive, or more powerful and exciting.
Jealous fears may seem unjustified -or vice versa, as in the case of being with a partner who has been unfaithful in the past. What all jealous reactions have in common is their fearful element, of not being someone special enough to love and be faithful to. This negative expectation rises up out of lowered self regard, a sense of unworthiness that leads to an expectation for betrayal. The jealous lover may or may not be aware of having these lowered expectations which can produce emotional states that vary from mild annoyance to wild paranoia. Regardless of the Richter scale reading, jealousy never contributes to trust and closeness.
Jealousy dynamics always involve triggers. The jealous lover’s partner behaves in ways, purposely or not, that threaten his or her friend’s sense of safety to love or be in the relationship openly. Obvious triggers range from flirtations with outsiders to actual transgressions of vows to be exclusive sexually and intimately. Sometimes the promises themselves are unrealistic and need modification. Other times the inability to keep them needs work.
Not so obvious triggers for jealousy attacks also exist. Excessive cold shouldering or other kinds of emotional withdrawals can provoke doubt, as can unclear sexual messages. For instance the use of sensual videos by one partner — especially during “love”making — can intimidate or alienate the other partner into concluding s/he is not sexy enough. Sexy pin-up pictures can stir jealous episodes, as can talking excessively about former lovers and comparing them to your present one.
What is most important to understand is that the patterns of jealous behaviors are kept in place by BOTH partners in a less-than-conscious and often painful dance. You’ve attracted and manifested each other for a jealous relationship in order to create an opportunity to heal and outgrow the mutual patterns of lowered self-esteem. There is a potential truck-load of shame, guilt and resentment to unload as new relational dance steps are learned. Vow not to dump on each other. Find ways to open your hearts through communication skills. Seek understanding for your mutual feelings of vulnerability and need for reassurance.
If either partner is not ready to change and grow, be prepared for the love in the relationship to be put on hold or even terminated as the other partner becomes healthier. The lover who’s growing will want a relationship freer from addictive power struggles.
1. Do you have recurrent thoughts about losing your lover to somebody “better?” Do you obsess about it?
2. Do you try to control your partner’s comings and goings to minimize their chances to meet other potential partners? Tell yourself it’s because you “love” her/him sooooooooooooo much?
3. Do you fantasize about getting rapt attention from others to make your partner jealous, thus proving you “still have it?”
4. Do you ever flirt outrageously in front of your partner? To somehow get even? Feel insecure, but afraid to tell for fear of giving your lover more “power” over you?
5. Have you ever “cheated?” Think/fantasize about doing it? Often? Feel guilty about it? Or justified?!
6. Do you cover up jealous feelings by pretending you don’t care what your partner does with someone else? Do you believe you’re worth being faithful to?
If you’ve answered yes to even one or two of these questions, a jealousy problem is likely to exist or be brewing. If you answered yes to most of these, getting professional counseling may prevent a blow up.
[Marcia Singer, MSW, CHT, directs the Love Arts Foundation in norcal. Published in Awareness Magazine, 2001. Reprinted in author’s memoir IRON JANE: Tales of Awakening A Wild Heart, Vol 1.© 2011, 2019 ]