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When the Green Eyed Monster Takes Over: Learning How to Effectively Express Jealousy in Your Relationship

Have you ever been jealous when another girl texts your boyfriend? Or have you gotten concerned when your girlfriend's male neighbor won't stop talking to her? Ever worried that someone else's relationship looks better than yours? Well, we're here to tell you that the grass is not always greener.
**This post was written by a pair of guest bloggers- see their bio at the end**

Jealousy can be defined as a complex combination of thoughts, feelings and actions, which tend to threaten self-esteem and/or the existence or quality of the relationship. As explained by Maya Angelou, “Jealousy in romance is like salt in food.  A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.”  Knowing how to manage this “salty emotion” is an extremely helpful and important skill to learn.

Why, You Ask?
Why is expressing jealousy effectively so important?  Jealousy occurs in every relationship.  It’s natural. In fact, it’s in our nature to express jealousy because keeping it inside typically leads to unresolved jealousy feelings that can turn into deeper relational problems. But when expressed the right way, jealousy shows that you love your partner and want to maintain the relationship. Thus, jealousy can be a sign of love, or a sign of insecurity about love. If you make your partner feel loved through honesty and trust, chances of a secure relationship will rise, and jealousy will decrease. It is so important to express these feelings, because if you don’t, it essentially gives your partner permission to continue behaving in the way that made you jealous in the first place.

By expressing your jealousy, you build boundaries that educate your partner to avoid the circumstances that you don’t find acceptable. According to Drs. Carrie Kennedy-Lightsey and Melanie Booth-Butterfield, in their 2011 Communication Quarterly article, individuals in highly satisfied relationships are less likely to respond to jealousy by yelling at their partners, threatening to leave the relationship, or spying on the other person. This is because couples with high relational satisfaction tend to also be able to effectively communicate their jealousy to their partners, instead of reacting in negative ways.

Difficulty Doing 
Why might expressing jealousy in a positive, healthy way be difficulty?

For starters, fear of retaliation is a major reason why expressing jealousy is difficult in a relationship. Many fear that their partners will strike back with a comment or argument that could cause serious, detrimental harm to their relationship. This sometimes causes people to decide that it’s better to just drop it.

In general, you don’t want to offend your partner with your choice of words or style of confrontation. If you do offend your partner, you might exacerbate the situation. Something that was so minor could turn into a major argument or fight. Couples who learn to discuss conflict based on each other’s reaction styles are more likely to be in a highly satisfied relationship, and less likely to scream at each other, or threaten to leave the relationship.

If you are wondering how to overcome these fears and difficulties when it comes to expressing jealousy to your partner, keep reading.

Learn to Recognize
According to Dr. I. Major, M.D., author of the book Little White Whys: A No Nonsense Guide to the Lies Men Tell in Relationships and Why, it’s better to acknowledge the jealousy you feel, even if it is just a little bit, rather than letting it worsen for weeks or months and explode at a bad time. Sometimes just sitting down and doing something as simple as writing in a journal can help you assess your own feelings. Ask yourself: Why might I be having these feelings?  Has your partner actually done something to make you feel this way? Or maybe there were past experiences in previous relationships that affected your levels of trust or self-esteem or you may be insecure or fear abandonment in your current relationship. No matter what the situation is, being honest with yourself is essential in staying objective and avoiding negative feelings in dealing with jealousy.

There are two main types of jealousy. And it’s critical to be able to differentiate between “normal” and “delusional” jealousy. Normal jealousy has its basis in a real threat to the relationship, whereas delusional jealousy persists despite the absence of any real or even probable threat. Relating to the prior statement about reflecting on your own, possibly writing in a journal, or maybe discussing with friends and thinking deeply about where the jealousy is stemming from could be beneficial to realize if your emotions are natural or delusional.  In the process of recognizing what type of jealousy you are experiencing, and where it is stemming from, you can take positive steps to manage effectively.

“By realizing what feelings are normal and abnormal, and by examining the roots of our jealous feelings, we can effectively learn to cope with it by positively changing our behavior. Like other difficult emotional experiences, jealousy can be a trigger for growth, increased self-awareness, and greater understanding of both your partner and your relationship,” as described by A.M. Pines and C. F. Bowes, in their 1992 Psychology Today article.

Consider Your Partner
Although we’ve talked so much about yourself, and making ends meet with your personal emotions, your partner plays a big role in your jealous feelings, too. So you need to consider him/her when approaching conflict. Determining your specific goal or desired outcome for expressing your  jealousy is important. For example, individuals who are concerned with maintaining their relationship might engage in constructive communication, while those who are motivated to reduce their uncertainty (whether normal or delusional) may engage in destructive communication, such as surveillance behavior. If your goal is not to maintain the relationship, then this indicates a whole different spectrum of issues that you probably have with your partner.

Your partner needs to know that you are feeling jealous because you care about him/her and the well being of your relationship, not because you’re frustrated or trying to cause an argument. According to Dr. Jennifer Rosier, Ph.D., you should  “[r]emember to tell your partner that you're in it to win it. Expressing your commitment and love can enhance feelings of togetherness and intimacy in your relationship, reassuring your partner that there is no one else in your life.” If you do these things, your partner will understand you may have had your feelings hurt, or there may have been a misunderstanding, and you only care to fix it to keep your relationship stable.

Use what you know about your partner to communicate your jealousy. Find out how your partner best responds to conflict, and use that knowledge to express yourself in the best possible way for them to understand your perspective without getting defensive or offended. Also, you should not point the finger using anger toward your partner by telling him or her how awful they are because they made you jealous. You need to express that your feelings are hurt because of what you experienced from your partner’s actions. “I think its more important to talk about the experiences that lead to jealousy rather than the jealousy itself,” as Dr. Scott Haltzman, the author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men, stated.     

Trying it All Together in 3 Easy Steps
So, now that you know why expressing jealousy effectively is important, you've learned how to recognize what type of jealousy you're experiencing, and how to consider your partner's feelings, let's talk about actually creating a message to express your jealousy to your partner. 

Integrative communication is the way to go. First, of course, you need to discuss the problem that has arisen, and negotiate relational rules about what makes each other jealous, so it does not continue to occur.  Be direct: express yourself calmly and constructively. 

So, now that you know why expressing jealousy effectively is important, you’ve learned how to recognize what type of jealousy you’re experiencing, and how to consider your partners feelings, let’s talk about actually creating a message to express your jealousy to your partner.

Integrative communication is the way to go.  First, of course, you need to discuss the problem that has arisen, and negotiate 

Next, According to a Science of Relationships article, entitled What Should I Do About my Jealousy?, written by Dr. Jennifer Bevan, when jealous individuals use positive messages their partners are less likely to be uncertain about the jealous individuals behavior and have a more positive reaction. Their partners are also more likely to experience constructive emotions and respond with similar messages, including trying to come to an understanding about the jealousy situation, and discuss it openly.

While being direct and positive, it is important to disclose everything honestly.  Ask questions. Asking your partner questions about the topic that made you jealous in the first place will clear up any unspoken emotions and reassure each partner that they know exactly what happened.      

Example Scenario & Responses
though I know you would never do anything behind my back.  I am not asking you to stop being his friend, I would just really love to be included in your activities.”

Eric and Julia are newlyweds.  Julia’s best friend for many years has been Kyle.  While Eric and Julia were dating he did not see Kyle as much of a threat, but once they were married he began to be much more jealous, and react to them hanging out.  How could Eric respond positively and effectively to Julia and Kyle’s friendship, based on the information we have provided?

Poor Response:  “Now that we’re married, you have to end your friendship with Kyle.”
  • Pros: Very direct. 
  • Cons: Eric does not back up his opinion with reasons, or explain why their friendship might hurt his feelings.

Better Response: “I think you should start seeing Kyle less now that we are married because it is important you start trying to build our bond stronger.”
  • Pros:  Direct, and expresses his feelings and desires about his commitment to their marriage. 
  • Cons: Still lacks an explanation of how or why he is a little jealous, and how her actions make him feel that way.

Best Response: “I understand and respect your friendship with Kyle, but sometimes I feel a little left out when the two of you make plans without me.  It hurts my feelings, and I get a little bit jealous that he gets so much alone time with you, even 
  • Pros:  Very direct, show that he loves her based on his desire to be included in what she likes to do, and builds boundaries that he doesn’t want her to spend much alone time with Kyle.  
  • Cons: Could express more that he trusts her, and does not think she would do anything behind his back even with all of their alone time.

About the Authors

Bevan, J.L. (n.d.). What Should I Do About My Jealousy? Retrieved from http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2011/7/27/what-should-i-do-about-my-jealousy.html

Bevan, J.L. (2008). Experiencing and communicating romantic jealousy: Questioning the investment model. Southern Communication Journal, 73(1). 42-67.

Guerrero, L. K & Afifi, W. A. (1999). Toward a goal-oriented approach for understanding communicative responses to jealousy. Western Journal of Communication, 63(2). 216.

Kennedy-Lightsey, C., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2011). Responses to jealousy situations thatevoke uncertainty in married and dating relationships. Communication Quarterly, 59(2), 255-275.

Muise, A. (n.d.). Are You "Creeping"? Jealousy and Partner Monitoring on Facebook. Retrieved
October 17, 2013, from http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2013/9/6are-you-creeping-jealousy-and-partner-monitoring-on-facebook.html

Pines, A. M. & Bowes, C. F. (1992). Romantic Jealousy. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/romantic-jealousy

Rosier, J. (2009). Working Through Jealousy. Retrieved from http://www.jenslovelessons.com/2009/04/working-through-jealousy.html

Strauss, B. (n.d.). 3 Tips for Dealing with Jealousy. Retrieved from http://www.match.com/y/article.aspx?articleid=11425


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