My jealousy is affecting my everyday life, how do I control it?
September 9, 2010 2:36 PM   Subscribe

How do I get over my insane jealousy?

With my (recent) ex, I was always incredibly jealous of other women he would talk to, to the point where I would have intense anxiety. I know that this anxiety is unfounded- he was always faithful to me and never gave me a reason to doubt our relationship. I think that it is a self-confidence issue, but I'm not sure.

Even after accepting these things-- I want him to have friends that make him happy; he would never do anything to hurt me-- whenever I saw him talking with another woman, I would think about it late at night, with a knot in my stomach.

I think this jealousy is part of the reason that our relationship didn't work out. I'm sure it wore on him, and I was always seeking reassurance. This is probably for the best, and I think that he would be happier with someone else.

My current question is twofold:

1. Right now, I am still around my ex all the time because we work together. This work situation is not something that I can change. We are trying to be friends, but obviously it's still uncomfortable. There is a new girl at work who I really like- she is witty and smart, and has the same interests as me. My ex really likes her (possibly romantically, although I can't read his mind) for the same reasons. I get the same anxiety when I see them together now- an almost debilitating knot in my stomach. I don't want this to affect my relationship with her, because my issues are not her fault. How can I reduce these jealous feelings and ensure that I don't take them out on her?

2. How can I learn to be less jealous overall, so that my future relationships are healthy and fulfilling?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Jealousy is often about our own insecurity. You say you think it could be a self-confidence issue; I think that's worth exploring.

For me, in past relationships, jealousy was based on an underlying fear/knowledge that parts of a relationship are beyond your control. You can't force someone else to love you, or to stay with you until the end of time if they meet someone who's more right for them. The good news is, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy - the person who will leave you for someone else is a person you would have broken up with eventually anyway, because you're not compatible. In a strange way, for me, accepting that I could NOT be perfect enough to "make" someone else love me and stay with me forever relieved some of my anxiety about it.

For me, also, the jealousy would stem from insecurity and from allowing my brain to rampantly focus only on my flaws, while focusing only on the good qualities of my 'competitors'. Of course they looked better than me if I never gave myself any credit. If this sounds like a pattern you're in, I think counseling is definitely a good thing.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:17 PM on September 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

It might help to recognize jealousy as related to fear. Then you can ask yourself what you're afraid of happening, and realize that even with the worst-case scenario (in this case, perhaps that would be that they fall madly in love and live happily ever after), you will be ok.
posted by aniola at 3:18 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You nailed it in the first paragraph: self-confidence.

1 & 2: It's not about lessening your jealousy, it's about being happier and more confident with yourself. That will have profound effects on all parts of your life, rather than just this minor situation.
Others may suggest a new BF. (That ain't it).
posted by artdrectr at 3:18 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Jealousy" is produced by making certain kinds of images in your head, and making them large and obtrusive.

Slow down your own thought process-- what images were you making in your head, when you had that problem, before?

What (different, pleasant, soothing) images can you find yourself choosing to create and focus on, and enlarge, and pay attention to, now? And what's the right context for letting yourself focus on these new, enjoyable, comforting images?
posted by darth_tedious at 3:24 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, be friends with yourself. The emotion of sexual jealousy is a feature, not a bug. Its hard-wired into us. This does not mean is it appropriate or wise to act on it. But there is nothing wrong with you because you feel it. It is totally normal and human and be careful not to beat yourself up about it.

Second, when an emotion like this is particularly strong, it often means that it is linked to other issues--abandonment, abuse, manipulation which comes from your past. You may want to consider therapy to look into this.

Third, learn to accept your feelings. They are there. They are real events that are occuring in your mind. But they do not demand action. I suggest you work to feel them without reacting to them. As you feel the knot in your stomach, try not to avoid it or act on it. Resist urges to act out, eating, drinking, saying things to the young woman in question, any of it. The feelings are not your enemy, they are just phenomena going on in your head. Make a game of feeling them and feeling where in your body they are expressed. See how long you can concentrate on the feelings.

best of luck
posted by Ironmouth at 3:26 PM on September 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm not one to quote the Bible, not ever, but if ever there was a time:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous

You need to unlearn this jealous behavior, not because of the knot in your stomach or because it might drive/have driven boyfriends away, but because it's the opposite of love.

Think about it -- if you truly love someone, why wouldn't you want them to be happy, even if someone else makes them happy.

Easier said than done, I realize, but that's because it seems to me that you've answered your own question. Unless I am missing something completely, this is about self-confidence issues. You must work on those -- whatever they may be -- to make this jealously go away. And you must realize that being in an adult relationship isn't about being the only thing that makes the other person happy, just being the one who makes him most happy.

But even if you have all the self-confidence in the world, there will always be people out there that, even if they aren't smarter or wittier or more beautiful or have more of the same interests to which your partner is attracted, will be smart or witty or have interests in a different way and might be attractive to your partner. One of the most healthy things you can learn in an adult relationship is that you can't possibly be all things to one person. It's not hard; it's impossible. So you have to recognize these feelings for what they are: irrational behavior with no logic behind them.*

And keep telling yourself this. Think - why am I feeling this way? If you can't find an answer, it's illogical. And then think to yourself - "I don't want to be this illogical person. I don't like her. She's acting not nice to a person I care about. She should stop."

And, eventually, she'll listen.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:31 PM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Have you felt like this with all your exes? Or just this one?
posted by tel3path at 3:44 PM on September 9, 2010

I used to this to myself a lot (oddly my jealousy was the most extreme in a toxic relationship where I didn't even like my boyfriend). One of my parents cheated on the other pretty consistently throughout my childhood and did enormous damage to their relationship and our family. I grew up absolutely determined that no partner would ever surprise me with their secret relationships, so I was always looking for the signs and reading situations like flirting as a personal attack. This looking for threats to my relationships all the time made me mistrustful and jealous and in the end didn't help protect me at all. What did was getting cheated on and realising that a. it wasn't going to kill me and b. that nothing I did could have prevented it from happening. For me, the jealousy was all about the pretence of control when really, I had none. Once I realised that constantly worrying about what could happen and what it would mean for me was not going to protect me, I found it much easier to let go. I still get jealous but it's much easier to deal with and dismiss now. Rather than thinking about what I don't want, I focus on what I do want to happen. It's hard after a break up but you need a new narrative.
posted by Wantok at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2010

Sorry for projecting but it sounds like you might have been cheated on in the past. For what it's worth, not all men are like that, so don't assume they are. That might help.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:19 PM on September 9, 2010

I agree with previous posters. Severe jealousy comes from one of two places, or a combo: lack of self-confidence, or legitimate lack of trust in the partner due to previous experience with cheating. Those two things have to be addressed.

OP: "How can I learn to be less jealous overall, so that my future relationships are healthy and fulfilling?"

A way of thinking that was very helpful for me, and which shaped all my romantic interactions:

When I was in middle school, I had a good pal with an older sister in high school named Beth, who was pretty, popular, and very self-assured. (Naturally, we pretty much idolized Beth.)

One afternoon, Beth and some friends were hanging out listening to music, and they allowed us to come along... meaning we could sit quietly in their presence as long as we weren't too annoying.

The older girls were chatting, snacking, playing with makeup... and talking about Beth's boyfriend—specifically the recent rumor that he'd been spending a little too much time with a girl who was infamous on campus as a boyfriend stealer. And the conversation basically went like this.
Friend 2: I just can't believe that slut. She's got a lot of nerve.

Beth (applying mascara): Uh-huh.

Friend 1: I knooooow, right? I think we should kick her ass.

Friend 2: Seriously! Such a skank. Who does she think she is? You know she stole Jennifer Dawson's boyfriend last summer while Jen was away at cheer camp.

Friend 1: Uh. Mah. GAW. Hate her!

Beth (changing cassette tapes): Uh-huh.

Friend 2: Uh, Beth?! How come you, like, totally do not care about that slutbucket?

Beth (puts down mascara): Look, here's how I see it. Any guy who is going to cheat on me, is doing me a favor. Because clearly, he's a total dickwad, and the sooner I figure it out the better, because then I can move on to the next relationship, who is hopefully not a dickwad.

Friend 1: ....

Friend 2: But... but.... what about Suzie Slutbucket? She's totally pursuing him. If we corner her after school and set her straight, she'll leave him alone and y'all will be fine.

Beth: No, we wouldn't. She's skanky for stealing boyfriends, yes.... but she's not the one cheating on me, it's him. And if he's a cheater, he's going to cheat at some point no matter what. If not Suzie, then some other girl some other time. The sooner a cheater shows his true colors, the better.
Granted, I was extremely impressionable, and was hearing this from my idol at a time when I hadn't yet formed my dating/relationship/interpersonal patterns. But it was like a light bulb went off for me. From then on, and to this day, I feel almost no sexual/romantic jealousy, ever.

I see cheating as a gift (a shitty, hurtful one, no doubt... kind of like an early-detection mammogram... but still a gift). If my partner is going to cheat, then it's for no other reason than that he's a cheater. Keeping him away from women won't make him less of a cheater if he is one.

And if he is, let's get it over with so I can move on. I don't want to prevent him from being around temptation—because I can't possibly watch his every move so if he can't be responsible on his own, he's a waste of my time. If I'm going to be hurt at some point by this cheater, let's do it earlier rather than later.

Ironmouth: "The emotion of sexual jealousy is a feature, not a bug. Its hard-wired into us. This does not mean is it appropriate or wise to act on it. But there is nothing wrong with you because you feel it. It is totally normal and human and be careful not to beat yourself up about it."

I would like to add a thought to this: I agree with Ironmouth to the extent that there are "more normal" and "less normal" levels of jealousy. I know someone whose wife would really only feel comfortable if he had no female coworkers, and never interacted with any females at all, if she couldn't be present to chaperone. She's actually said this out loud, not in jest. I think we can all agree that that is not an amount of jealousy that is "totally normal."
posted by pineapple at 6:43 PM on September 9, 2010 [23 favorites]

While it is true that emotions are hardwired and we can't avoid feeling them, and when they spiral out of control therapy might help, I also think it is helpful to recognize that there is a certain distortion inherent in the way we speak of "my" husband or "my" boyfriend that subtly encourages us to view the other as an enhancement to which we own exclusive rights rather than as a person we love who also loves us. "The man I love" is free to do what he will for I wish him happiness; "my" husband is someone for whom I feel entitled to set rules and to monitor. The possessiveness seems justified by our very language and we accept the jealous feelings as appropriate and unavoidable instead of recognizing that in part we unwittingly invite them.

I think for some people, a philosophical examination of one's values and beliefs can lead to a change in the way relationships are viewed. For example, we can come to understand that love is not what we have blindly assumed and that we need not be ruled by our impulses and emotions. As we form beliefs about what is ethical and moral and the right way to be, we can choose attitudes and behaviors that bring us more into line with our beliefs.

There was a philosopher in California in the seventies {sorry I cannot remember his name} who proposed what he called clinical philosophy to guide people facing inevitable and predictable existential dilemmas. Others now also write about this idea. Earlier Victor Frankl wrote "Man's Search for Meaning" which introduced what he called logotherapy, a concept not too far removed from clinical philosophy. If you are introspective and philosophically inclined, these might be worth investigating.
posted by Anitanola at 11:50 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two things that I think would be worth thinking about:

1. If someone cheats on you, what bad things would happen, and why would they be so bad? Can you list them? For example:
- If he cheats, he might leave, and then I would have to pay the rent on my own.
- If he cheats, my friends might all laugh about me behind my back about what a loser I am.

Once you have a big list, you can think through whether these things are REALLY likely to happen, and you can think about what you would do if they did happen.

- If I couldn't afford the rent, I'd look for a cheaper place.
- If my friends are really friends, they will think HE is the loser.

2. When do you feel really secure with your boyfriend? When do you feel less secure? Sometimes, jealous feelings seem to stem from someone who just doesn't behave in the ways that would make you personally feel secure and loved. It doesn't have to be about his behaviour with other women - it can be about randomly sending you an "x" in a text message, calling you to say he misses you, buying your favourite sweets, or just knowing when you are down and you want a hug.

You never know, if you find a relationship that really suits you, you may discover that the jealous feelings disappear on their own.
posted by emilyw at 12:59 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for all your input, guys. I really appreciate the advice on rationalizing away jealousy, and think that this will really help me in my relationships going forward. If he wants to cheat, he will, and there is nothing I can do about it. (One of you speculated about whether or not I have been cheated on in the past, and I have. I think that accepting that I have no control over this will help a lot.) I was hoping that you might have some additional insight into my current situation. To elaborate a little, my ex and I broke up about two months ago, and we are now around each other pretty much constantly, as we are collaborating on a project along with several other employees. The new girl has joined our project and they flirt pretty much constantly. She just has a flirty personality, and I don't hold it against her-- I know she doesn't owe me anything. However, he's treating me like shit while being nice and flirty with her-- and seeing the contrast between the two is making me sick. Anything that might ease this situation would be much appreciated. Thanks again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:48 AM on September 15, 2010

Hey OP,

I know I'm a little late here, but I'm in a similar situation right now. "he's treating me like shit while being nice and flirty with her-- and seeing the contrast between the two is making me sick." Reverse the genders.

What's worked, kind of, for me is a couple of things:
1) Alcohol, and copious amounts of it. Not a good idea if you're at work, but, y'know, once you're off, go for a drink...
2) With friends of the opposite sex. Seek their constant attention. What I've discovered is that hey, yes, I can in fact engage in a normal, non-jealous interaction with women who I respect and care about (or reasonably could), in these cases, some of my pre-relationship female friends, and some new friends I've made since the break. THEY miss me, they ask after me, they laugh at my jokes and tell me fun stories from their day and from their past. I know it sounds a little...well, pathetic, but jealous as we are about a relationship dead and gone, we are a little bit...but getting the validation that I'm worthy and capable of decent human interaction has been important for me. SHE is the one being an asshole, and it's not worth caring about. It also has helped me realize that she's doing this because she's hurting too; flirting with someone new feels good, liberating.
3) Headphones full of happy, bouncy music. You just can't stay angry when you listen to "You're Too Dramatic" by Ra Ra Riot after a particularly sickening interaction. It puts the drama and the jealousy in perspective, and lets you dismiss it for what it is, silliness.
4) Staying busy. Those thoughts start to creep into my head when I'm bored. But try being jealous when you're running around trying to find a job, learn guitar, read all those new books, and keep up with a full social schedule.
5) New friends. You have the craigslist, the okcupid, the local forums, your local mefi group...use them! They're all new people, it's all a crapshoot anyway, there's good ones and bad ones, so speed up the process. Get yourself out there and meet people.
6) Being good to myself. Now is not the time to buckle down and "get your life in order". Now is the time to completely reinvent yourself, try new things, and throw caution to the wind. Have fun! This is an opportunity, you know you need a change, so what better time to experiment with crazy ideas?
posted by saysthis at 5:53 PM on September 17, 2010

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