Few relationship dynamics are as misunderstood as jealousy is. Romanticized in literature, poetry and the media, most people don’t realize what jealousy really is about, how it relates to attachment, and also how important it is to take seriously within relationships.
In my therapy practice, most commonly jealousy is presented as a problem in individuals who have noticed themselves feeling jealous in relation to their partner. The same individuals who feel insecure usually seek therapy to help them “get over it” and just learn to trust their partner more. They often feel ashamed of their feelings and their seemingly irrational and sometimes aggressive thoughts and behaviours, as well as significant distress by the mental images they have that are associated with their feelings of jealousy.
The partner of the person who is feeling jealous is typically happy that their partner has decided to seek therapy. Perhaps surprisingly, they often don’t realize how they themselves may have actually contributed to the insecurity that underlies the feelings of jealousy. Both partners mistakenly believe that the primary problem that ails them in their relationship will be healed once the jealous partner can learn to stop feeling so insecure.
While it may sound crazy, the truth is that jealousy itself is not a problem, but is merely an important symptom that needs to be acknowledged so that it can be properly addressed. The fact is that when an individual feels “insecure” in their relationship, what this usually means is that they simply “do not feel secure.” Seemingly the same thing, this subtle clarification changes everything.
There can be many reasons why a person does not feel secure in their relationship. Unknowingly, the other partner may have said or done things that created this sense of insecurity. Critical words or looks, reduced physical or emotional affection, reduced time shared together, increased time on the computer, cell phone or gaming, or other such behaviours can create feelings of insecurity and loneliness. This can be made worse by the partner sharing more time at work or with others, especially when they seem to be having a better time with others than with their own partner.
The great news is that the situation and feelings of hurt or the perceived emotional “abandonment” that underlies the feelings of jealousy may be easily remedied. By simply making a concerted effort to change their own behaviours in such a way that clearly and consistently demonstrates their affection and deep appreciation for the jealous partner, may simply melt away the feelings of jealousy over time. Understanding and changing the behaviours that contribute to their partner’s feelings of insecurity (even when the need to do so does not seem logical or warranted) can recreate the feelings of ease and love in their relationship that they both long for most. Choosing to make such a concerted effort, especially when it does not seem logical, is a generous and caring demonstration of “love as a verb.”
Trust is not to be assumed, but is earned through consistent acts of caring, presence, kindness and dependability. If any of these ingredients are missing, insecurity will be the likely outcome. Jealousy arises when the conditions for insecurity are present, whether those conditions were pre-existing or were an outcome of dynamics in the current relationship.
With enough consistent patience, caring, presence, kindness and dependability, security often can be cultivated and the relationship transformed. Of course this positive outcome is most likely when the insecurity began in the current relationship and when there has not been any form of infidelity by either partner, emotional or physical. However, even in situations where pre-existing attachment traumas may have been present, or when there has been a relational betrayal, healing may still be possible, if addressed with the help of a skilled therapist. In such cases, the feelings of hurt and the process of subsequent healing is much more complicated and requires more time and effort.
If you are struggling in your life around relationships or any other emotional or social challenges, remember that you don’t have to face these alone. You can reach out for support from a registered psychologist or other relevant healthcare professional.
Finally, as you may know, I have created a soulful lifestyle-cookbook – YUM: Food for Living to help bring more ease and joy to your life, where I use food as a powerful metaphor for transformation and healing. This Spicy Thai Lemongrass Soup is my absolute favourite immune-boosting pick-me-up soup for chilly days or when I feel a cold coming on. For those times when I don’t have fresh shitake mushrooms on hand, I like to keep dehydrated shitake mushrooms and lemongrass in the pantry and fresh Thai chili peppers in the freezer, just in case I feel called to make this soup. It never lasts long, so if you’re sharing it with others, you might want to double this recipe!