Dear Dr. Warren,
I’m hoping you can help me. I’ve never had a problem meeting women and going out on dates, but after about a month or two, I find myself becoming jealous of other guys, and it only gets worse from there. At first she’ll think it’s kind of cute, but it becomes a real problem. A woman I really liked recently broke up with me over it, and it threw me because I thought we had a great thing going. In your experience, is jealousy something that can go away over time with the right person, or is it just my nature to be like this?
John in Tewksbury, MA
Thank you for your excellent question. First off, I want to commend you for recognizing a behavior in yourself that you’ve noticed is affecting your relationships negatively. Second, I also want to assure you that jealousy is something you can work on so that it doesn’t have to come between you and someone you have strong feelings for.
Simply put, jealousy is a destructive emotion that can come up in many different types of situations. When it happens in romantic relationships and is directed toward others who interact with your partner, it signals a fear about losing your partner to a potential rival. That fear is often rooted in some type of insecurity you have about yourself in relation to the object of your jealousy. Being jealous of who your partner interacts with is also a sign of low self-esteem.
John, the first step to overcoming jealousy is to understand your own motivations, so I want you to take some time to think about how you view yourself—both good qualities and not-so-good qualities.
First think about your best qualities and the areas in your life that you are most proud of. On your best day if you were to describe your most positive qualities, what would you say? Sometimes it can be helpful to also ask a close friends or family members how they view you, too, since they can be a great source of more objective information. If it helps, try making a list.
Next, I want you to think about the insecurities that you have about yourself and your life. It can be difficult to look at these accurately, but it’s important to realize that jealousy starts first with an overly negative self-judgment. This negative judgment is then compared to a perception of another who you judge to be better than you in some way. These “better-than/less-than” comparisons cause the most damage to you personally before beginning to hurt your relationships with others.
When jealous thoughts become jealous behaviors relationships are damaged. It may start as a cold shoulder or dirty looks, but soon escalates and erupts in negative comments and accusations toward your partner herself, even though she has done nothing wrong. By misjudging your partner’s relationship fidelity or integrity, you are inadvertently disrespecting her. In healthy relationships, both partners choose to be with their mate—it is a choice—and trust is the bond that keeps them together and keeps destructive jealousy out of the picture.
The next time you are faced with a situation in which jealous feelings toward another man start to crop up, I want you to do the following:
- Step back. Take a moment to reflect on the fear you are feeling in the immediate moment. Maybe he’s more attractive or is more well-spoken or charming—whatever the case may be—who he is has no bearing on who you are. Look to those you feel jealousy toward as teachers, because they have qualities you wish you had, and you can learn from them.
- Reflect, don’t project. Resist the urge to become angry with your partner. By giving her the cold shoulder or making rude remarks or even accusations about her behavior, you are stifling who she is and disrespecting the bond you two share.
- Talk about it. Once you have reached a level of emotional intimacy with your partner in which you feel that you can fully express yourself, be honest and tell her that you sometimes feel jealous when other men are around her, but that you are working on it. She will appreciate your candidness, and this level of open communication can only strengthen your relationship.
Jealousy is definitely something that you can overcome so that you can begin to enjoy happier and more intimate relationships with women. Just remember that while few would argue that there is nothing like the comfort of knowing our partner “belongs” to us, the reality is that we “belong” to each other—by choice. Jealous behavior is also a choice, but it is one of control. By taking steps to overcome jealousy in your relationships, you will give up the need to control your partner to satisfy your own fear, and you’ll also free yourself from the all-consuming grip of jealousy that controls you.
Let us know how you do.
Dr. Neil Clark Warren