We all feel jealous at some point. It often shows up in a romantic or partner relationship, but can also happen with friendships, in families or work relationships.
Many times when we feel jealous we jump to the conclusion that something is wrong, or in intimate relationships we may jump to the conclusion that the other person is “cheating on us.”
Our conclusion might be right but looking at jealousy a bit deeper may surprise you.
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, “what is jealousy”?
First, it is an emotion, but what is an emotion?
The word emotion comes from Latin and means “the energy that moves us.” Good enough, but precisely how does jealousy move us?
How Emotions Work
Every emotion has three components.
- First, it has an underlying story or message. When feeling jealous, the message this emotion delivers is that “we may be in danger of losing a connection or relationship we care about.” That does not mean me we will lose the relationship, but we have a sense the possibility exists.
- Second, every emotion has an impulse or “a way of reacting.” For jealousy, that impulse is generally to protect or hold onto the relationship. We may not, but it is usually what we feel like doing. This can result in trying to manipulate or control the other person. Most of us have tried this and found that it doesn’t get us what we want.
- Third, every emotion has a purpose. Jealousy exists to call our attention to the quality of our relationship. It challenges us to ask ourselves if we are taking care of the relationship, are we putting enough focus and energy into it, or what might we be missing? Once we understand the purpose of an emotion, we can think about effective ways to respond rather than merely reacting.
Understanding Your Jealousy
If you have evidence of betrayal, your jealousy is more than a gut feeling. If you ignore the evidence, you will probably do so from denial or being naive. You might look the other way out of fear or doubt. In that situation, restoration of the relationship may be out of your hands.
However, if you simply have a sense that something isn’t quite right; you don’t feel the same depth of connection with the other person; there seems to be a gap that didn’t exist before; jealousy may be offering you a solution.
What Are The Possibilities?
There are many possibilities, but all have to do with the offer you are as a human being. There is a distinction between ‘making an offer’ and ‘being an offer.'
Making an offer is when we tell someone we will take action on their behalf. We will wash the car, pay the bills, or call the doctor.
Being an offer has to do with the qualities you bring to the relationship. Do you believe you are worthy? Do you always treat the other person with respect? Can you be present and listen deeply? Do you know how to show up in compassion or empathy?
Being an offer isn't about what you do; it is about who you are.
When you focus on being the most attractive offer, you can imagine you give up on the idea of controlling the other person. You will connect with dignity, which gives you stability and allows you to take a stand for what you believe. You will be able to extend yourself but not in a way that sacrifices your integrity. You will realize that this partner or any partner could choose to leave at any moment. The reason they remain in a relationship with you is because they choose to. You do not control that but, through the offer you are, have tremendous influence.
You may be surprised. Perhaps it isn't that your partner wants more time together, maybe they want time to reflect or read or exercise. Maybe they don't need you to fix anything but simply listen and acknowledge their experience. Do they know how to ask for what they need? Is there a way you can help them articulate it?
Next Steps to Deal with Feeling Jealous
- Reflect on the nature of your jealousy. Is it a story that comes from insecurity, or do you have evidence?
- Decide what path you are going to take. Are you going to focus on them or on you?
- Make a list of all the possible ways you could bring more attention to or focus more on the relationship. It could be as simple as erasing a game app from your phone or putting it on silent mode during meals.
- Choose something to do differently. You are creating a practice that, if done regularly, will create a new habit. That new habit will have an impact on the quality of your relationship.
I hope these ideas will help you see jealousy in a new light. All emotions can be viewed in a similar way. We label them as positive and negative, but a more useful way to think about them is whether they are serving us in the situation we find ourselves or are they a barrier to resolving it.
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Dan Newby is the founder of schoolofemotions.world and author of several well-received books on Emotional Literacy. He works with individuals and organizations globally to elevate their emotional awareness and competence. He is a global champion for emotional learning and literacy. Dan leads online courses and workshops throughout the world, helping people build their comfort and understanding of emotions. His book, The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy and other works, can be found at his website below.