Joey started dating Melissa. After a few dates, these two felt a great connection. But Melissa started wondering if he was dating other women. She felt angry if he talked to one of his friends, who happened to be a female. And if someone called him while they were together, she was convinced it was another woman.
She was descending into the depths of that hell called “the green monster”—jealousy.
I can’t say that I have ever experienced jealousy or have a sense of its inner landscape. I am more likely to think the best of others—sometimes to a fault. But I have met many couples and adults who have been plagued by it’s furies. It is an irrational, burning set of emotions that eat away at your insides. It can set off behaviors that become a self-fulfilling prophecy by pushing away the very person you desire!
The basis of jealousy, which appears to go back to the caveman days, may have had an evolutionary function—to insure paternity, social cohesion, and survival of the group. There is no doubt that humans are “pack” animals, much like dogs, and there is jockeying in small groups to see who will be the “alpha” male or female. The stronger, more aggressive alpha animals help protect the pack from potential threats.
To a large degree, in modern society, there is less of a need for these primal reflexes. But they have not evolved out of our hunter-gatherer minds.
Sometimes these feelings stem from painful early experiences of rejection in adolescent relationships. Studies have shown that experiences in first relationships are very important in establishing the groundwork for future expectations. Having been “cheated” on as a teen, adults may fear that they will have a repetition of this painful experience.
Many adults seem to be trapped in their early adolescence! I have noticed that some people never seem to graduate from middle school. They are stuck in 7th grade—replete with petty jealousy and flirtatious behavior.
Certainly adults prone to jealousy are more anxious, insecure, and sensitive to injury than their less envious counterparts. Jealousy is highly correlated with emotional instability. These mistrustful adults struggle with low self-esteem. To some degree they feel that their partner will discover their inadequacy and will want to be with someone who they value more.
Probably the most destructive component of jealousy is the attempt to control the behavior of the adult’s partner. Individuals will secretly follow their partner, search their cell phone, email, and listen in on calls. These behaviors can destroy a relationship.
Sometimes, lack of honesty on the part of one of the partners can evoke wariness in the other person. The mistrustful adult’s observations may be correct (their partner doesn’t look interested in what she has to say) but their conclusions may be wrong (she is involved with someone else).
Men and women may flirt with others to make themselves appear more desirable to their potential partner. Not such a great idea—back to Middle school we go!
So what can a jealous person do?
Acknowledge your feelings. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you are feeling. Take an inventory of your observations of the other person, but look closely at your conclusions. How do you know they are true? Talk with your romantic interest, but not in an accusing way. Acknowledge your insecurities without demanding reassurance. I know this is hard. It is difficult to sit in that anxious feeling. But if you do, it will dissipate.
Don’t act on your fears! Just because you are feeling scared, don’t try to either reassure yourself or prove yourself right by playing Sherlock Holmes. You will only push the other person away.
Find other ways of coping with your anxiety. Learn relaxation techniques, self-hypnosis, breathe, exercise, distract yourself, or meditate. Accept that this is your anxiety and that you have to find a way of coping with it.
Get help. Therapy can be very helpful and it is sometimes absolutely necessary when jealousy gets out of control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
How have others handled their “green monsters”? Share your experience.