Sydney Hills Counselling Blog

Jealousy: Is it a Problem in Your Relationship?

At Sydney Hills Counselling, jealousy is one of the relationship issues that comes up frequently in counselling sessions. Experiencing mild jealousy from time to time is natural, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When jealous feelings do arise in a relationship, it can serve as a reminder to not to take our partners for granted and it may also motivate us to demonstrate our appreciation and love for them. Admitting to feeling a little jealous on occasion can even be reassuring to our partners.

On the other hand, jealousy can also spiral out of control and become a source of personal misery, becoming intense, irrational, and constant, and it can eventually dissolve intimate relationships. The first step for jealous partners is to recognise that jealousy and its associated behaviours, can potentially cause serious relationship issues. 

Some signs of unhealthy, jealous behaviours are:

Checking a partner’s phone, social media accounts and email without permission.

Grilling a partner on their whereabouts throughout the day.

Accusing a partner of lying without having any evidence.

Assuming a partner has lost interest in you without any evidence

Attacking a partner’s self-esteem by blaming, name-calling and threats.

Jealousy usually correlates with low self-esteem and typically occurs when one partner perceives that an ‘outsider’ poses a potential threat to their relationship. This then creates a ‘love triangle’ which can be either a real or imagined threat. 

Another reason jealousy may arise in a relationship is when one partner fears rejection from the other. Feeling jealous and insecure in relationships can also involve feelings of shame from our past. This can heavily influence the degree to which we may feel jealous and insecure in our present relationship. Our shame and negative ‘self-talk’ is often to blame for this and can produce destructive thoughts and feelings, driving us to compare, evaluate and judge ourselves and others with unfair scrutiny. Negative thoughts and self-talk can easily ignite our feelings of jealousy by cramming our heads with a critical and suspicious running commentary. 

So, when it comes to spotting a potentially jealous partner, what are the red flags to watch out for? 

The first time a partner acts out in jealousy, we may actually feel slightly chuffed and think to ourselves, “Gee, (name) must really like me!”. As the relationship progresses, those jealous feelings should start to fade away without too much negative impact on the relationship. If however, the jealousy continues, this definitely raises that screaming red flag which signals unhealthy behaviour. Jealousy can also be a precursor to other forms of abusive behaviour. 

Here are some red flags which indicate that a partner may be jealous and that you may be in an unhealthy relationship. 

They expect you to spend all your time with them: Your partner is not just persistent; they’re insistent. They insist that you meet them when you’re really tired from work and you just want to go home and rest. They expect you to cancel plans with your friends and spend time with them instead. They insist that they just want to be around you and hate being away from you. They contact you incessantly when you’re not together. Although it’s always nice when someone wants to spend a lot of time with us, it becomes a problem when they want to spend ALL of their time with us. We all need some time away from our relationship and we all deserve to pursue our regular interests, sports, hobbies and social activities without being reprimanded for it. 

They expect you to ‘check in’ with them constantly: When we’re in a relationship, it’s normal to ask a significant other to text or call so that they know that we’re safe. What’s not okay though, is when a partner requests that we ‘check-in’ on social media or tracking apps, so that they know where we are at all times. A healthy relationship doesn’t require partners to ‘check-in’, and you are entitled to live your own life and have your time and boundaries respected. 

There are ‘rules’ regarding who you can talk to: When a partner makes demands regarding whom you can talk to and whom you can’t, this is a sign of controlling behaviour, and it can lead to an abuse tactic known as ‘isolation’. It never ends well when a partner makes these demands and what begins as ‘rules’, can pave the way for future abuse. When someone really loves us, they will trust us to make good decisions about whom we choose to spend time with, other than them. Vocalising concerns in a loving, honest way is a discussion we may need to occasionally have, but we must learn to trust each other’s judgement. If either partner can’t trust the other, it may be time to move on. 

You get the ‘third degree’ after you go out with your friends or work colleagues: In a healthy relationship, we don’t put our partner’s every move under the microscope. It’s healthy to socialise with our friends on a regular basis and to go for a drink with our work colleagues after a gruelling week at work. It’s a definite red flag if our partner constantly doubts our intentions or hurls unjustified accusations at us when we mingle socially with our friends or work colleagues. 

They came on strong right from the beginning: We all love the attention a new partner gives us, but there’s attention and then there’s ‘too much attention’. If a partner always seems to want to have you to themselves, if they were quick to say the words “I love You”, and if they ‘like’ or ‘love’  everything you post on social media, then this can indicate that they may have insecurity and emotional dependency issues. In a healthy relationship, partners know that they both need a certain level of freedom and independence and that too much emotional intensity is unhealthy and suffocating. 

If your partner is displaying jealous tendencies, then you need to take some steps to establish some healthy boundaries and take charge of the situation. Work with your partner to set ground rules that both of you can agree to. You also need to understand the emotions that are behind these jealous feelings. Often, jealousy has very little to do with events that actually occurred within the relationship and more to do with a partner’s feelings of insecurity or feelings of inadequacy (especially if they have been cheated on in previous relationships). It can be helpful to seek counselling from a professional, registered counsellor to explore where these jealous feelings are coming from and to help resolve them.

If you are the non-jealous partner, you also need to be supportive of your partner during this process. Acknowledge their feelings and encourage your partner to share why they feel that way; don’t punish them. Here are some tips which may help:

Talk about it: Listen to what your partner has to say and be honest about how their behaviour makes you feel. Take a gentle approach and try to use ‘I’ statements.

Establish healthy relationship boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship can make the difference between enjoying a healthy relationship or tolerating an unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship. Setting boundaries is especially important at the beginning of a relationship. Let your significant other know how often you would like to see them or hear from them and what times you will be available to take their calls. For example, “(Name), I really enjoy catching up with you on the phone, but my work is demanding, and I am usually quite tired at the end of my workday. I’d appreciate it if you don’t call or text me after 9.00 pm.”

Ask your partner what they need from you and from the relationship: Quite often, just asking a partner what they need from you or your relationship, and stating what you need from them and the relationship, can go a long way towards resolving any jealousy issues. Do they need more attention from you? Do they need more reassurance from you with regard to how you feel about them? Do they feel that you are spending too much time away from them? Ask the questions and then be willing to negotiate how you can better meet their needs without compromising your own happiness and well-being

Establish your need for alone time: It doesn’t matter how close you feel to your significant other, you will both need your ‘space’. Setting ‘alone time’ boundaries is necessary if you want to avoid future problems in your relationship and in your other close relationships. Talk to your partner about your expectations regarding the alone time you need.

Agree on how often you will communicate: This should be one of the first boundaries couples should establish when starting a relationship. Establish some ground rules eg: “(Name), sending one text in the morning is OK, but I’m really too busy at work to be responding to messages.” Set the ground rules and expect them to be respected. 

Discuss what commitment in a relationship means to each of you: At the beginning of a relationship, it’s important to discuss how each of you views ‘commitment’. Is it OK to be online friends with exes? Is it OK to have friends of the opposite sex? how do you define ‘cheating’? Discussing these topics can prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings and should be addressed sooner, rather than later in a relationship. 

Help your partner to feel more secure in your relationship: Simply saying “I love you” more often can make a big difference, but these can be empty words unless your actions match your words. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you make promises, keep them. Also, look for ways to make your partner feel more attractive and appreciated. Compliment them on what they’re wearing, or how well they do something. Find ways to show your partner how much you care.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a third party to help you to sort out what is really going on in your relationship and what may be causing distressing jealousy issues. If you (or your partner) need help moving past jealous feelings in your relationship, I encourage you to seek the help of a professional, registered counsellor. Call Sydney Hills Counselling today on (02) 9159–6277 for a confidential chat or email us at [email protected]

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