The recent post Mad about You distinguished two different kinds of jealousy. The simple variety occurs in all relationships. Absent chronic resentment, this minor form of jealousy motivates the partners to reconnect. The current post describes how to regulate complex jealousy, before it destroys your relationships and drives you crazy.
Simple Jealousy Can Get Complicated
Relationship dynamics can complicate even simple jealousy, especially when the parties are insensitive to each other's different personality traits and temperamental qualities. For instance, an introverted partner is likely to disagree with an extroverted partner's interpretation of "appropriate" interactions with the opposite sex. What is honest "friendliness" for one can seem "flirtatious" to the other. What sincerely feels like "consideration" to one: "You should show me respect," honestly feels like "control" or even "oppression" to the other—"You don't want me to be friendly! You don't want me to be who I am! You're trying to keep me down!"
This is still simple jealousy, without the paranoid or obsessional nuances of its darker cousin. The introverted partner is neither accusing the other of infidelity nor obsessing about the friendliness of the more sociable partner. It is really a classic temperamental error that occurs in most relationships: judging your partner by how you would react, even though your partner has a different temperament, different experiences, and different developmental and emotional history. Though we're all tempted to do this, it's really a form of narcissism—the way I would react is the standard for all decent people; so you have to conform to what I think is appropriate.
Reconciling disputes born of temperamental differences is the subject of another post. In short, it requires binocular vision - the ability to see your partner's perspective alongside your own, indeed, to see the world through his/her eyes at the same time you see it through your own. Binocular vision, perhaps the most important of relationship skills, makes the world seem richer and more dynamic. Failure of binocular vision creates a reactive narcissism (you're incapable of seeing your loved one apart from how you feel about him/her) and, of course, more jealousy.
Disarming Complex Jealousy
1. Don't trust obsessions. They greatly distort reality. If you can't stop thinking about your partner flirting with someone else, you must distrust the thought process. The longer obsessive thinking goes on, the more certain you become and the more likely you are wrong.
2. Regulate core hurts. The primary component of complex jealousy is self-diminishment - you feel unlovable and inadequate as an intimate partner. These "core hurts" give rise to the obsessions. If, in my heart, I don't believe that I am worthy of love, how can I believe someone who says she loves me? I will assume that she doesn't know the real me, or she wants something else (my money, house, car, or socks), or she wants someone else. Because I cannot possibly be enough for her, I will look for "clues" that she is seeking fulfillment somewhere else. Many studies show that whatever the brain looks for, it will find.
When attacked by the painful feeling of unworthiness, before it stimulates a cycle of obsessions and revenge motives, ask yourself out loud:
"What can I do to feel more lovable and adequate?"
Just uttering the words will make it clear that devaluing, belittling, hassling, or punishing your loved one is unlikely to make you feel like a lovable and adequate partner.
To feel worthy of love and adequate as an attachment figure, begin by trying as hard as you can to see the world through your partner's eyes and to feel what it's like in his/her shoes. Appreciate that he/she probably feels unlovable and inadequate as well. Think of what you can do to help the both of you feel more worthy of love.
3. Focus on compassion, not trust. If you have suffered from complex jealousy, you don't have the confidence to trust. Focus instead on compassion for yourself and your loved one. Compassion, an important component of your core values, is sympathy for core hurts, with a motivation to heal, improve, appreciate, connect, or protect. Trust will eventually return, after a long period of self-compassion and compassion for loved ones. But it will fall apart almost immediately if you try to trust without a great deal of sustained compassion.
4. Follow the self-correcting motivation of simple jealousy. Be more compassionate, supportive, cooperative, and loving. Be mindful of the assets your partner brings to the relationship. Think of what you can do at this moment to make your relationship stronger.
Over time, this determined effort to strengthen your relationship will alleviate much of complex jealousy. But if it has become a habit, i.e., a conditioned response to feeling inadequate or unlovable, you may need a course in core value and emotional reconditioning (CompassionPower) or focused psychotherapy to make significant changes.