Have you followed the ups and downs of Jake and Vienna from the reality TV series The Bachelor? If so, you've had a ringside seat to the power of jealousy to bring out the worst in a romantic partner - particularly one you've only recently started dating or with whom you have a new relationship.
Jealousy is among the most human of all emotions. You feel jealous when you think you are going to lose a relationship you really value. It often results in worried and mistrustful behaviors and strikes men and women with equal fury, as we have seen with Jake and Vienna. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to mellow with age, a fact that has been reiterated through my work as adviser to the online dating site SeniorPeopleMeet.com.
Jealousy comes in two very common forms: reactive jealousy and suspicious jealousy. This distinction is important, because almost everybody feels reactive jealousy when one realizes that a partner has been unfaithful. However, people vary in their tendencies to feel suspicious jealousy in the absence of any real threat.
Reactive jealousy occurs when a person becomes aware of an actual threat or danger to the relationship - for example, when one of the partners realizes that the other has, in fact, been unfaithful. This type of jealousy is always in response to a realistic danger.
Suspicious jealousy, meanwhile, occurs when your partner hasn't misbehaved. There is no proof that a relationship partner has engaged in any behavior that would significantly and perhaps legitimately threaten the future of the relationship. For example, you are seated at a bar and notice that an attractive stranger across the way is smiling at your partner. A victim of suspicious jealousy might perceive such a gesture as a threat to his or her stature in the relationship and get angry at the partner for flirting with the stranger. Taken to its extreme, as it so often is in books, movies and on TV, this brand of jealousy frequently is followed by a punch in the nose or two partners arguing about the suspicions.
I have some simple but effective tips you can use if a current or prospective relationship partner suddenly succumbs to an attack of "The Green-Eyed Monster."
1. Be honest. If there is good reason for your partner to be jealous, it may be time for a heart-to-heart conversation about the future of the relationship.
2. Build self-confidence. It is important to recognize that expressions of jealousy may have nothing to do with you or your behavior. In situations where there is no factual basis for your partner to be jealous, the existence of jealous feelings suggests that your partner may be suffering from a lack of confidence. They may be insecure about some aspect of their own situation. Encourage your partner to spend time with friends and family who think they are great, or to master something new.
3. Gain independence. Jealousy also can occur when partners are too dependent on the relationship to determine how they feel about themselves and their self-worth. Persuade them to try to gain some independence from you and the relationship. The more their definition of self is tied to their own accomplishments and experiences apart from the relationship, the less jealousy. This may have been the case with Jake and Vienna, whose relationship appears to have been further complicated by a fairly strong dose of another emotion: professional envy. Envy, as Jake and Vienna discovered, can be equally as destructive to relationships as the two forms of jealousy.
4. Listen carefully. Don't dismiss your partner's feelings and fears. It probably wasn't easy for your partner to fess up and express his or her concerns or worries. It often makes a person feel vulnerable and not in control. We all have those moments. If you can, try to understand, empathize and listen. If jealousy emerges during the early stages of a relationship that you care to preserve, it is okay to be there to support your partner as he or she gets to the bottom of what is behind these feelings of jealousy. At the same time, the changes that need to occur must be from within that person.
5. Seek assistance. Insecurity may be easily cured when it is largely "cosmetic" in nature. (If, for example, your female partner says she would feel more attractive if she lost a few pounds.) However, some expressions of jealousy, such as those that result in inappropriate behaviors, may be a sign of deeper-seated insecurities that are best resolved with the help of a professional.
Jealousy tends to destroy the foundation on which healthy relationships are formed. It is important to remember that strong foundations are not built overnight - or even during the course of a television season. That's one important reality Jake and Vienna may have missed.