Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Tackle a Jealous Partner or Envious Friend

Learn to deal with a jealous partner, envious friend, or controlling relative.

Key points

  • Envy involves a desire to have what someone else has, whereas jealousy involves a fear of losing something you already have.
  • Despite the common association of jealousy with romantic relationships and envy with non-romantic connections, jealousy and envy can occur together.
  • When dealing with envy or jealousy in another person, always check your own behavior first.
  • If your envious or jealous partner, friend, or family member accesses your private information without your consent, this is an attempt to control you.
Kindel Media/Pexel
Source: Kindel Media/Pexel

As we saw in our previous post, envy and jealousy are distinct emotions. When you are envious of another person, you want some good the envied person has, you believe you deserve the good at least as much as they do, and you resent them for being on the receiving end of the good.

When you are jealous of a rival, by contrast, you are afraid of losing the love, affection, or attention of a special person in your life to that rival, and you are resentful toward your rival for trying to obtain what you have, and you may also be resentful toward the special person in your life for falling for your rival's "tricks."

We typically associate jealousy with romantic relationships. But just as envy can occur in romantic relationships, so jealousy can arise in the context of family relationships and friendships.

Sibling rivalry, for example, can take the form of either envy or jealousy. If you feel your mother adores your sister but not you, and that you deserve her adoration more than your sister does, then you are envious of your sister.

If, by contrast, you are afraid of losing your mother's affection to your sister, and you resent your sister for trying to obtain all of your mother's affection, then you are jealous of your sister.

It is hard enough to deal with our own envy and jealousy issues. But what to do when a partner, friend, or relative consistently responds to you with fits of envy or jealousy?

Dealing with all-consuming envy or jealousy in the people around us can be both easier or harder than tackling those nefarious emotions in ourselves. It's easier to deal with envy and jealousy in others than in ourselves because we do not necessarily need to admit that we are the one with the problems. At the same time, it is harder to deal with envy and jealousy in others than in ourselves because we don't have direct access to the feelings and thoughts of others.

If your romantic partner, friend, or relative frequently responds to you with intense and unfounded jealousy or envy, here are a few strategies that may help.

1. Assess Your Own Behavior First

Before jumping to the conclusion that something is wrong with your seemingly excessively jealous or envious partner, friend, or family member, start by taking a closer look at yourself. Do you have a flirtatious personality? Do you get a sense of thrill seeing others respond with envy or jealousy to your actions?

If, upon scrutiny, you realize that you may be provoking the envy or jealousy in your partner, friend, or family member, then you need to change your ways. If you have a flirtatious personality, try to keep a lid on it. Or use your natural charm when interacting with people who are "safe," like your grandmother or your big brother.

If you get a sense of thrill when you see others respond with envy or jealousy to your "flirtatious" behavior, you might have one of the traits on the dark or vulnerable dark triads of personality. The dark triad of personality comprises grandiose narcissism, primary psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, whereas the vulnerable dark triad comprises vulnerable narcissism, secondary psychopathy, and borderline personality. If you think you might have one of those traits, seek professional help.

2. Talk to Your Partner, Friend, or Family Member

If after scrutinizing your own behavior, you can truly say that you are not provoking the outbursts of envy or jealousy in your partner, friend, or family member, then it's time to have a talk with them.

But don't address the issue when they are acting jealous or envious. Initiate a conversation when you are both calm and able to listen.

Ask them what circumstances trigger their jealousy or envy and why those circumstances make them feel that way. Then explain why they don't need to worry. Importantly, let them know that you love them, or care about them, and that you will never betray their trust.

3. Set Boundaries

If your romantic partner, friend, or relative is in the grip of intense and unfounded envy or jealousy, they may may do crazy things, such as demanding full access to your emails or text messages, installing software on your computer or phone that gives them access to your electronic information without your knowledge, or going through your personal belongings against your will.

Assuming you are an adult, such behaviors present an invasion of privacy and should never be tolerated. An invasion of privacy is a serious offense and may even constitute a crime in the state in which you live. Such behaviors do not reflect love or care, even if the invading party says otherwise. Invasive behaviors reflect a need on behalf of the invading party to control you.

One caveat: if you are under 18, and the invading party is a custodian, you will probably need to put up with the invasive behaviors until you become independent, as dependent children and youths do not have the same legal rights as adults. Children and youths, however, do have some rights. If you are under 18 and feel violated in any way, seek professional help immediately.


Brogaard, B. (2020). Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion, Oxford University Press.

More from Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D
More from Psychology Today