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4 Ways to Disarm Jealousy

Spoiler alert: It's not necessarily about your partner.

Key points

  • Simple jealousy does not include the paranoid or obsessional nuances of complex jealousy.
  • The longer obsessive thinking goes on, one gains certainty but is more likely to be wrong.
  • Sustained compassion is necessary first in order to build trust.

My last post 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. But this post will describe how to overcome complex jealousy—before it destroys your relationships.

Simple Jealousy Can Get Complicated

Source: Themalni/Shutterstock

Relationship dynamics can complicate even simple jealousy, especially when partners are insensitive to each other's different personality traits and temperaments. For instance, an introverted partner may disagree with an extroverted partner's interpretation of "appropriate" interactions. What is simple friendliness for one can seem like troubling flirtation to the other. And what sincerely feels like basic consideration to one—"You should show me respect"—can feel more like control or even oppression to the other—"You don't want me to be myself!”

Yet 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 of the type that occurs in most relationships—judging your partner by how you would react, even though your partner has a different temperament, different experiences, and a different developmental and emotional history. We’re all tempted to express this form of narcissismthe way I would react is the standard for all decent people; so you should conform to what I think is appropriate.

Reconciling disputes born of temperamental differences requires binocular vision—the ability to see your partner's perspective alongside your own; indeed, to see the world through his or 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 in which you're incapable of seeing your loved one apart from how you feel about him or 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 your 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 obsessions: If, in my heart, I don't believe that I am worthy of love, how can I believe someone who says (he or) she loves me? I will assume that she doesn't know the real me, or wants something else from me, like my money. Because I cannot possibly be enough for her, I will look for "clues" that she's seeking fulfillment somewhere else.

And as many studies have shown, whatever the brain looks for, it will find.

When attacked by this 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 or her shoes. Appreciate that they may feel unlovable and inadequate as well. Think of what you can do to help you both feel more worthy of love.

3. Focus on compassion, not trust.

If you suffer from complex jealousy, you don't have the confidence to trust. Focus, then, 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 the relationship stronger.

Over time, this determined effort to strengthen your relationship will alleviate much of complex jealousy. But if it has become a habit—a conditioned response to feeling inadequate or unlovable—you may need a course in core value and emotional reconditioning or focused psychotherapy to make a significant change.