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Jealousy Storms: How to Find Shelter

Prove to yourself that you’re worthy of love.

Key points

  • Jealousy is the dread of losing the affection of loved ones.
  • Breezy jealousy makes us more affectionate, compassionate, kind, and loving.
  • Storms of jealousy make us angry, controlling, possessive, aggressive, and destructive.
  • Storms of jealousy are self-regulation problems that can’t be solved by partners.

Misty jealousy is a distance-regulator in romantic relationships. Too much distance makes us susceptible to uncomfortable feelings, tinged with shadowy doubt. These dissipate immediately with connection, after reminding us how much we value loved ones.

A little bit of misty jealousy is good for relationships. Most people would not want a lover who could care less if they slept with everyone on the hockey team. A tiny bit of misty jealousy from partners makes us feel valued.

Relationships plagued with storms of jealousy have a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality. When partners feel close, the jealous one can't imagine ever feeling that way. But once the feelings of closeness ebb, the obsessions return, and they feel and act like completely different persons.

Storms of jealousy have an obsessive quality: you can't stop thinking about incidents, real or imagined. A lover’s friendly smile at someone else turns into full-blown intercourse in a turbulent imagination. If the obsessions persist, they take on paranoid, delusional, or hallucinatory characteristics.

I remember one court-ordered client, whom I’ll call Fred, whose jealousy was so threatening that his wife locked herself and their 10 year-old daughter in the bedroom. Fred was convinced that he heard sounds of his wife having sex with another man behind the closed door, despite his wife and little girl crying in fear and anguish. He heard his daughter wailing, “Daddy, please, there’s nobody here but us!” Yet the auditory hallucination—the sounds of lovemaking—persisted in his head, even after the police arrived to subdue him.

The hospital diagnosed Fred with paranoid schizophrenia. But his stormy jealousy began at least a decade before the psychotic break.

Question Your Obsessions, Not Your Partner

Obsessions distort reality. If you can't stop thinking about your partner flirting with someone else, you must distrust the thought process. The longer obsessive thoughts persist, the less realistic they become.

Obsessions reek of confirmation bias—sufferers notice only evidence that confirms their jealousy. They tend to interrogate their partners and misinterpret the discomfort caused by the interrogation and distrust as confirmation of guilt.

To break the obsessions, write down evidence of your partner’s fidelity. Writing slows the speed of obsessional thoughts and subjects them to better reality-testing.

Regulate Core Hurts

Storms of jealousy make us feel unlovable and inadequate as intimate partners. These "core hurts" trigger the obsessions in the first place. If, in my heart, I don't believe I’m worthy of love, how can I believe someone who says she loves me? I’ll assume 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 can’t possibly be enough for her, I’ll look for "clues" that she’s seeking fulfillment elsewhere. 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 aloud:

"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 will never make you feel like a lovable and adequate partner.

To feel worthy of love and adequate as lovers, we must see the world through our partners’ eyes and feel what it's like in their shoes. If confronted with jealous suspicion, they probably feel unlovable and inadequate as well. What will make us both feel worthy are acts of appreciation, kindness, compassion, affection, love.

Understand Temperamental Differences

We tend to form emotional bonds with people who have different temperaments. Their differences mean that partners will give different emotional meaning to behaviors and make differing interpretations of "appropriate" interactions with others. What is honest "friendliness" for one can seem "flirtatious" to the other. What sincerely feels like "respect" to one, 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!"

Reconciling disputes born of temperamental differences requires binocular vision: the ability to see your partner's perspective alongside your own.

Binocular vision makes the world seem richer and more dynamic. A failure of binocular vision creates reactive narcissism – inability to see loved ones apart from how you feel about them. Storms of jealousy soon follow.

Focus on Compassion, not Trust

If you’ve suffered storms of jealousy, you don't have the confidence to trust. Focus instead on compassion for yourself and your loved one. Compassion is sympathy for core hurts, with motivation to heal, improve, appreciate, connect, and protect.

Trust will eventually return, after an extended 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.

Assume the Self-correcting Motivation of Misty Jealousy

Be mindful of the assets your partner brings to the relationship. Be more compassionate, supportive, cooperative, and loving. 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 storms of jealousy. But if they’ve become a habit, that is, a conditioned response to feeling inadequate or unlovable, you may need the Love without Hurt Boot Camp to make enduring change.

More from Steven Stosny, Ph.D.
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