Are Your Rule Books Making You More Jealous?

Are your rules about relationships realistic?

Posted Feb 28, 2018

Gyorgy Barna/Shutterstock
Source: Gyorgy Barna/Shutterstock

We all have expectations about the way things should be. As one man told me once, half-joking but half serious, “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone did exactly what I wanted them to do?” I guess he has a point. But as a comedian once said, “You will only find that in the little town of Utopia in upstate New York, but no one lives there anymore.”

Many of us have learned to adjust our expectations to fit reality, but some people continue to hold onto these beliefs. I call them “rule books,” because we often think that people are doing something wrong when they break our rules. And we think we have a right to our rules, and that everyone should follow them. Let’s take a look at some of these rules you might have that can escalate your jealousy.

Rules about Others

  • I shouldn’t trust others, since they will betray me.
  • If someone disappoints me, I can never trust them again.
  • I need to know everything about my partner in order to trust him or her.
  • If my partner really loved me, he or she would never find anyone else interesting or attractive.

The Consequences of Your Rule Book

Do you think that you are insisting on some of these rules? What are the consequences for you and for your relationship if you demand that the world conform to this rule book? Let’s take a look at the idea that “I shouldn’t trust others, since they will betray me.” You might think that this rule protects you, and that you won’t be fooled, but the consequence of such global distrust is the inability to get close and stay close. You will always feel like you are on the outside of a relationship, and — if you find yourself getting close — you will look for signs of untrustworthiness. The fact is that people do let us down, but that doesn’t mean that having a close relationship is a waste of time.

Another rule is “If someone disappoints me in something, then I can never trust them again.” This is a perfectionistic rule about relationships which inevitably leads to flare-ups and breakups. A more realistic way of seeing things is that we all disappoint each other — and ourselves — at times. Relationships are not about always doing exactly the right thing. They are about hanging in there for the long haul. Friends disappoint each other, because people are fallible, but friendships can endure.

Another perfectionistic rule that will likely make you unhappy is, “I need to know everything about my partner in order to trust him or her.” Why do you need to know everything? This kind of confessional perfectionism leads you to interrogate your partner, distrust them, and ultimately drive them away. You need to decide what is really important for the relationship today, and what is not important. Do you really need to know about every behavior, fantasy, or experience that your partner ever had? If you have this belief, then you are probably finding yourself in the role of investigator and prosecutor, which will make you and your partner very unhappy. And by the way, don’t you have some secrets that you don’t share with your friends or your partner?

Finally, this rule — “If my partner really loved me, he or she would never find anyone else interesting or attractive” — is about as unrealistic as you can get. With several billion people in the world, how does it make sense that your partner only finds you attractive? Don’t you find other people attractive? Are you leaving your partner because someone else is interesting or good-looking? Imagine if this held true for everyone. No one would stay very long. The issue is not whether other people are also attractive — the issue is what you and your partner do with that universal truth. You don’t have to be the most attractive person in the world to have a relationship. If that were true, there would only be one couple in the entire world.

Try to examine some of the rules that you have about relationships, and think about whether these rules contribute to your jealousy.

You can also learn more about coping with jealousy in my new book, The Jealousy Cure: Learn to Trust, Overcome Possessiveness, and Save Your Relationship.