Robert L. Leahy Ph.D.

Anxiety Files

What If Your Partner Is Jealous?

How to build trust together.

Posted Apr 03, 2018

We often think that jealousy is a problem that the other person has—the one who is jealous. But you may also be the target or focus of your partner’s jealousy. Jealousy is a two-person problem. Perhaps you think it is unfair for your partner to have these feelings, perhaps you view yourself as totally innocent and now you feel criticized for something that you haven’t done. It makes sense that you would feel frustrated and even hurt by your partner’s jealousy. But you and your partner might want to take a closer look at how you deal with feelings in the relationship and how the two of you can work together to build trust.

Vladmir Pustovit/Flickr
Source: Vladmir Pustovit/Flickr

What doesn’t work
When your partner expresses his jealousy your first response might be to become defensive. Maybe you have said some of the following:

  • I did nothing wrong
  • You shouldn’t feel jealous
  • You should just trust me
  • You must have low self-esteem
  • This is your problem—why do you bother me with this?

Now, if jealousy comes from a person feeling that a valued relationship is threatened, then criticizing them only adds to the threat. Yes, you might be “innocent”, but labeling your partner and showing contempt for them only adds to their jealousy. I doubt that you have found any of these retorts to be helpful.

How can you think about your partner’s jealousy?

  1. Accept their feelings
    They are going to have these feelings even if you don’t like them. They are a “given”. The question is—how do you respond to them? Accepting means that you hear them and know that this is part of what you experience together.
  2. Reframe their jealousy as painful love
    Your partner—who you care about—is in a lot of pain and their pain comes from their attachment to you and their fear that they will lose you. Listen to the pain that is behind their anxiety and anger. The person you care about is hurting right now. You can be there for them.
  3. Show compassion
    Building the attachment with a jealous person is a way to assure them that they are cared for—even if they are jealous and angry. You can be compassionate by saying, “I can see how upset you are and I truly care for you and I know these feelings are hard to have. I really want you to feel secure and happy”.
  4. Understand their triggers
    Each person who feels jealous will have specific triggers. It could be hearing about a former lover, being around attractive people, or showing an interest in talking to someone. It could be a reminder of the past—and someone who meant something to one of you. You can accept and acknowledge these triggers by saying, “I know that this triggers your feelings and I want to understand how you feel. So, you can feel free to tell me what you are feeling and I will try to be there for you.”
  5. Look at your own behavior—Trust depends on being Trustworthy
    Even though you might not be interested in pursuing someone else it might be important to think about what you would be willing to change—even give up---to help your partner feel more trust in you. For example, do you have to text your former lover? Do you have to make comments about how sexy someone else is? Do you have to get together so often with that person? Are you honest with your partner or are you trying to hide the truth? A commitment involves examining what you are willing to do to maintain that commitment. What are you willing to change?
  6. Is your partner too controlling?
    Once you have looked at what you are willing to give up in order to build trust you also need to live your own life. You can’t feel trapped in a cage, controlled by accusations.You and your partner need to look at accepting flexibility in each other--- which means if your partner is feeling jealous, then they need to examine how far they can go with their requests.
  7. Negotiate what is acceptable
    All relationships evolve and change. If you are intimate and committed to each other then you and your partner may have reached the point where you need to be explicit about expectations. This involves understanding what what you both agree on. It can’t be, “I will do whatever I want to do”, because that will break down into a sense of distrust-even betrayal. Negotiation is give and take, not ultimatums.

Trust requires working together and understanding that you don’t achieve trust by demanding that the person trust you. Labeling your partner for their jealousy only makes things worse. Think about what you are both willing to change.When you talk about things, don’t label, don’t be defensive and don’t stonewall. Use compassion while you talk about your feelings and needs.

To learn more, see my new book, The Jealousy Cure.

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