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How Jealousy Can Poison a Friendship

What's a little jealousy between friends? A recipe for disaster.

Martin Novak/Shutterstock
Source: Martin Novak/Shutterstock

Good friends recognize that in a climate of financial disparity, there will always be material differences between them. Genuine and deeply valued relationships, however, should not hinge on economic homogeneity.

Wanting what your friends have is not unusual, and enjoying the opportunity to share what they have can be a pleasure booster—but resentment of their good fortune is not. If you enjoy a friend's company and value the relationship, you need to keep your negative, less hospitable feelings under wraps. It’s what good friends do.

When it comes to jealousy or criticism of a friend's other friends or significant relationships, however, the temptation to share your negative perspective can sometimes be even stronger. Many of us believe that our perspectives are better than those of our friends when we are standing outside their other relationships. But avoid belittling or insulting the “other friends” in your friend’s life. Even when a friend disses another friend in front of you, be discreet in your response. Don’t jump on the bandwagon and say things that could be potentially humiliating if circumstances next week have the three of you sitting at a gathering or event together.

So what can you do when your friend needs to vent about a different friend, one whom you know is not worth his or her time? Take a cue from professional counselors and empathize, empathize, empathize: “It must have felt awful when she did that!”; or, “I can tell it hurt when he said that.”

You can provide a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. You don’t have to agree or intensify the hate on the other friend.

Turning Negative Emotion Into Positive Change

Jealousy can be a complex and painful emotion. It can reflect our own sense of inner insecurity and insufficient sense of self-worth. Jealousy of others’ happiness and healthy relationships also can hold us back from fully engaging in relationships with people for whom we may care deeply.

When we want what others have, it speaks more about what is missing in our own lives than what is present in a friend’s. If you feel jealousy bubbling up inside you, perhaps it can be viewed as a “red flag” to encourage you to do some self-exploration. Examining that deep longing and the acute need it highlights may bring to light areas in which you may want to change or grow. When you explore those “tender spots” in your responses to others, you can create a blueprint for how you might like to shift your own choices, goals, and even path in life.

Many of us grew up whining to our parents that some situation of their orchestration was “not fair.” The universal response from parents, of course, was that "no one ever said life was fair.” These words have probably never mollified any child, but there is little point arguing against that truth, just as there is little point arguing against gravity. However, when a pattern of seeming “unfairness” grabs your attention, take time to explore what this might be revealing about the areas in which you feel your life may be ripe for change. Do not sacrifice a friendship because you want the relationship, partner, mother, child, or social life your friend has created—or because you find fault with others in his or her life.

Instead, use your reactions to build a life filled with those things that you long for so deeply.

Pre-order Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friend who Break Them