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7 Signs That a Partner's Jealousy Is a Problem

7. You're ashamed to tell friends and family about it.

Key points

  • Someone who uses their own out-of-proportion jealousy as evidence that their partner did something "wrong" is often trying to gain control.
  • Jealousy is problematic when it is used as an excuse to isolate someone.
  • Feeling ashamed about the extent of a partner's jealousy can be a sign that their jealousy is beyond normal.

Jealousy can be a natural human reaction, and it doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong emotionally. Whether it’s the envy of a friend’s financial windfall or the tinge of discomfort that comes from watching an attractive person flirt with your partner, these reactions can be a normal part of life, and we need not automatically pathologize them or assume the worst.

But there sometimes is a fine line between “normal” jealousy and controlling or threatening behavior. I’ve written much on the signs of a controlling partner, and overactive jealousy can be a classic red flag. Many controlling partners don’t know how to manage their uncomfortable feelings of jealousy, and those feelings can trigger insecurity making them lash out, trying to gain power in any way they can.

So, where is the line between normal, mild tinges of jealousy—which some people may even find endearing in their partners—versus the type of jealousy that can be indicative of something more menacing?

Here are seven signs that can help you figure it out. (And please take symptoms of a controlling relationship seriously. You can get help here.)

  1. Their jealousy is used to blame or gaslight you. If your partner uses their own out-of-proportion jealousy as an automatic indication that you did something wrong, or to tell you that they know more than you do about your feelings or intentions, (“Why were you looking at that guy like that?”) or (“I bet you want to sleep with him, don’t you!”) it’s a sign that they are elevating their own needs and perspective over yours, and attempting to gain control. They should instead be willing to examine their own response.
  2. Their jealousy is out of proportion to realistic expectations of normal life. Most people might feel some jealousy if their partner’s supermodel ex was flirting with their partner at a party. But if your partner seems to be expressing jealousy about simple, benign interactions among friends, coworkers, or even strangers—or seems to insinuate that you shouldn’t even be talking to people of the opposite or same sex (in a heterosexual or same-sex relationship, respectively), that’s simply not a sustainable expectation, and may very well lead to isolation later on if you begin to comply to their increasingly restrictive rules.
  3. Their jealousy is used to cause guilt, create “punishment,” or gain leverage. In many emotionally toxic relationships, the controlling partner finds a “reason” to justify their abusive behavior, often making their abused partner feel guilty for some perceived transgression. (“Since you were staring so hard at that waitress, then I’m just going to go text my ex.”) These supposed transgressions—like desiring others or flirting with them—may even be used to “justify” the controlling partner’s own dalliances with others outside of the relationship.
  4. Their jealousy is used as an excuse to isolate you. A classic sign of controlling behavior is attempting to cut off one’s partner from their support system of friends and family. Of course, this raises the risk of abuse exponentially, as the controlled person is less able to have others in their life help them see how unhealthy their relationship is and less able to get support in escaping. Jealousy is most definitely problematic when it is used as an excuse to isolate someone (“You know I can’t stand it when you go out with your friends, because they talk with other guys and you don’t need to be talking to any other guys but me. They’re not good for you. You need to stay home.”)
  5. Their jealousy leads to threats—toward you, or of your partner harming themselves. Most people think of threats within a relationship as overt statements involving physical violence. But sometimes, in a controlling relationship, threats are more subtle. Additionally, one overlooked method of exerting control is to threaten self-harm. A controlling partner may say that if you make them jealous (or if you eventually leave the relationship) that they may hurt themselves or end their life.
  6. You significantly change your behavior to avoid causing jealousy. Many times, the earliest signs of a controlling relationship involve not only what your controlling partner is doing, but how you find your own behavior changing. You might be so exhausted by your partner’s overactive jealousy that you find it easier to start lying about whether your new coworker is of the opposite sex, for instance. Or you may just not bother to wear the clothes you want to because your partner criticizes the idea that they might invite attention from others.
  7. You would be ashamed to tell friends and family about the extent of your partner’s jealousy. If you find yourself censoring yourself about how jealous your partner is when you talk about them to your family, or covering up to your friends the reasons that you can’t go out, it’s a sign that your partner’s jealousy may be problematic and beyond what’s normal. Take it seriously—especially because it can lead to the weakening of your relationship with your support system.

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