When my sister-in-law asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, I was thrilled. This excitement was short lived, however, when she went on to list the rest of the bridal party and I recognized the name of my husband’s ex among them.
In the months leading up to the wedding, I became consumed with anxiety at the mere thought of standing beside her wearing a matching dress in front of dozens of our closest friends and family members. The universe could not possibly have engineered a more cruel head-to-head comparison, and I was certain a wedding ceremony would provide ample time for my husband to realize he had made a terrible mistake. What if her arms were thinner than mine or her legs more toned? I couldn’t bear the thought of him finding her more desirable than I was.
I began questioning him on their past together, the cause for their break up and when my line of questioning reached their sex life he finally pumped the breaks. Why was I suddenly so interested in a fleeting relationship he had a decade ago?
The answer was simple: jealousy. We’ve all experienced it. That combination of insecurity, rage, and fear that threatens to boil over when you spy your partner eyeing another woman in the grocery store aisle, or catch a glimpse of him across the room at a party chatting with the woman who wore the see through blouse.
Even after you plow through the crowd to claim your rightful place beside him and find them talking about the difficulty of potty training toddlers or something equally benign, you still can’t shake that moment ago image of him enjoying the company of another woman. So, since it’s against social norms to openly growl at others, instead you make eye contact with her while you slide your hand in his back pocket and ask him if he’d like to head home because you are ready for bed.
Perhaps, your displays of jealousy aren’t quite this aggressive, but they are reactions to a perceived threat to your relationship. Jealousy is a complex emotion and one that often gains you more insight into the one within its grip than the object of its wrath. Those who are insecure are exponentially more likely to assume the role of the green-eyed monster. Whether you are the one feeling worried and possessive or, alternatively, you are feeling crowded and controlled it’s important to talk about these feelings with your partner to avoid irreversible damage to your relationship.
If you are feeling uneasy, you can start by reflecting on what about a situation made you feel this way to determine if it actually warrants a discussion with your partner. Was it an emotional response in the heat of the moment deemed inconsequential in hindsight or has it caused a lingering sense of self-doubt? If you are still feeling unsure, don’t let your insecurities get the best of you, have a discussion, but do so in a calm and collected moment removed from the scene of the perceived transgression.
Choose your words carefully, beginning statements with “I” and not “you.” This is less likely to provoke a defensive response and will ensure your conversation remains constructive. Make sure you are pausing to allow your partner to respond and really listening when they do. It’s also important to identify recurring behaviors that may be undermining your confidence in the relationship and explain—rightly or wrongly—how they make you feel. Maybe you are unnerved by his praise of a female colleague or aren’t comfortable that his list of facebook friends includes a few ex-girlfriends. It’s important while maintaining a healthy relationship to vocalize these nagging concerns, but doing it without accusatory language will ensure a successful conversation.
The truth is that jealousy is rooted in a sense of inadequacy. To rid ourselves of the unfounded emotional outbursts it can produce, we have to look within ourselves. We have to be willing to ask the question “What do I doubt about myself?” The answer to that question will lay the foundation for the development of self-confidence and will diminish the tendency toward suspicion and anger as you improve upon this perceived personal shortcoming.
Some jealousy in a relationship is normal, healthy even, as it can remind you both that you each still desire the other. However, if you find yourself pouncing on his cell phone the moment he leaves the room desperate to check his call history or spending time trying to crack his e-mail and social media passwords, it may be time to re-evaluate your emotions lest your fear of love lost become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Amber Doty is the managing editor of Go Mighty, as well as a slightly eccentric wife and mother of two. Her interests include eating meals she had no hand in preparing, making formerly professional business meetings awkward, and perfecting the emotional outburst. One day she hopes to travel to all seven continents, but for now she lives in North Carolina happily equidistant from the mountains and the beach. You can read more from Amber on her blog, The Daily Doty.