You will feel jealous at some point. It often shows up in a romantic or partner relationship, but can also happen with friendships, in families, or work relationships.
Many times, when you feel jealous, you jump to the conclusion that something is wrong, or the other person is “cheating on you.” That could be, but looking at jealousy a bit deeper may surprise you.
Ask yourself, “What is jealousy?”
First, it is an emotion, but what is an emotion? The word “emotion” comes from Latin and means, “the energy that moves you.” Good enough, but precisely how does jealousy move you?
Every emotion has at least four components.
1. It has an underlying story or message.
For jealousy, the story is something like: “You may be in danger of losing a connection or relationship you care about.” That does not mean you will lose the relationship, but you have a sense the possibility exists.
2. Every emotion has an impulse or “a way of reacting.”
For jealousy, that impulse is generally to protect or hold onto the relationship. You may not, but it’s usually what you feel like doing. This can result in trying to manipulate or control the other person. Most of you have tried this and found that it doesn’t get you what you want.
3. Every emotion has a purpose.
Jealousy exists to call your attention to the quality of your relationship. It challenges you to ask yourself if you are taking care of the relationship, are you putting enough focus and energy into it, or what might you be missing? Once you understand the purpose of emotion, you can think about effective ways to respond rather than merely reacting.
4. Every emotion includes the body.
What physical experience occurs when you experience jealousy? Being able to identify what is going on in your body when you are experiencing emotions is a critical step in understanding, and effectively engaging with your emotions.
At the most basic level, do you notice that your body is opening or closing when you’re experiencing jealousy? Are you contracting or expanding? You would claim that jealously contracts the body.
If you are contracted, you are less able to engage effectively with yourself or others than if you are relaxed and open. You might also notice tightness in your belly or shoulders, and an increase in your heart rate and breath rate. Your breath might also be more shallow.
“Yes, I notice these things. So what?” you might say. For sure, a valid question.
In noticing them, it gives you greater choice as to what to do next. For example, let me take three long slow deep breaths before I say anything, or let me lean back in my chair and take stock of the situation — simple actions to give you greater flexibility in how you move with your emotions.
When you couple the awareness of your body, with the other three elements of story, purpose, and impulse, you are much better informed about what is possible in the situation and better able to act more effectively.
If you have evidence of betrayal, your jealousy is more than a gut feeling. If you ignore the evidence, you’ll probably do so from denial or being naive. You might look the other way out of fear or doubt. In that situation, restoration of the relationship may be out of your hands.
However, if you simply have a sense that something isn’t quite right, or you don’t feel the same depth of connection with the other person, or perhaps there seems to be a gap that didn’t exist before: Jealousy may be offering you a solution.
There are many possibilities, but all have to do is offer yourself as you are as a human being. There is a distinction between “making an offer” and “being an offer.”
Making an offer is when you tell someone you will take action on their behalf. You’ll wash the car, pay the bills, or call the doctor.
Being an offer has to do with the qualities you bring to the relationship. When you are experiencing jealousy, the offer that you are is usually more constricted, tight, and closed.
When you are experiencing jealousy, do you believe you are worthy? Do you always treat the other person and yourself with respect? Can you be present and listen deeply? Do you know how to show up in compassion or empathy? All these ways of being are diminished when you contract your bodies.
Being an offer isn’t about what you do; it is about how you are being.
When you focus on being open, relaxed, and breathing deeply, the most attractive you can more easily surface. You can imagine yourself giving up on the idea of controlling the other person.
You will connect with the emotion of dignity, which allows for greater stability and allows you to take a stand for what you believe. You’ll be able to extend yourself in a way that’s inviting and dignified, not one that sacrifices your dignity and theirs.
Hopefully, you’ll realize that this partner, or any partner, could choose to leave at any moment. The reason they remain in a relationship with you is that they choose to. You don’t control what they do, but through the offer you’re making, you have tremendous influence.
You may be surprised by the outcomes. Perhaps it isn’t that your partner wants more time together, maybe they want time to reflect or read or exercise.
Maybe they don’t need you to fix anything, but simply listen and acknowledge their experience.
Do they know how to ask for what they need? Is there a way you can help them articulate it?
All of these conversations are made much more possible by breathing deeply, opening and calming the body (yours and theirs, if they are willing) and realizing just what jealousy means.
Reflect on the nature of your jealousy. Is it a story that comes from insecurity, or do you have evidence? Decide what path you’re going to take. Are you going to focus on them, or you?
Make a list of all the possible ways you could bring more attention to or focus more on the relationship. It could be as simple as erasing a game app from your phone or putting it on silent mode during meals.
Choose something to do differently. You are creating a practice that, if done regularly, like taking three long slow deep breaths, will create a new habit. This new habit will have an impact on the quality of your relationship.
These ideas will help you see jealousy in a new light. All emotions can be viewed similarly. You label them as positive and negative, but a more useful way to think about them is whether they are serving you in the situation you find yourself in, or if they’re a barrier to resolving it.