“Envy is the most stupid of vices, for there is no single advantage to be gained from it,” said author Honore de Balzac. Of course he’s right, yet the green-eyed monster does have lots of couples in its greedy clutches.
Simply put, because we are human. As humans, we are imperfect. And we know it. Most of us are painfully aware of our flaws. Jealousy occurs when a heightened awareness of our (natural) inadequacies lead us to place someone else above us in an imaginary ranking. Those people then become threats.
And what do we do in the face of a perceived threat? We lash out. Jealousy is a coping mechanism. It’s a way of safeguarding our self-esteem, of deflecting attention from own feelings of inadequacy. Someone who expresses envy is really expressing a deep-seated feeling of inferiority in the face of perceived rivals.
Now that we have that straight, here are some strategies to tame the envy beast…
- Get clear on who owns the problem. Unless you are having trysts with ex lovers or attending swinging parties without your partner’s knowledge, then the jealousy is not your problem to fix. In other words, if you haven’t deliberately earned the jealousy, you don’t have to own it. Is this your “get out of jail free” card? No. Partnership is a team sport. What you can do is offer to help your partner with his/her problem. How? Read on.
- Agree to limits around social media. Hot buttons are more easily pushed when exes are being “friended” on Facebook and old highschool sweethearts become faithful Twitter followers. So, once you have shared your triggers, proceed empathetically; agree to some ground rules that show respect for both yourself and your partner. For example, you might agree that being Facebook friends with past boy/girlfriends is permissible so long as there is transparency, but that IM’ing and texting, which are, by their nature, exclusive, are out.
Here’s how to manage your own jealousy
- Learn what your triggers are. As Cathy Lumsden, author of The Best Advice Your Mother Never Gave You says. “When we are jealous, our self-limiting belief that ‘I’m not good enough,’ or, ‘I’m unimportant,’ is being triggered, leading us to compare ourselves to others.” What’s your greatest inadequacy? Know your deepest (perceived) failing and know your trigger. That awareness won’t make the jealousy magically disappear, but it will help you disarm it.
- Let go of the past. Most of those perceived (perhaps imagined?) threats to the relationship are buried deep, deep in our histories. We suffered loss, or humiliation, once and we expect it to happen again. In fact, Lumsden contends that 80 percent of our reactions are based on 20 percent of our past experiences, a phenomenon she calls the 80/20 principle. Another relationship guru, the great Dr. Sue Johnson, calls jealousy “vigilance to loss.” What to do? In short, get over it. This is now.
Join relationship columnist Liza Finlay each week as she dishes on ways to keep you and your partner close through the rocky terrain that is marriage with kids.
Do you have an issue you’d like Liza to explore in a future column? Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comment below.