While good communications and the ability to talk to one another is the cornerstone of solid marriages and relationships, one issue  which has  proven to challenge even the best communicators is jealously.  Jealousy is the green demon which exacerbates self-doubt about one’s own value and increases suspicion and paranoia about the behavior of one’s mate. There is something in human nature which is inherently insecure and threatened by the reality or even the thought that one’s mate is interested in or attracted to another.   Shakespeare’s Othello, for example, vividly depicts how jealousy can torture an individual and  poison an intimate relationship.

It is important to understand that jealousy stems from the fear of losing love .  Likewise, the grim statistics regarding infidelity are real.  However, exaggerated fears  can result from bad past experience which can create a hyper-sensitivity or  an emotional allergy to the issue.    These pre-existent worries can result in over-reactions and corrupt our ability to rationally discern and tell the difference between a real threat  and an irrational fear.  Likewise hypersensitivities from the past can make  getting over past relational problems more difficult. Thus, one way for couples to learn to calmly talk about situations which involve jealousy is for both to be aware of and realize how past bad experiences can impair one’s ability to be reasonable in the present.

So here is the dilemma:  On one hand, the best way to keep jealous feelings from getting out of hand is to talk about and reality test them with one’s mate.  On the other hand, unfortunately, these conversations can be so emotionally radioactive  that they often result in arguments and fights.  Fortunately, there are some simple steps which can help couples to discuss jealous feelings rationally and reduce painful worries and recriminations. Take a look:

1) Don’t accuse, express your feelings.  The most common mistake made when trying to talk about jealous feelings is to start off with “you” statements , i.e. accusations or attacks on one’s partner.  In order  to have a constructive dialog , the speaker must be heard by the one who is being spoken to.  Attacks disrupt a person’s ability to listen and, instead, trigger either counter-attacks or withdrawal.  An alternative to “you” statements is “I” statements. I statements express what the person is experiencing is, i.e. the feelings and wants. Remember, it is much easier to hear and “stay with” a person who is talking about their his or her own distress than to be the target of an angry attack.

2) Journal before talking.  Writing about your feelings before having a conversation will allow you wring out intense emotions which can cloud judgment help you focus on reasonable concerns. Writing can also help you to realize that underneath the hurt and anger is the feeling powerless and vulnerability. The underlying experience protected by anger is fear . It is important to decode one’s anger as and access the fear (much as possible) before talking.

3) Provide a context for your fears. Explore and talk to your mate about your own history and experience of betrayal in the past and why you are so sensitive to it.  Talking about some of the bad experiences that you have had, in as much detail as you can,  will help your partner both understand why the issue is so painful and to feel compassion for you.

4) Say what you need.  When talking, rather than focusing on your fears or suspicions, think about what would help you to feel calm. For most people , reassurance is crucial. Beyond words, it is helpful to think of particular little things that your partner can do that would regain your trust.

5) Pay attention to how the conversation is going. Understanding that these kinds of discussions are difficult, it is important to have realistic expectations.  Your first attempt at talking may not go perfectly.  If either one of you becomes overly distressed or raises their voice or lapses back into “you-statements”, call time out and suspend the dialog with a mutual agreement that you will resume talking at a later time when you both are in a calmer place.

It is amazing to me how, with a little practice, these basic steps can turn discouraging and frustrating stalemates into powerful breakthroughs in a relationship. If you have trouble doing this on your own, don’t be a afraid to find  a therapist to help.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC   12 3 2020