Jealousy Is A Choice

You’ve been misled. You’ve been told that jealousy is an emotion. That it’s something beyond your control. That it happens to you. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not a feeling. It results from meaning that you assign to an external event.  

It’s important to understand this before we go deeper: Jealousy is a choice. And if you change the way you think, jealousy goes away.

In order for jealousy to breathe and thrive, you have to decide that an outside force poses a threat to your relationship (see the diagram below). This is a conclusion. It’s a hypothesis that you formulate. A bottom line at which you arrive. How do I know? Because, although I’ve got a ton of problems, jealousy isn’t one of them.

I’d never hold myself out as the poster child for mental health. But I am a mental health provider, and as someone who’s been in this field for 20 years, I’ve paid attention to the differences between people who are handicapped by jealousy versus people like me who appear to be immune to it. And while I’d love to outline for you a complex analytical explanation for those differences, it all boils down to just one thing: I’m not jealous because I never give myself permission to be jealous.

Some of it’s my personal philosophy: I grew up in a family where mostly everyone cheated. Then I was cheated on. People generally walk away from this type of experience either maniacally trying to control their next partner(s) from cheating, or resigned to the belief that if someone wants to cheat, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. My philosophy falls into the latter group.

If you’re in the first group, you don’t have an easy life. You see threats everywhere. Whether real or imagined, your response to those threats probably makes your life miserable, to say nothing of how it impacts your partner(s).

People who are vulnerable to jealousy tend to have a history of complex trauma/abandonment, they struggle with insecurity, have poor emotional management skills, and they tend to battle anxiety, depression, or both.  Engulfed in a wave of jealousy, they are incapable of self-soothing or positive self-talk. They literally feel as though their lives are being threatened.

Jealousy feeds on uncertainty, and the thing about relationships is, they’re uncertain by design. There are no guarantees.  Sure, we try to create guarantees by making commitments and/or getting married, but the divorce rate shows us just how unpredictable relationship outcomes are. So what’s a jelly Nellie to do?

Get into EMDR therapy and reprocess your first or your worst experience of jealousy, or your latest experience of it. EMDR will allow your body to organize the experience(s) so that your mind no longer takes you on a brutal roller coaster ride of obsession and painful imagination. It will give you the remote control to your thoughts. And it will free you up to be fully present in your current or next relationship. Because at the end of the day, you don’t get a guarantee, except the guarantee that you’re going to experience loss in your life. The key is to have the ability to navigate through it with resilience.     




Trumping the Trump Card: Surviving Political Differences During the Holidays

Thanksgiving is the second happiest day of the year in the US - outranked only by Christmas - according to a Gallup poll.  But Trump’s surprise victory has many Americans reeling in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and not surprisingly, many are dreading Thanksgiving as they anticipate enduring painful political debates at the dinner table.

Political differences are rarely in and of themselves the root of holiday conflict. People’s inability to listen respectfully to differing opinions and validate one another’s feelings, however, is.

 Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts to get you through this Thursday:              

Do Listen. Let your family members express themselves. Paraphrase back what you hear them say every couple of sentences. This will slow down the pace of the conversation and let them know that you’re listening to what they’re saying and actually hearing them.

Do NOT Interrupt. Bite your tongue. Excuse yourself for a bathroom break. Do whatever’s necessary to control the impulse to interject, talk over, or interrupt when others are speaking. It’s the first step in escalating emotions.

Do Validate. You don’t have to agree with an opposing view to validate that person’s perspective. As a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a social worker, and a New Yorker, I’m a political Progressive. Still, I have Republican family members. They live in the suburbs, some of which are in southern states. They don’t see what I see as a New Yorker. They don’t necessarily understand why my wife and I are worried. They don’t live among Muslims, people of color, immigrants, LGBT’s. When you don’t live with it, it’s easy to view our fears as hyperbolic and unwarranted. I can understand and validate why, for them, there is no reason for anyone to be worried.  It doesn’t mean I agree with them. But it’s appropriate to let people know that their viewpoints make sense to you, that you can understand why they feel the way they feel. And that you can respectfully tolerate their differing views. The challenge is to stop there before you go down the rabbit hole below.     

 Do NOT Try to change opinions. The hallmark of being in a successful relationship is to prioritize what is in the best interest of the relationship over the individual needs of either member in the relationship. It’s fine to speak from your perspective and to share your own experience. It’s a recipe for disaster to try to sway the other person’s opinion.

First of all, very few are truly open to changing their political beliefs. And the surest way to provoke Uncle Andy to dig his heels in is by explaining to him why the way he sees the world is wrong.  It causes a power struggle. It has the unintended consequence of invalidating his perspective. And it’s inflammatory. Resist the urge.

Do Express Yourself. After you’ve appropriately listened to your family’s views, go ahead and share your own. Speak respectfully, keeping your tone even and your volume down. Know that if your audience has differing opinions, they’ll be inclined to read your body language, tone, and meaning as being aggressive and/or defensive. Compensate for that by slowing your roll.

Do NOT use inflammatory language. Avoid emotionally compelling language. It can flood your body with adrenalin which will jack up your nervous system causing your body to respond as though it’s under attack. Imagine you don’t have a stake in whether or not people agree with you or see things from your perspective. Don’t curse. Even if you normally do.  Keep it low and slow.  It’s only a few days.

Do Know When to Call Time Out. At a certain point (ideally after everyone has expressed her opinion and received validation), continuing the conversation becomes unproductive. It’s okay to agree to disagree. The point of sharing your view isn’t to garner agreement. It’s to speak your truth, hear your family members’ truth, and move on to lighter topics. Your family’s job is not to listen while you vent freely. That’s your shrink’s job.

Maybe You Have The Flu. Look, I know that the above-referenced tips are hard as hell to follow. I’ll be cozied up in New York City with a handful of friends this Thanksgiving, none of whom are likely to provoke me the way my family does. If you don’t think you’re able to control yourself, it’s better to bow out this year. Let the dust settle. Family relations is a long-term game. Sitting one year out is better than showing up and striking out.



Why Your Relationship Sucks

If you’re unhappy with your relationship – the shortage of quality time spent together, the amount of sex you have, the lack of excitement, or who walks the dog more – it’s a result of two things: The way you’re thinking and acting.

To get a new result, you’re going to have to adopt and employ a new way of thinking and acting. It’s that simple.  How can I be so certain? Because aside from being a shrink, I’ve been where you’re at. And until I changed myself, nothing else changed. Below are the six most common causes of miserable relationships.

 1. Everything is your partner’s fault. You look outward instead of inward. You think you have no control over the problems in your relationship, and what’s worse, you think you don’t contribute to them.  You’ve told yourself that no amount of change will have the desired effect.  It’s called learned helplessness.

You’re not intentionally creating a relationship that sucks. You’re unconsciously creating a relationship that sucks. But you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, and until you’re willing to surrender to this first principle, nothing’s going to change.

2. You aren’t willing to examine your belief system.

 The irony of human nature is that most people would rather be right than be happy.  My wife, Steph, likes to ask her clients, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in relationship?”

Change, for many people, implies that the original state was ‘wrong.’  Does this sound like a breeding ground for progress?  It’s a breeding ground for stagnation, defensiveness and ignorance. Question everything. Particularly your beliefs.

 3. You habitually focus on what your partner’s doing wrong and on what you want to avoid.

 We attract and create what we think about, so the more you think about the negative / what you don’t want, the more you’ll attract it.  It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Another way of viewing it is this: We find what we’re looking for. Your partner’s not all bad. She’s not all anything.  But our brain is a muscle that builds strength around things we habitually focus on. When we focus on the negative, we train our brain to hunt for the negative. Good news is it works in the opposite direction as well. So start catching your partner doing something right. Bonus points for sharing it with her.

 4. You don’t do vulnerability.  I get it. I don’t come by it naturally either. I grew up in a rough neighborhood where fighting wasn’t just a boy’s activity but a girl’s survival skill. You had to watch every word that came out of your mouth because seemingly benign comments could be misconstrued and the next thing you know, you’re being jumped after class. I’m not looking for a pity party here. I survived. The point is, I learned early on (as most of us do) to keep my cards close to my chest, which is not a recipe for vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the artery of connection and intimacy. You can’t attach without it. There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous, that speaks to this:

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

 That’s vulnerability. Make peace with it. And practice it. Daily.

 5. You’re waiting for your partner to change. This sounds like a duplication of reason number one, but it’s not. It’s about you taking a passive position in the health of your relationship. It’s one thing to hyper-focus on everything your partner’s doing wrong. It’s another to decide that you’re not changing until your partner starts to change.  We do this as children – refuse to do a chore until or unless our sibling does. Your partner isn’t your sibling. Stop acting like she is. Your relationship needs a hero. Grab your ovaries and be the change you want to see in your partner.   

 6. You don’t know how to listen. In your defense, most people don’t. When your partner’s speaking, you’re at best half listening, and probably more focused on what you’re going to say in response. That’s not listening. That’s preparing to respond. And it predisposes you to respond defensively. Try this:

Let your partner speak first.

 Every few sentences, paraphrase what you’ve heard your partner say. “So what you’re saying is [insert a few of her sentences here]. Right?” If it’s not right, ask her to repeat what she meant and paraphrase it back. Then say, “Is there more?” and let her continue.

Do this until she’s done. Spent. Completely unburdened. That’s called active listening.