Tackling Jealousy

Dear Dr. Darcy:

Do you have any tips for those that struggle with jealousy?

ANSWER

Jealousy is an emotion. It’s a feeling. Sometimes we experience an emotion or feeling and it makes sense to act on it – like when we feel gratitude for someone and decide to tell them how we’re feeling.  Other times it makes sense to not act on an emotion – like when your boss calls you out in front of your colleagues and you feel anger or embarrassment. Maybe it makes sense to wait until you cool down. Or maybe it makes sense to let it go altogether because your boss is so unreasonable that addressing it won’t get you anywhere.

My rule of thumb for managing my own emotions is as follows: I ask myself what percentage of my emotion is historical and what percentage is being triggered by the current person or situation. Unless the current person or situation is responsible for 70% or more of my trigger/feeling, I consider it to be my issue, and I try not to ask other people to help me soothe issues that are mine. I consider these to be internal issues and I try my best to handle internal issues, well, internally.

Here’s the thing with jealousy: It’s all about YOU. It’s an internal issue. It doesn’t matter what the other person is doing – jealousy is always about you. Which is not to say that your partner isn’t doing anything wrong. If your partner is behaving in an inappropriate way, that’s a separate issue and it deserves to be addressed. But not because you’re feeling jealous. It deserves to be addressed because they’re behaving in a way that threatens to violate an agreement that the two of you have, such as flirting with a person when they’re in a committed monogamous relationship with you.

You can feel jealousy – just as you feel a myriad of “negative” emotions – and choose not to act on it, which is my recommendation. Because for internal issues, you should look within to self-soothe.  So how to self-soothe?

Start by understanding what jealousy is. At its root, it’s a fear of loss: Loss of a person, a situation, or of face. Until you’ve eradicated these issues in yourself, remind yourself that your jealousy has far less to do with what your partner is doing and is more deeply rooted in your own issues. That should give you the space you need to choose not to act on it.

Here’s the other thing: If you’re with someone who is going to cheat, there is NOTHING you can do to stop them. You can’t build a fence high enough to keep them from cheating. So don’t even bother trying. If you’re with a decent person, they deserve your trust. If you’re not with a decent person, get out of your relationship.