In Psychology Today, Craig Malkin, Ph.D. has written a very helpful article, “Five Ways to Kick the Jealousy Habit.” I recommend it for both the jealousee and the jealouser.
In addition to suggesting five things you can do to help yourself deal with jealousy, Craig Malkin explains that jealousy can take on a life of its own. When this happens, when jealous behaviors take over, the relationship is likely to veer off course into a world of suspicion and inappropriate attempts to control our partners. The author makes a clear distinction between jealous feelings, which he says may be appropriate, and jealous behaviors, which may not be. He recommends the jealous partner ask questions like, “if I ask you to reassure me–show me you love me, long for me, really want to be with me–will you?” as opposed to questions like, “whats’ really going on here?” The first question invites emotional connection—and is answerable. The second question creates suspicion and really isn’t answerable. If you don’t trust someone, their answer won’t help very much.
I’d like to add a couple of other suggestions that come from my experience—after being successfully married for eighteen years—with a partner who started out extremely jealous. If you are the person who is being accused of inappropriate behavior—in my case it was flirting—you too, need to fess up. Craig Malkin points out the person who is jealous needs to fess up, and I agree, but so too does the person who is being inappropriate. The reason this is important is because many people who are jealous have developed a sixth sense, they know when we’re flirting or checking someone out. They are used to having partners who deny any wrongdoing and this makes the jealous person—already insecure—even more insecure. The jealous person wants to know the truth. They want to know they are not crazy. They want to know, more than anything, that we will be honest with them. So fess up! If you’re flirting, saying, “yes, I was flirting.” If you’re checking someone out, say, “yes, I was checking someone out.” And if you’re doing something more serious, fess up or it will forever be in between you and your partner.
The other suggestion I have is for the person who is jealous. Craig Malkin suggests that you use ‘I-statements.’ This is a good idea, but you can go even further. Learn to use Perception Language, which is a way of using language that eliminates our tendency to be judgmental and blame other people for how we feel. For example, instead of saying, “You make me crazy and insecure when you flirt…” try saying, “I make myself crazy and insecure when you flirt.” After all, this really is the case. The person doing the flirting isn’t really doing anything to you. She or he is going through the world doing what they do. Some people may not care if their partner flirts—others of us do care. If you’re in the latter group, it’s your responsibility to let your partner know what you do within yourself in response to his or her behavior. Once your partner has that information, hopefully they care enough about you so that they will change their behavior. If they don’t, you’re with the wrong partner.
The other benefit of learning to use Perception Language is that it brings us into the present moment. This is crucial when dealing with the issue of jealousy, because usually the inappropriate behavior that is troubling has already occurred. Instead of getting lost in talking about who did what when, Perception Language brings us into the present moment, which is the only moment in which healing and resolution can occur.
Craig Malkin’s list of suggestions for managing jealousy include:
- Fess up
- Manage stress
- Ask for reassurance
- But ask in moderation.
- Know your limits
If you add to his list my suggestions of learning to use Perception Language—you can break the unhealthy cycle of jealousy. My wife, Hannah, and I used to struggle with this on a regular basis. We’d have an argument at least twice a week. I believed I was trustworthy, but she didn’t trust me. She thought she had a right to express her concerns, but I dismissed them. We went around and around. Then we learned to practice the principles of Live Conscious and use Perception Language and the power struggle was replaced with each of us taking responsibility for our part in this dynamic. I fessed up. She calmed down. I decided her well being was more important to me than my outdated ways of getting my ego stroked, by flirting. We became closer. She got what she wanted. I got what I wanted, and the last ten years have been easy and nourishing.