Jealousy is a natural human emotion that surfaces in most every relationship.
Though painful for both people in a couple, jealousy doesn’t have to be a problem. In fact, the ability to talk openly about jealousy gives you an opportunity to build trust with your significant other.
Instead of avoiding jealousy and wishing it would go away, what if you could lean into it, explore it, and see it as an opportunity to learn something important about your relationship?
According to Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., LMFT, Director of The Intimacy Institute, as she’s quoted in The Oprah Magazine, jealousy is rooted in two core fears that all humans share — fear of not being good enough, and fear of being left out.
Intimacy means, “into me you see.” If you and your partner can be honest about the deep fears that are causing jealousy, you open the door to understanding, empathy, and love.
A conversation that gets you to the root of jealousy might take some time. You both need to be willing to expose yourselves to each other. Then stay open to further conversation, and to shifting your actions based on your partner’s needs.
If you go into this process with commitment to each other, and the intention to create a stronger relationship, you will, at the very least, learn something new about each other, and at the most, create trust and love.
Here are a few guidelines for having a conversation about jealousy:
Set your intention individually, and as a couple
The best way to approach a conversation like this is with a clear intention for what you want to create with your partner.
What do you want for your relationship?
What do you want to experience with your partner?
Don’t start the discussion until you and your partner are both clear about what you want to create. If you’re not sure, you can journal on the questions above. Let yourself free-write, without self-editing. Write down everything that comes up for you.
Share your intentions with each other, and let them be your guide. If the conversation gets tough, remember the reason you’re engaging.
Talk about it when you’re not experiencing jealousy
Go into the conversation with a clear mind, and a clear heart. It’s easier to reflect on your experience from a distance.
Be curious, ask questions
A key to building intimacy is asking great questions and listening deeply to the answers.
is asking great questions and listening deeply to the answers.
Be curious about what your partner is telling you. Be non-judgemental, and unattached to the outcome. Explore.
You can ask questions like:
“What are you jealous about?”
“What fears does that bring up for you?”
“Has there been any other time in your life when you felt this way? What happened?”
“Who else are you jealous of?”
“Do you experience jealousy as a physical sensation in your body? Where? What does it feel like?”
“Do you trust me? Why or why not?”
“What are you most afraid of?”
“When you feel jealous, what kinds of things does it make you want to do or say?”
“What do I do that makes you feel jealous?”
“What could I do differently to support you?”
The way you ask the question can be just as important as the question itself. Curiosity really is key. See if you can maintain neutrality — jealousy is not bad. It’s not wrong. It’s just an emotion that’s arising.
If you and your partner stay connected to your intention as you talk — that is, if your questions are coming from a place of love and truly wanting to understand, because it’s the best thing for your relationship, you can’t go wrong.
Give your partner space
The less pressure, the better. If your partner doesn’t feel comfortable answering something in the moment, let her be until she’s ready. Encourage her to journal. Reassure her about your intention. And let her know that you’ll be there for her when she’s ready to share.
A conversation about jealousy can bring up deep, painful emotions. Once again, see if you can maintain neutrality. Whatever comes up, make space for it. Don’t try to change it, or fix it. Just let it be there. Allow her to have her experience.
Be there for her in the best way you know how. According to eHarmony, a moment like this is a good time to be generous with your physical affection. Touch can be a powerful force for healing.
Listen, listen, listen
The 5th Habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey writes that after our basic human needs of food, water, and shelter, we have the psychological need of social acceptance and understanding.
We have a foundational need to feel understood.
He uses a powerful analogy to describe the phenomenon — when you truly listen to someone to understand them, you give them “psychological air.”
When your partner feels fully self expressed, accepted, and understood, it’s like she can breathe. She’ll feel calm and safe, and she’ll be much more open to your point of view.
Here’s how to give her psychological air:
- Give your partner the time to explain herself completely.
- Listen for what she’s saying, and for what she’s feeling.
- Ask questions until you fully understand.
- Instead of responding, repeat back what you understand — a key to empathic listening.
You don’t need to agree with everything your partner says. You just need to let her know that understand.
Of course, it seems simple and obvious, but even Covey said that practicing Habit 5 was always the most difficult for him.
Practice Empathic Listening
It’s absolutely essential that you go into the conversation with the intention to understand.
As you’re developing a deep understanding of your partner’s experience, there’s no need to respond with anything other than another question, or with a summary of what you’re hearing.
According to Covey, there are 4 stages to Empathic Listening:
1. Mimic — repeat what your partner said
2. Rephrase — summarise their comments in your own words
3. Reflect — put their feelings into words for them
4. Rephrase and Reflect — combine steps 2 & 3
Practicing these listening skills during your conversation will let your partner know you’ve heard what she’s saying, and that you understand.
To rephrase and reflect, try phrases like:
“What I’m hearing you say is….”
“What I’m getting is…”
“This is what I understand, _______________. Is that right?”
“Do I have it right that you’re saying / feeling, ________________?”
You’ll know you fully understand her when you can explain her perspective better than she can explain it herself. In fact, that should be your goal.
Ask, “anything else?”
When you feel like she’s done talking, and there couldn’t possibly be anything else, ask: “What else?” Or “Is there anything else?”
Keep asking “what else” until she confirms there’s nothing else to say.
Recognise that emotions are not rational, and that’s okay
Our minds want to rationalise everything. Our minds judge and evaluate. Our minds want to control the situation.
But sometimes our human emotions just don’t make sense. Sometimes we feel things that our minds believe we “shouldn’t” feel.
Give yourself and your partner permission to feel your feelings without making them wrong, and without being afraid of them.
All feelings pass, just like the weather. They pass faster when they are allowed to be expressed in the moment.
If you get triggered, take a break
If you find that your conversation is starting to veer in a counter-productive direction, it’s perfectly fine to take a break and resume later.
Some signs to watch out for are:
You find yourself responding, defending, judging, or fixing — if you’re doing anything other than listening, rephrasing, and letting things air out, stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you need space to recenter.
You find yourself feeling intense anger — if you’re emotions are getting triggered, it’s okay and natural. However, it’s best not to continue the conversation from a place of heightened emotion. Instead, take a breather, calm down, and start again when you feel calm.
You’re going in circles — if you feel like you’re in a loop with the same things repeated over and over again, you’re probably not really listening. The conversation should go in a spiral, deeper and deeper as more is revealed and understood. If you’re looping, try asking different questions. Try paraphrasing more. Or try taking a break and revisiting the conversation with a clear head.
Revisit your intention
Let your intention be your guide. If the foundation of your conversation is truly to strengthen your relationship through building trust and understanding, you’ll have the resilience to keep going, even if it gets uncomfortable or painful.
Where do we go from here?
During the conversation you might work together to set new boundaries or make new agreements. During such a vulnerable time, it’s important to keep your word to your partner, and to over-communicate. Celebrate small wins together. And actively appreciate each other.
Wishing you fulfilling conversations and a strong, trusting relationship.