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Jealousy is one of the most complex, intense, and unpleasant human experiences—and, as many of us have experienced, it can cause major rifts in our relationships. It’s human nature to feel jealous from time to time, but jealousy can poison love when we act out or wallow in it.

At its core, jealousy stems from insecurity and fear. Feeling insecure makes us incredibly vulnerable, and our internal systems typically do not react well to this experience. It causes our defenses to rise and distract us from addressing the emotional pain that lurks beneath. These defenses can show up as paranoia, snooping, comparing ourself to others, obsessive thinking, being passive-aggressive, or engaging in accusatory behavior.

It’s important to understand that we act out in these ways because we think it will make us feel better, but more often it further entrenches our feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy—and becomes a huge influence in sabotaging our relationships. It also keeps us from dealing with the real issue—that we feel we are not good enough.

So, how can we start to break the jealousy cycle and reclaim self-control?

01. Explore the Root of Your Jealousy

Sometimes jealousy is justified, but it is more often irrational. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Does your response align with the situation? Is it stemming from a past hurt or traumatic experience? Remember that correlation does not always imply causation. Sometimes the cause of jealousy is not your partner but an internal experience that you have not dealt with. For example, if you have been betrayed in the past, it makes sense that you might carry those jealousy-triggering feelings into your new relationship and project them onto your partner. While your partner can reassure you and help you feel at ease if you experience jealousy within the relationship, it is your job to continue to explore your own internal issues and understand how they get triggered in relationships. The longer you prolong this work, the longer it takes to heal.

02. Don’t Compare

The tendency to compare ourself to others is as human as any other emotion. But it’s our responsibility to step back and evaluate how comparison often hinders more then it helps. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And its partner in crime is jealousy. Comparing yourself to other people’s lives and relationships adds no meaning or fulfillment to your own life; it only distracts from it. Some forms of comparisons lead to thoughts like, “How could he love me? I’m not as attractive as his ex.” Or, “I’m not as successful as she is, and once she realizes this, she will leave me.” These are really painful thoughts—but they have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with your feelings about yourself. Comparison puts the focus on the wrong person. You can control one life—yours. By comparing yourself to others, you are wasting precious time and energy on other people when you could be focusing on what you need to feel more whole.

03. Practice Communication and Clarify Boundaries

Some of us don’t mind our partners being in touch with their ex-partners or being friends with the opposite sex—and some of us do. Communication is the only way to deal with these issues and to make sure you’re on the same page. It may be tempting to dodge this conversation, but withholding your feelings will only lead to passive-aggressive behavior. It may be tempting to peek at your partner’s text messages or emails, but trust me, this will lead nowhere good. Talk openly and directly with your partner about your feelings. Try hard to withhold any judgment about how your partner feels, which may be very different from how you feel. They are entitled to their own feelings and may not have the same insecurities you do. This is not about right versus wrong but about finding common ground and setting limits that work for you both.

Once you know what your boundaries are—what upsets you, what makes you jealous and uncomfortable—you can know where to draw lines and then work through any issues that arise. You can’t say your partner is insensitive, disrespectful, or “should know better” if you’ve never communicated where your boundaries are. Your partner is not a mind reader, and it is unwise to assume that they think in the same way you do.

04. Own It, Learn from It, and Let It Go

When we can name our feelings and truly own our experience, we can move from a place of shame to a place of empowerment. It’s OK to feel jealous; you’re only human after all. The good (and hard) news is that jealousy gives us an opportunity to take a deeper look at ourself and what we need to feel safe and supported. We can use our jealous feelings in ways that help us grow and become more secure in ourself. We can recognize that jealousy is a distraction from something deeper happening internally, and it is calling for our attention to be worked on. It takes practice and a willingness to explore our pain. Once we can do this, we put ourself in a better position to let it go. What I mean by “let it go” is that you can acknowledge your experience, understand it for what it’s really about, and move through it in a way that brings more ease and peace to your life.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Wayne Dyer: “I cannot control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.”

Photo Credit: Horn Photography