Managing Feelings — 30 May 2010
How to manage your jealousy

Jealousy is a common human emotion experienced in love relationships. It is an intense feeling that has been maligned, poorly understood, differently experienced by men and women and may gravely impact those who handle it poorly. Yet, when handled well jealousy can protect a valued relationship from perceived threats.

The dictionary definition of jealousy is, “Mental uneasiness due to suspicion or fear of rivalry.” Most people who have experienced jealousy may rate it as a much stronger discomfort than “uneasiness.” Leslie Farber, in “The Ways of the Will” states,” In the grip of jealous passion one’s state is reduced to a kind of craven non-being. One strives to appear to be the person he was, but he knows that he has lost his autonomy-his sense of self–and has become a slave whose diminished existence is at the mercy of his mate.”

In extreme fits of uncontrollable jealousy, a few people have known to use violence against the perceived offender in order to recover from their felt annihilation by the mate’s rejection. Most people, however, are able to moderate their reactions to the perceived betrayal and deal with it sanely.

The loss of the mother’s attention is programmed in infants to trigger an instinctive survival reaction that in adulthood gets transferred to the beloved.

Professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev in “The Subtlety of Emotions” clarifies the confusion about the distinction between jealousy and envy. He explains that envy entails a wish “for something one does not have, while in jealousy it is something one fears losing.”

In “Justifying Emotions: Pride and Jealously,” Kristjan Kristjansson provides an example: “A wife who has left her husband may later be intensely jealous of a new woman in his life, although there is nothing she wants less than starting over again with him herself. In such a case, A is not gnashing her teeth at what B has got, namely C’s love, but rather at the very fact that B has got it (from C).”

Men and women perceive the threat of a mate’s interest in another in different ways. Leslie Farber makes the distinction as follows, “The ultimate betrayal for him is sexual. She may become jealous of his friends, family – – even their children, and even his absorption in work, hobbies, TV, etc. This female sort of jealousy is always surprising to the man; it is, by and large, outside his own experience, and catches him unawares.”

Dawn Nannini and Lawrence Meyers in “Jealousy in Sexual and Emotional Infidelity” amplify, “Men ascribe women’s desire for extramarital involvement as a desire for greater commitment, whereas women more often ascribe a desire for sexual variety as the motive for their partner’s involvement with other women.”

History and tradition also view the expression of jealousy by men and women differently. Farber cites, “A jealous man is often considered to be asserting his possessive rights; jealousy in a woman is regarded as nearly equivalent to shrewishness, fishwifery.”

Deal with your jealousy effectively:

• Understand that jealousy is not an unhealthy emotion. It is your signal of a perceived danger to your love connection and security. How you handle it may be either destructive or effective.
• Abstain from accusations or assumptions, or relying on gossip and other people’s impressions.
• Clarify whether your perceived threats are actually true by lovingly checking it with your mate. Say, “It was my impression that you were very intrigued by this person. Is this correct?”
• Listen carefully to the response. Contain your fear and hurt – it may be unmerited.
• Declare your need for your mate’s love and commitment without sounding accusatory, needy or helpless.
• Offer to get professional help if your mate is unwilling or unable to communicate his/her feelings.
• Affirm your love for your mate and positive view of your relationship history and capacity for restoring your previously mutually satisfying state.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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