It’s a natural (and common) emotion—but there are simple ways to tame the green-eyed monster.

Do you ever get jealous? Me too. Do you feel embarrassed for admitting that? Me too! Jealousy is extremely unfashionable these days. It once used to be regarded as the swashbuckling pirate of emotion, but today it’s seen as the awkward outsider, needy and insecure—a weakness rather than strength.

The truth is, feeling jealous is neither strong nor weak—it’s natural. Anthropologists believe it developed as a way of ensuring that couples raised their children in long-term pair bonds. Men have a natural reason to jealously guard their mates, to ensure they don’t accidentally raise another man’s offspring. And women have a genuine need to encourage their partners to look after them, especially when they’re pregnant and vulnerable.

Jealousy isn’t just a human emotion—it’s often seen in nature, too. In a famous experiment, evolutionary biologist David Barash once tested to see if bluebirds ever turned green (figuratively speaking). While the male bluebird was away from the nest, Barash placed a stuffed male bluebird toy on a nearby branch, close to the female bluebird. When the real male bluebird returned, he was horrified at this perceived rival. He tried to scare the fake bluebird away, and then turned on his female partner and viciously pulled out her feathers.

Even though jealousy is natural, it can still be destructive. If you or your partner are jealous regularly, over a long period of time, I’d suggest you seek counselling to get a clearer picture of what is going on in your head and in your relationship. But if you’re simply prone to the occasional burst, try my simple steps. It might help you avoid the urge to rip out your partner’s feathers…

 

1) Don’t trust your own judgement

When you’re feeling jealous, your powers of rationality and observation go out of the window. A scientific study in 2010 showed that people (in particular, women) lost the ability to notice details when they believed their partner was looking at photographs of attractive members of the opposite sex.

In everyday life, this might mean you think your partner is ogling a waitress when, in fact, you haven’t noticed that he’s finished his drink and is trying to order another. Instead of blindly assuming anything, take a moment to assess things clearly.

 

2) Look inside yourself

Ask yourself: “Why am I feeling jealous now?” If someone in particular has sparked your jealousy, you most likely feel inferior to them. But why?

Sometimes, our feelings of inferiority come from criticism we heard when we were children. If you regularly hear yourself thinking negative thoughts—Who could love me? I’m old and unattractive, or, Why would anyone stay with a failure like me?— you might be replaying old scripts from way back in your past. You might have struggled with depression and low self-esteem for most of your life. Therapy is usually a very successful cure for this. You can also try noticing your negative self-talk for what it is—someone else’s opinion, not fact. When a critical thought enters your head, write it down, replacing the word “I” with “you”; this can help you distance yourself from the thoughts.

 

3) Make positive changes

Sometimes, feeling jealous of a particular person can tell you more about the type of person you’d really like to be. For example, if you find you’re consistently jealous around outgoing people, you may feel you’re hiding an outgoing part of your own personality. So you could work to release that by taking a public-speaking course, or meeting more people. If you always feel threatened by slim, glamorous females, would you feel more confident if you dropped ten pounds or invested in new clothes?

You should never change yourself to make someone love you. But you can always work on yourself to boost your own self-esteem. Finding practical, actionable steps towards a brighter version of yourself is a great way to do that. And often, just taking a first step feels so positive and empowering that it lifts your mood immediately.

 

4) Guard your independence

Research has shown that jealousy can be triggered by a heightened fear of loss. If you’re terrified of losing your partner because you feel you’d lose everything, you’ll go on the ultra-defensive. I’m not talking about the dread of losing a beloved spouse, that’s natural. I’m talking about to a feeling that you would be nothing without this relationship, that you couldn’t function, that you would be utterly vulnerable.

Remind yourself of your life outside the relationship. Reconnect with friends and family, make new connections with the world. Make sure you know how to run the financial side of your life, stay youthful and in touch with the rest of the world. Strengthen your support network. That way, you’ll feel less desperately reliant on your partner.

 

5) Invest in your relationship

The most positive way to beat jealousy is to create more positive moments in your relationship. Don't accuse your partner of flirting with someone else—instead, celebrate what you have together. Plan a getaway, or just find their favourite film on TV and suggest watching it together. Go to bed at the same time as each other, and remind your partner of happy times you’ve had in the past. Regular positive reinforcement is a guaranteed way to banish the relationship blues—and the greens. 

 

You can read more from Kate on her website

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