We all know the feeling. It starts with a creeping wash of unease in the pit of the stomach and an increasing sense of generalised anxiety. Even though our partner is loving and reassuring, very soon we find ourselves doing a whole lot of things we don't like to admit to, from checking our partner's phone and hacking into emails, to setting 'traps' or turning up somewhere unannounced in order to catch them "unaware".
Or it may simply be endless questions - where were you? who was there? do you like him? why is she emailing you? And so on. As hard as we try and fight it, jealousy can have a very strong hold. It can, literally, feel like it has you in its grip.
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Why do we get jealous?
The potential for jealousy is hard wired in our brain. Evolutionary theory tells us that throughout our primordial past, jealousy had the function of warding off the desertion of a mate, therefore bolstering the family unit and protecting the young.
It's amongst the young in the family - our siblings - that we often first experience jealousy and fear as we compete for parental attention. All this makes the emotion of jealousy very normal and natural - we all feel insecure at times - and our partners might even feel a bit flattered by it. But what if it gets out of control? And how can you tell if this is the case?
You'll know in your gut if it's out of hand. When your anxiety and anger are keeping you awake, making you feel chronically stressed and causing arguments, then there is a real problem and it needs to be addressed.
If it isn't addressed, it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the partner you mistrusted may well grow tired of the conflict and unhappiness. Suddenly, the possibility of someone new might strike them as more appealing.
Be kind to yourself
I tell my clients struggling with jealousy to try and be kind to themselves. To understand why they are having these feelings. Nobody wants to be cheated on, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to keep your relationship solid and monogamous. Imagining your partner being attracted to, or involved with, someone else can make the best of us feel like throwing up. But understand at the same time that jealousy can also stem from past hurts, poor self-esteem and other destructive factors, which will need exploring to get to the root of what you are feeling.
Educate yourself about all this: jealousy, and others' experiences of it. Even a quick Google search will help you realise you are not alone, and that there are steps you can take to help calm your mind. Finding a trusted friend or professional to talk to will also aid in untangling the knot in your stomach, so you can start feeling a whole lot freer sooner than later.
Talk, talk and talk some more
Your partner might get defensive if you keep mistrusting him or her, and it doesn't take much for flattery to turn into irritation. Even worse, when we experience defensiveness from the one we love it can feel like proof they are hiding something.
If this cycle sounds familiar to you, it is so important to talk. Don't be ashamed to share your very human feelings with your partner, and apologise if you know your behaviours are upsetting the relationship. You may well be feeling something unnecessary, but your partner should be prepared to talk it through.
Tell them how they can make you feel more secure - sometimes it is small actions, like letting you know if they will be late or showing affection more often. It might even be helpful if they introduced you to the person or people sparking the jealousy. In return, listen to their responses about their needs from you. Remember, relationships are all about balance and it is well worth finding strategies together. That way you can prevent this powerful emotion from eroding the quality of your relationship.
* For personal assistance from Jill Goldson visit The Family Matters website here.