Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Defanging Jealousy Suggests Alternative Answers

It’s the classic setup. A and B are dating. Due to some misunderstanding, A becomes incredibly jealous of the relationship B has with C––which is actually nothing more than a platonic friendship. This becomes a serious plot point, leading to arguments, character development and all sorts of juicy drama.

That’s how jealousy works. It’s the doomsday clock on a relationship, ticking down to detonation, and the only way to stop it is for someone to make a sacrifice.


Well, no.

Jealousy is real and it sucks; there’s no two ways about that. Shakespeare didn’t call it the “green-eyed monster” for nothing: Jealousy can feel like a hulking Jabberwock, eyes aflame and jaws snapping. It’s terrifying and infuriating and not something anyone wants to deal with.

But it’s also not the emotional juggernaut it’s often made out to be. From “Othello” to “Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” we make jealousy out to be an unassailable force of nature. We’ve made such a terrifying specter out of the mere idea of jealousy that it’s often hard to imagine how it could be managed in a way that’s healthy for everyone involved.

Let’s start by breaking down the idea of jealousy. As authors Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton write in “The Ethical Slut,” jealousy itself isn’t an emotion. Rather, it’s an umbrella term––when you feel “jealous,” you’re probably feeling a potent cocktail of fear, sadness, anger and disgust.

This ain’t just a semantic difference. “I’m jealous” only gives you a vague idea of what’s wrong––whatever your partner is doing with someone else. If you break it down into its component parts, you can better put a finger on what’s bothering you. Maybe you’re scared that you’re going to be replaced. Maybe you’re angry because you feel betrayed. Whatever it is, you’ll have a better chance of identifying it if you look deeper than the easy “jealousy” label.

When you break it down into its emotional components, jealousy also becomes a more familiar problem. Fear, sadness, anger––feelings like these often lose their sting when you share them with a compassionate, attentive partner. And putting it in terms of actual emotions often sidesteps the baggage that comes with saying “I’m jealous.”

Defanging jealousy also opens up new possibilities for solutions. As long as we treat jealousy like an angry god, the appropriate solutions are similarly dramatic: ultimatums, demands and edicts. But these don’t make healthy relationships. If you go at jealousy as a manageable emotional issue instead, then you can still maintain compassionate communication and an open heart.

This means making requests rather than demands. It’s one thing to say, “I would feel better if you did X”––it’s quite another to say, “You need to stop seeing C right away.” The first is something that both you and your partner can cooperate on and feel good about, whereas the second is unlikely to leave anyone feeling good.

This also means taking some responsibility for recognizing and meeting your own needs. Our partners often fill a lot of our emotional needs, but––and I’ve been here myself––it’s really easy to slip up and imagine that it’s their duty to fill those needs. Look for other ways (within the bounds of your relationship, of course) to get your needs. If your partner’s plans with a platonic friend are leaving you lonely, text a friend and get out of the house. Sure, it won’t be exactly the same, but it’ll often be a lot better than dwelling on what you don’t have.

Finally––and take it from someone who’s been through a ton of jealousy––understand that it fades. Especially once you’ve shared your feelings and no longer feel like they’re trapped inside you, jealousy, like any other source of emotional strife, loses its edge with time. Jealousy sucks, undeniably, but if you manage it with open communication, an open heart and a willingness to cooperate, you can weather it without letting it wreck you.

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