By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Establishing and maintaining trust with your partner can be a huge challenge if you’re a prone towards jealous feelings. There are many reasons why you might experience jealousy including past betrayals, insecurity, and fear of losing love. The first step in overcoming jealousy is self-awareness. These feelings won’t magically disappear and they can spell disaster for your intimate relationship.
As an adult child of divorced parents and a woman who has experienced divorce, I know firsthand the pain and damage that jealousy can produce. Over the past several years, while interviewing women for my book “Daughters of Divorce,” I’ve learned that being possessive and jealous can put a wedge between partners because once trust is broken, it can be severely damaging to a relationship and difficult to overcome.
Jealousy is the polar opposite of trusting someone. Taking ownership of your jealous feelings will allow you to face them head on and reduce them. Tackling a tendency to be jealous takes a commitment, practice, and skill.
An inability to trust a partner may take on several forms – ranging from feeling they are dishonest or secretive; or doubting they are going to keep their promises or be dependable. Often people are jealous of a person who they feel will replace them. The bottom line is that insecurity and fear of loss are usually at the root of jealous feelings.
According to Jane Greer, Ph.D. author of How Could You Do This To Me? Learning to Trust After Betrayal, a confident person in a healthy relationship should be able to trust their partner without reservations. She writes “People feel jealous because they’re afraid, insecure, threatened, or scared to lose someone they love.”
Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. For instance, if you grew up with one or more unfaithful parents, you might approach romantic relationships cautiously and being close to someone might bring out your insecurities.
Working through feelings of mistrust is likely to be an uphill battle if you’ve been cheated on in the past or experienced one of both of your parents’ infidelity.
For instance, Cara, a thirty-something teacher has difficulty trusting Brian because her marriage ended due to infidelity and broken promises. She started dating Brian after a brief courtship and often reacts with fear and suspicion when he gets home a little late or there’s even the slightest inconsistency in his story. If he receives a text or phone message from a female colleague, she finds that jealousy rears its ugly head and she usually won’t give him a chance to explain his side of the story.
Cara has a tendency to blow things out of proportion when she says “You’re always running late and you it feels like you’re more interested in your co-workers than me.” In the past, Brian became angry at Cara’s jealous comments and accusations, but he has learned to pause and be empathetic. He’s also developed a new habit of calling when he’s delayed at work and reassuring her.
Rather than blaming Cara and accusing her of being insecure, Brian is showing Cara through consistency in his words and actions – showing her that he is there for her. Likewise, Cara is learning to take ownership of her feelings and reactions. She has begun to examine her thought processes. She’s learned to pause and reflect, asking herself: Is my self-doubt and mistrust grounded in reality or a fragment of her past? She must be willing to let go of self-defeating thoughts – to free herself from the shadows of her past.
Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life.
Here are 7 smart ways to deal with jealous feelings toward your partner:
- Gather information and be willing to take a leap of faith. Don’t assume the worst of your partner if you don’t have all the information.
- Trust you intuition and instincts. Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags such as inconsistencies between your partner’s words and behavior.
- Examine how many of your mistrustful feelings stem from your past or present relationships. When you become aware of your jealous or mistrustful feelings toward your partner, stop yourself and ask: “Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it related to my past?”
- Take responsibility for your own reactions and focus on changing your mistrustful mindset. Be vulnerable and let your partner know if you have insecurities based on your past and tell him or her that you’re ready to work on your trust issues.
- Believe in your partner. If your partner lets you down, don’t always assume that a failure in competence is intentional – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
- Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of rebuilding trust and don’t issue ultimatums such as “I’m out of here” or “This relationship is over” before you’ve collected all of the facts.
- Challenge mistrustful feelings and practice being more trusting in small steps. Learning to trust is a skill that can be nurtured over time. With courage and persistence, you can learn to extend trust to a partner who is deserving of it.
Trust is more of an acquired ability than a feeling. Many people have become jaded because their trust has been betrayed and they have adapted by putting up a wall. However, intimate relationships afford us the opportunity to rebuild trust. Every person is born with the propensity to trust others but through life experiences, you may have become less trusting as a form of self-protection.
Ultimately, extending trust to a partner and dealing with jealous feelings in a constructive way can lead to a more satisfying relationship because trust is the foundation of deep, enduring love.
One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It’s about believing that he or she has your best interests at heart.
You can learn to trust your instincts and judgment when you honestly deal with your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that were made that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.
Fortunately, you can turn the hurts from past betrayals into lessons. Author Ian Lawton advises us: “Give trust mindfully; aware that there are no guarantees and there is always the chance you will be hurt again. In your calmest of moments, you know that the risk to keep your heart closed is nothing in comparison to the joy of sharing love.”
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.