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Understanding Jealousy and Envy in Relationships

How to Cope with Jealousy and Envy in Relationships

Jealousy and envy are complicated emotions that can seriously affect relationships. Whether you feel jealous of friends and loved ones, or you're trying to cope with someone else's jealousy, it's helpful to learn more about these complex feelings.

What Is the Difference?

Often confused for one another, jealousy and envy are actually very different. Envy describes a reaction to wanting what someone else has. You might envy someone's success, good looks or new car. Jealousy, on the other hand, describes an emotional reaction to feeling that someone might try to take what you feel should be yours.

Both envy and jealousy can occur within a relationship. You might envy your partner's friendships, social popularity or success. More commonly, people experience jealousy in response to interactions that occur between a partner and another person outside a relationship.

In its mild forms, jealousy is an instinctual reaction that makes us want to protect what is ours against potential threats. Unfortunately, these feelings can quickly get out of control and damage a relationship.

While it may be instinctual, jealousy is rarely productive. Generally, it stems from feelings of fear, insecurity and low self-esteem. When jealousy runs amok, it leads to acts of selfishness and controlling behavior. It can also cause people to perceive innocent actions inaccurately; for instance, a friendly exchange may be viewed as a sign of an affair.

Can They Co-Exist?

Sometimes, a person can feel envy and jealousy within a relationship. This often occurs in response to relationships within the relationship. For example, you may begin to feel envy because your partner seems to have a closer relationship with your children. This can also lead to jealousy if you feel their closeness threatens your relationship with your kids.

Why it's So Damaging

Jealous behavior can be very destructive within a relationship. Jealous partners tend to be needy and high maintenance. They also tend to require constant reassurance that no one is a threat to replace them. If left unchecked, jealousy can lead to distrust, controlling behavior and emotional or physical abuse.

It's not uncommon for jealous partners to closely monitor their partners, constantly confirming their whereabouts and looking into their texts and emails. This behavior can make the partner feel trapped and ultimately push them away. In the end, the jealous person often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that ultimately leads to the end of the relationship.

What You Can Do

Overcoming jealousy in a relationship requires trust. Unfortunately, this can be very difficult if one partner is insecure or has had their trust repeatedly betrayed in the past. Getting beyond jealousy takes communication, patience and changing of beliefs. Jealous behavior can be very difficult to control, and the underlying causes rarely go away on their own. Usually a sign of fear, insecurity and low self-esteem, jealousy often stems from past trauma or abandonment in previous relationships or during childhood.

When jealousy seems to be a pattern of behavior that is repeated in more than one relationship, therapy is often needed. Through therapy, you can learn to reign in your feelings of jealousy by learning how to cope with the causes that drive it. A therapist can also help you overcome feelings of envy, which typically stem from feelings of low self-worth and unrealistic expectations placed by yourself or, in some instances, demanding parents. Whatever the case, it's important to reach out for help if you feel envy or jealousy is damaging an important relationship.

Our caring therapists can help you and your family overcome life's greatest challenges. Contact us today!