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Wednesday
Jul272011

What Should I Do About My Jealousy?

A reader recently asked: My husband and I have a new friend that is female and single. My husband texts, calls, and visits with her even when I'm not there. I am feeling very jealous. I can tell he likes her but he doesn't think I should be jealous. She is my friend too so it's awkward. What should I do? I hate feeling jealous.

Jealousy is a complicated topic with a lot of moving parts – it is an interpersonal situation that involves the jealous individual, his or her relational partner, and a potentially threatening rival. Researchers agree that jealousy also involves three, related components: (1) emotions, including anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety, (2) thoughts, such as suspicions or worries about the situation, and (3) behaviors, which involve any way that the jealousy is “acted out,” including communicating it to your partner or to the rival.1

It is clear from your question that you are experiencing all three of these components. As an interpersonal communication researcher, I focus on the behavioral aspect of jealousy and I believe that it is the most important component – relationships and other individuals are, after all, only affected by your jealousy once you let them know that you are jealous. You have clearly expressed your jealousy to your partner because you mention that he doesn’t think you should be jealous. What you didn’t note – and what is potentially very important – is how you communicated your jealousy. Did you explain your feelings calmly? Did you yell and scream or throw things? Did you become very quiet and deny feeling jealous? There are many different ways to express jealousy and research consistently finds that the most effective way to do it is integratively, that is, by being direct, but expressing yourself calmly and constructively explaining how you feel and what you are thinking. In fact, the more romantic partners use integrative communication to express their jealousy, the more satisfied and committed they are in their relationships.2   

Another way to think about your jealousy situation is by considering how your partner is responding to your jealousy. His reaction will depend on how you communicate that jealousy to him, and again, the integrative expression of jealousy is recommended. Research has determined that, when jealous individuals use positive, direct jealousy messages, their partners are less likely to be uncertain about the jealous individuals’ behavior.3 Their partners are also more likely to experience positive emotions and respond with similar, positive messages, including trying to come to an understanding about the jealousy situation.4

Jealousy should not be belittled – you are experiencing it; right or wrong, perceived or accurate, it does need to be managed in some way. And you are not alone – a 2008 survey of members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy found that romantic jealousy was a major problem for one-third of their therapy clients, which suggests jealousy can have significant effects on romantic relationships.5 My recommendation is to continue to monitor the situation, communicate your jealousy to your partner in a positive, integrative manner, and take his perspective into account. A little humor might help too (e.g., joking to your partner and friend that she is his “other wife” might diffuse the situation a bit). Good luck!

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1Pfeiffer, S. M., & Wong, P. T. P. (1989). Multidimensional jealousy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6, 181-196.

2Bevan, J. L. (2008). Experiencing and communicating romantic jealousy: Questioning the investment model. Southern Communication Journal, 73, 42-67.

3Bevan, J. L., & Tidgewell, K. D. (2009). Relational uncertainty as a consequence of partner jealousy expression. Communication Studies, 60, 305-323.

4Yoshimura, S. M. (2004). Emotional and behavioral responses to romantic jealousy expressions. Communication Reports, 17, 85-101.

5White, G. L. (2008). Romantic jealousy: Therapists’ perceptions of causes, consequences, and treatments. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 7, 210-229.

Dr. Jennifer Bevan - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Bevan's research interests center upon interpersonal and health communication, including the negotiation of difficult interactions such as ongoing conflict, jealousy, sexual resistance, uncertainty, and topic avoidance, as well as related psychological and physical health correlates of these experiences.

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Reader Comments (1)

I disagree with the advice to joke that the single female friend is the 'other wife'. That seems a bit tempting fate in case there be real cause for concern.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchasmodai
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