Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: I am suffering from serious jealousy anxiety in my relationship. What is a fair ruling around husbands interacting with other women, such as talking, hanging out (alone), appropriate conversations, etc. My partner and I have gone back and forth and I think my judgement has become cloudy due to my jealousy issues. Do you have any suggestions for how to transform this jealous energy into love? —Y.R.
A: Let’s first acknowledge the level of ownership you’re taking of your own jealousy and anxiety. You’re already ahead of the curve by acknowledging your feelings and the role jealousy plays in your relationship.
You have a real opportunity to shift the role that jealousy plays in your relationship. Rather than jealousy becoming a roadblock to connection and intimacy, you can use this energy to fuel conversation about your insecurities.
Step one is to seek to understand where these insecurities stem from. Has this relationship struggled with betrayal in the past? Are you experiencing self-defeating thoughts that undermine your own self-worth? Is your emotional bank account overdrawn? Do you have a gut instinct that something isn’t quite right with someone in your husband’s life?
Step two is to have a heart-to-heart with your hubby about your newfound insight around jealousy. If jealousy is presented in a soft, gentle, and self-directed complaint rather than an accusation, your partner is much more likely to lean into your softness than curl away in defense.
Step three is to discuss a plan in the future. Knowing your vulnerabilities, how can the two of you manage the relationship boundaries with outsiders so that you are not constantly stepping on landmines that stir up discomfort and pain? According to The Gottman Institute, in order for a relationship to succeed, enduring vulnerabilities need to be understood and honored.
Here are a few practical tips for managing jealousy.
Tip #1: Practice radical transparency
I like to pretend that my partner is a silent observer of my interactions with people, including people I might find attractive. If he had a front row seat, would my body language or topic of conversation make my partner uncomfortable? If so, it’s probably inappropriate.
Tip #2: Read Not “Just Friends” by Shirley Glass
Shirley Glass is one of the world’s leading experts on infidelity. Read her book together and discuss what she describes as The Slippery Slope — a series of small, compounding boundaries that when crossed, can lead to betrayal.
Tip #3: Focus on your friendship
When your emotional bank account is overdrawn, it’s easy to misread your partner’s actions as malicious, even if they’re well intended. Remember the magic relationship ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions.
Tip #4: Meet your husband’s female friends and co-workers
Your imagination is likely far worse than reality.
Tip #5: See a therapist and get to the bottom of your jealousy
Relationships thrive when each partner is actively involved in showing up in the relationship 100 percent, which often means processing through enduring vulnerabilities. Check out the Gottman Referral Network for a listing of Gottman-trained therapists in your area.
Tip #6: Become clear about who“friends of the marriage” are
These are people who honor and validate the importance of your union by respecting the marital boundaries.
In short, you can transform your jealous energy into love by demonstrating understanding and respect for one another’s enduring vulnerabilities.
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