Jealousy in a relationship has made for some of the best songs of all time (who among us hasn't drunkenly scream-sang the words to "Dancing On My Own" at least twice?).
But within the actual relationship, admitting the tiniest feelings of jealousy — or hearing that your partner feels jealous — can feel incredibly uncomfortable, even off-putting.
But if that immediate pang of insecurity when you see a hot person check out your partner is such a universal feeling, why is it so reviled? Dr. Robert L. Leahy, author of The Jealousy Cure, says that jealousy exists everywhere – even your dog can feel it towards the new puppy you just brought home. "It will be part of your relationship at times," says Leahy. “If you deny it, you’re not going to be able to cope with it very well.” Here are seven ways to deal with (and even embrace) this inevitable emotion:
1. Know that jealousy (in small doses) is actually a good sign
Jealousy doesn't just happen without reason; it's always about more than your partner's ex-liking their beach Insta. “When you first start dating someone, you don’t have that much investment or that much to lose," says Dr. Leahy. "As the relationship progresses and you become more connected, you’re more likely to feel jealousy in the relationship. The partner is jealous because this relationship matters."
If you're committed to this person at all, you will have bursts of jealousy, no matter how chill or rational you want to be. But that's a good thing because it means you care about the relationship working. Recognizing and accepting that this is normal and moving on is so much healthier than beating yourself up over it or pretending it never happens.
2. Be supportive of each other's feelings
If you can admit that jealousy is natural, it's equally important that your S.O. can too. The last thing you need is someone lashing out at you the moment you ask them to quickly text you if they stay out late. “When you’re in a committed relationship, you sacrifice some freedom," says Dr. Leahy. "You have some responsibility for how the other person feels.”
Some of the bad ways to deal with a jealous partner are telling them "It's your problem!" or "I haven't done anything!", as if that could actually calm your nerves. "It’s like if a child is crying, and the mother says ‘Stop crying! What’s wrong with you?’ – that never works," says Dr. Leahy. "What works is comfort, and if you think of jealousy as a way of crying out, a response to that can be validation, saying ‘I understand where you’re coming from.’” You have to be down to listen to ways you can make your partner feel more at ease, and then decide if their requests are doable. And you should expect nothing less in return.
3. Set aside jealousy time
If you're feeling overwhelming jealousy toward your partner's attractive desk mate or ex-girlfriend (and you know you 1000 percent have nothing to worry about), there are exercises you can do to deal with it.
"'Jealousy time' is an appointment the person makes with their jealous thoughts," says Dr. Leahy. "If you have a jealous thought at 10 a.m., you write it down and then put it off until jealousy time." Basically, you spend 20 very self-aware minutes letting yourself fully concentrate on your feelings, and then you move on. "By the time you get to jealousy time, you are either no longer that concerned or it is the same thought you have had numerous times," he adds. And if you want to go a step further, you can do what Dr. Leahy refers to as the "boredom technique" – repeating a thought such as "my partner could cheat on me" over and over again for 10 minutes until you're literally bored with it. (Again, this really only works if you're confident that your partner's loyal and there's no real basis to your feelings).
4. Lower your expectations
“Look at your core beliefs, like ‘my partner should never be attracted to anyone else or be flirtatious' or 'I should always know what my partner’s doing,’" says Dr. Leahy. "The rules people may have can make them more prone to jealousy.”
If you have highly romanticized ideals for your S.O., you up the chances of you getting jealous by a lot.
5. Reevaluate toxic habits
The very actions you think will reassure you (like interrogating your partner, checking their phone, stalking their ex on social media) will make you more anxious if you never actually find anything. “These coping strategies drive the very person you’re trying to connect to away,” says Dr. Leahy. And while he acknowledges that, yes, sometimes your partner is a liar and you'd never learn about the cheating any other way than glancing at their Facebook messages, you still have to make sure surveillance doesn't become an actual habit that slowly takes over your life.
6. Trust your gut
Of course, sometimes you feel jealous or just vaguely uneasy about a situation, and there's more to it than you just being in love with your partner. “Jealousy is an alarm system," says Dr. Leahy. "It can be a signal to be assertive to set limits or maybe confront [your partner].”
If your partner grabbing drinks with their ex without you makes you uncomfortable, you have a right to voice a concern and not be met with "We're just friends! Relax!" And you should absolutely be able to explain what things will bug you early on, like never being invited to hang with their friends or not hearing from them for multiple days. Being told you're paranoid for setting reasonable boundaries is a form of gaslighting, even if your partner really isn't cheating on you.
7. Know that betrayal will not end you
“Research shows that people who fear they’ll have no alternative if the relationship broke up are far more likely to be jealous,” says Dr. Leahy. Codependency makes this relationship something that cannot fail in your mind, so you're more likely to ruminate and obsess over any perceived threats.
Jealousy can help you realize how much a partner matters to you, or help you pick up on potential red flags. What it cannot do is full-on prevent your partner from sending flirty DMs or cheating on you with a coworker. All you can do is your best in communicating your worries and making sure your jealousy isn't consuming you. Everything else, you can't control – but you can definitely survive.