Dear Therapist: I love my boyfriend very much and feel like we are so compatible together. We talk about our plans to get married and I can see myself having kids with this person. With that said, there is a side of him that I struggle with. He can be an insanely jealous person and I am not sure where it is coming from because he has never been cheated on before in past relationships. He often makes comments about the fact that I have friends that are men. He also comments on the clothes to make sure that I am dressed appropriately. He wants to know what I am doing and with who. I really want to show him that he can trust me because I am committed to this relationship, but this keeps coming up. Why do men get so jealous sometimes and how can I deal with this problem? Is some level of jealousy healthy in relationships or is this a huge red flag?
Frame Therapist Yvette Osario weighs in:
The ability to feel a wide range of emotions is part of what makes us human. And when it comes to a romantic relationship, this may include jealousy. Though influenced by past experiences, thoughts, needs, and our belief system, emotions are not always factual. Meaning that we can feel emotions due to a specific reason, but it doesn't have to be a fact. For example, I can feel terrified when I see a dog running toward me, but the dog doesn't pose a threat to me. It's important to get curious about our emotions to understand them better. With that said, it's also important to remember that feelings do not equal behavior. You can feel jealous and still engage in respectful communication to understand one another's perspective. My first series of getting curious questions includes: how does jealousy show up in your relationship?
Diving deep into jealousy can be an opportunity to learn about one another and grow as a couple. You can do this by practicing "I Statements," which are structured as follows: I feel (name emotion) when you (name action). I need (state need or boundary).
This form of communication allows for expressing emotions without pointing fingers, which increases the likelihood of understanding and validating each other's reality. When we think of communication, we cannot leave out the importance of discussing expectations and setting boundaries. To navigate the way jealousy is expressed and manifested in the relationship, prioritize setting healthy and realistic expectations of one another. When discussing expectations, it's important to remember that perfect relationships don't exist. However, there may be some things that are non-negotiable for either or both of you, and that is okay. Dr. John Gottman talks about setting expectations here.
Jealousy does not always have to be a red flag. Still, the behavior associated with jealousy can indicate control issues or future abuse. Once again, I invite you to get curious about how impactful your partner's jealousy is on you and your relationship: How does it affect you emotionally and mentally? Does it lead to frequent arguments or disagreements? Does it ever escalate to verbal or physical abuse? Knowing that he comments on your friendships with other men and your clothing leads me to another round of getting curious questions. Are you expected to drop these friendships and change out of your clothes to appease him? Is there an expectation that you have to change your life to comfort his jealousy? If the answer is yes, it may be time to consider the potential presence of controlling behaviors in the relationship.
Once you take some time to reflect, and only if you feel ready, it will be essential to open up the discussion with your partner. Talking about it can lead to understanding and problem-solving. These are often difficult conversations because they require vulnerability, but they are not impossible. If you need additional support, I encourage you to seek professional help from a couple's therapist.
About the Therapist: Yvette Osario is a licensed MFT in California and the Associate Clinical Director at Rooted in Harmony Counseling. She's passionate about assisting couples in creating healthy relationships to improve their individual and their family's well-being.
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