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How to Handle Jealousy in a Relationship

Recognizing hot and cool states can help you get to grips with feelings of jealousy

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Handling Jealousy

Martin Gill

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Let me start by saying that some elements of jealousy can be healthy in a relationship. It shows you or your partner value each other and wishes to protect your relationship from outside threats or rivals.

Unhealthy jealousy on the other hand gives rise to fears and feelings of panic and anxiety. Questioning and constantly feeling suspicious about your partner’s interactions may lead to a more serious crossroads in the relationship.

If you have a core belief that you are likely to be abandoned or that the love you receive and give is not to be trusted, you are more likely to experience unhealthy jealousy.

The root of these more problematic jealous and anxious feelings may have been a previous heartbreak or can stem from you or your partner’s early trust and safety experience whilst growing up. If you have a core belief that you are likely to be abandoned or that the love you receive and give is not to be trusted, you are more likely to experience unhealthy jealousy. If this is the case, listen to Pam Custer's'Attachment Styles' course on Paired or find a skilled therapist or health professional to discuss this with.

Hot Vs Cool States

If you or your partner are prone in any way to unhealthy jealousy, it's important to recognize hot and cool states as a way of handling the feelings that might arise.

Hot states occur when we feel threatened. Cool states are felt when we feel secure and safe

As with many relationship problems you’ll know that in a hot state, when angry, and voices are raised, it’s almost impossible to listen to each other. These hot states often fill our bodies with adrenaline and defensive patterns such as fight, flight, and freeze. Insecure feelings arise turning into blame, aggression, or withdrawal.

In an unhealthy jealousy hot state, we trick our minds to believe that in our partner’s eyes we are unloveable and that our partner must therefore be interested in someone else.

In cool, untriggered states we are more relaxed and secure. Ambivalent feelings and ideas such as feeling rivalrous can be managed and result in a more friendly outcome.

Even if we are generally secure, hot states can still occur for us when general self-esteem stressors are around. For example, missing a job promotion or hearing about someone else's success can trigger self-deprecating thoughts about ourselves.

Seeing an attractive stranger talking to our partner at such a time will sometimes awaken further self-doubts about whether we are good enough, and these thoughts can turn to unhealthy jealousy thoughts and behaviors. Until we can find the cooler emotional state to share these fears with someone, they will start to control us.

3 Ways to Handle Jealousy

  1. Identify your stressors.The first thing to do if you are prone to be triggered into these hot states and unhealthy jealousy patterns is to take some time to identify your stressors around self-worth.
  2. Take time out.If you feel anxious or upset, take time out. It can take around three hours for your body to filter away any adrenaline.
  3. Write it down.Once you are feeling calmer or in the cooler zone try to write down one or two of these background worries. They may be around self-image or a feeling of inadequacy or something hurtful said by someone in the heat of the moment. Finally, write down reminders and affirmations about the loving actions or words your partner has shared with you in the past. about how you are valued and loved for who you are.

You may wish to share some of these reflections with your partner and perhaps talk about getting additional support if it’s needed.

Rather than ruminating on your fears about losing each other, in the cool state remind yourself of how your relationship is actually ok and how you either feel loved or are working through your doubts to reconnect with those feelings in a lasting way.

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Further reading

About the writer

Martin Gill

Martin is a qualified and registered UK psychotherapist, working in private practice with couples and families.

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