Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy. I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do. No shame, no blame, no judgements. If you’re ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com. If you want to learn more about the coaching packages I offer and my current pricing, you can find all of that information on the services page of my website. I look forward to working with you!
Okay – today’s episode is sort of a continuation of the theme of transitioning from an affair relationship to a non-affair relationship, but it’s also just an episode about jealousy, which can of course occur in the context of any relationship.
Jealousy is interesting in a great many respects. For one thing, it’s an emotion that many of us don’t like to feel at all. And for another thing, there are a lot of definitions of jealousy and suggestions for how to deal with jealousy out there that, to put it in the most highly technical terms possible, are kind of whack. In my opinion. But that could be said of a lot of things. If you Google just about anything related to relationships and emotions, you’re bound to find a whole LOT of information which may or may not be all that helpful.
And that is a cautionary statement, both very generally and very specifically. Sometimes when I talk with new clients they tell me that they’ve been going crazy because they’ve been Googling and Googling everything they can think of Googling about infidelity, and they keep finding all of these articles that tell them that they’re doing something terrible and they’re a bad person and they’re going crazy and feeling really bad about themselves. Or perhaps it isn’t that – perhaps they keep Googling and Googling in search of answers of some sort, and even though they aren’t finding answers that seem helpful to them, they just can’t stop searching because they think the answers they’re seeking have to be out there on the internet SOMEWHERE.
And of course, my heart goes out to people when they tell me this. When we think we have a big bad scary problem, we often want some kind of reassurance or support or assistance. Fair enough! But sometimes when we search for those things, we encounter resources that are anything but helpful or reassuring. When we don’t know where to look, we just don’t know where to look, and we may find some pretty awful resources in the process of searching for support that’s actually going to be helpful to us. And that’s why it’s SO IMPORTANT to be judicious. If reading a whole bunch of crazy articles about how bad infidelity is isn’t helping you, it may be time to stop doing that. It may be kind of like not being able to turn away from a car crash, I know. But we CAN allow the urge to keep scrolling and clicking without acting on it. We don’t HAVE to keep searching online even though it might SEEM like we have to. We may believe that the answers we need are out there if we just search a little longer, but I can guarantee you that the answers you are seeking are within you, not out there on the internet somewhere. You just have to learn how to locate them within you.
Anyway, if you were to Google jealousy, which I am not recommending you do, you will find a lot of “interesting” ideas about what the definition of jealousy is, and what causes jealousy, and how jealousy works, and how we can stop feeling jealousy. And some elements of these ideas might be somewhat useful, but I think a lot of them make the experience of jealousy and how to handle it more complicated rather than less complicated, and why would we want that?
My perspective is that it’s most appropriate and helpful to regard jealousy as an emotion, or a feeling. And the definition of feelings, or emotions, that I operate from is that they are sensations in our body which are generated by our thinking. The internet – or some of the perspectives that can be found on the internet – like to say that jealousy is actually a combination of emotions, but I don’t agree with this. We may experience multiple emotions in close proximity to one another, but an emotion is AN emotion. Jealousy is jealousy. It isn’t jealousy AND anger. Or jealousy AND fear. Or jealousy AND helplessness. No. Jealousy is jealousy, anger is anger, helplessness is helplessness. We may experience them as occurring close together, for sure, but if we want to learn how to relate to our emotions in a simpler way, it is very helpful to view them as distinct.
And just like our other emotions, jealousy is generated by our thinking. We tend to think that our circumstances create our feelings, but they don’t. Our thinking about our circumstances creates our feelings, not the circumstances in and of themselves. So in other words, your partner talking to some attractive person at a party does not MAKE you jealous. There is not a direct causal relationship between their actions and your emotions. It’s what you THINK about them talking to an attractive person at a party that determines your feelings. If you think they might want to run off with them, you may well feel jealous. If you think it looks like they’re having an interesting conversation, you might feel mildly pleased. If you think your partner is probably talking about how amazing YOU are, and how much they love their relationship with you, you might feel elated.
The feeling of jealousy usually comes from thinking that something we care about or value could be taken away from us and enjoyed by someone else. Or thinking that something we like having is threatened by someone else. Some people think of jealousy as a feeling that comes from wanting something that someone else has, but others would say that that isn’t actually jealousy, it’s envy. I want to suggest that in practice, the distinctions between jealousy and envy can get really blurry. A lot of people experience jealousy and envy to be very similar, or think of their experiences of jealousy and envy as being very similar, or even the same.
So, again, the feeling that we know as jealousy usually comes from thinking that something that we care about or value or enjoy could be taken away from us and enjoyed by someone else. And a lot of people have these kinds of thoughts in relationship to their romantic relationship, or romantic relationships, for all kinds of reasons, whether or not infidelity has been a known factor in the relationship equation.
And before I say anything else, I want to emphasize that jealousy is a normal human emotion. Just like all of our other emotions. We have collectively valorized a certain set of human emotions, and pathologized another set, but no human emotion is inherently bad – or good. What we DO from certain emotional states may get a bad reputation, but that doesn’t mean the emotion itself is a problem. For example, I would be the first person to say that stalking behaviors ought to be considered problematic. When we’re feeling jealous and we respond to jealousy by stalking someone, that a) we might not want to do or keep doing, and b) is something that we as a society have – rightfully, in my opinion – decided is problematic. But just because people do things like stalk the object of their affections when they’re feeling jealous doesn’t mean that jealousy is categorically bad, or is an emotion that we should try to avoid feeling, or should deny feeling if we do feel it.
When we really value a relationship, when we really want to keep a relationship going in a particular way, we may kinda fear the loss of that relationship. We may think something along the lines of, “This is a really good thing I’ve got going with this person, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.” Or maybe something kind of like, “This seems too good to be true, so I’d better be on the lookout for signs of danger so I’m prepared for the worst.” Sometimes we assume the other shoe is going to drop, and we put ourselves on high alert for signs that that’s happening. And if we’re thinking these kinds of things, our brains may be on the lookout for potential threats to our relationship, or relationships, and may also be very preoccupied with attempting to figure out ways to de-fuse these supposed threats.
If we’re in this mode of thinking, we may easily start to believe that ANYONE is a potential threat to our relationship. We could get the idea in our head that our partner is going to run off with the next attractive person they see. And if we believe that’s true, we’re probably going to feel a LOT of jealousy, and that usually isn’t a whole lot of fun.
Here is a specific example of how jealousy can arise in a relationship that has transitioned from an affair relationship to a non-affair relationship.
The relationship may be WONDERFUL, and both parties involved may be really happy with how things are going, and both people may be so excited that they get to be together without having any kind of an infidelity factor in the relationship. Everything may be really, really lovely and great.
EXCEPT. One party, or maybe both parties in the couple just can’t shake the feeling that maybe their partner is going to cheat again.
Important sidenote: I know that not all relationships are composed of two people! And I recognize that I totally foreground the experiences of people who do relationships in the form of couples on this podcast. And I want all of you who don’t organize your relationship life around the unit of a couple to know that I know you’re out there. I see you, and I’m sorry that I may effectively elide your experiences though the way I talk about the things that I talk about. Okay, that’s the end of the sidenote.
To continue with what I was saying, it may SEEM really logical to believe that because your relationship with your former affair partner who is now just your partner started out with infidelity being a factor, your partner could cheat on you. They’ve done it before in some capacity, so they could do it again. And of course, some people are convinced that not only COULD their partner cheat again, it is LIKELY that their partner will cheat again since they’ve done it before.
Now, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that some people DO cheat multiple times. Some people do the things that we consider “cheating” repeatedly. Some people do it because they WANT to, and they consciously choose to, for various different reasons. And some people do it less consciously, and don’t really like that they’re doing it, but can’t quite figure out how to not do it. I’m certainly not dismissing the fact that this happens.
But this is true in ANY relationship. If we get involved with someone, it is possible that they will cheat on us, whether they’ve cheated before or not. We may get it in our head that it’s MORE LIKELY that someone who has cheated before will cheat again, and maybe we’ve read some stuff on the internet that assures us that this is definitely the case. RIGHT?
What I want to suggest is that we have the opportunity to decide, at the outset of any relationship, how we want to approach the possibility that someone will cheat on us, regardless of what our partner’s history looks like, and regardless of what the origin story of our relationship with them looks like.
As I said a moment ago, whenever we get involved with someone, there is a chance our partner might cheat on us. So how do we want to orient ourselves to that possibility? We could decide not to participate in a relationship if we think the likelihood of our partner cheating is pretty high. We can never know for sure what’s going to happen in the future, but if we think that the chances of our partner cheating are high, we COULD just say, “You know what? I just don’t think I’m going to continue with this.” Let’s say we’re involved with someone who has told us that they have cheated on everyone they’ve ever been in a serious relationship with and they’ve lied about it every time. Maybe we think this bodes badly, and we decide we want to cut our losses and go. That’s your prerogative, of course. Or, you could proceed with the relationship, decide what your tolerance is for cheating, should it occur, and focus on enjoying the heck out of your person with all your might.
So often, though, we respond to the possibility that someone might cheat on us by thinking about it in really unproductive ways. We obsess about the possibility that someone might cheat, and we indulge in worrying about that, rather than accepting it as a possibility and deciding what we’re going to do about that.
And we may think that thinking about the possibility that someone might cheat serves a purpose! We may think that it HELPS us to be highly alert to the possibility our partner might cheat, and highly protective of our vulnerable heart.
But is it?
I’m going to suggest that it probably isn’t all that helpful in any way to indulge in thinking about your partner cheating on you just because it is a possibility, in the abstract. This is true if your relationship began as an affair, or in the context of some sort of infidelity situation, and it’s true if it didn’t. When we allow ourselves to mentally run amok thinking about our partner cheating on us, guess what? We usually feel jealous. And number one, that doesn’t feel good. Most of us do not LIKE the way jealousy feels. And feeling jealousy is definitely not going to kill us, but it probably isn’t something we want to saddle ourselves with MORE of.
Not only that, if we’re feeling jealous, and we aren’t taking any responsibility for digesting that feeling, or managing the thoughts that created that feeling, we are quite likely to engage with our partner in ways that do not help us create the kind of relationship we want to have with them.
If we’re feeling jealous and we don’t know how to deal with it, we may act as if it is our partner’s fault that we’re jealous. We may tell them who they can and can’t spend time with. We may ask them a lot of questions about what they’re doing, and with whom. We may pout and sulk if they mention spending time with people we think they could possibly be attracted to. We may get angry with them if we think their behavior has “caused” us to feel jealous. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t, but if we think it has, we are likely to do all manner of crazy shit. To use the technical term for it. And we may withdraw from our partner, in an effort to protect ourselves and our feelings from the hurt that we imagine may be coming.
And doing this kind of stuff, participating in our relationship in this way, probably won’t feel all that great for us. But not only that, our partner may not love it when we do these kinds of things. If you get the idea in your head that your partner is cheating on you and you try to relieve yourself of your jealousy by demanding access to all of their devices, or telling them that they can’t spend time with any of their friends, or make any new friends, or whatever, they might not like that. They may feel bewildered by your actions, or resentful, or angry. And they may act upon those feelings in ways that you don’t particularly like, and then we’re off to the races, and tragic dynamic is born. Even when two people love each other so much, a relationship can easily be shot in the foot when one or both parties doesn’t know how to deal with their jealousy.
So what’s the solution here? How can we embrace the fact that jealousy happens, AND deal with it in a way that doesn’t totally derail us from creating the kind of relationships we want to have?
The first thing we’ve got to do is recognize that it is our THINKING, not our partner’s behavior – past, present, or future – that creates our jealousy. No one MAKES us feel jealous. Even if our partner has a history of cheating, or has a habit of engaging in what we consider flirtatious behavior, it is not their past or current behavior that makes us feel how we feel. It’s what we think about their behavior that matters.
If we think that flirting equates with cheating, or could very possibly lead to cheating, we’re going to feel very different feelings than if we think flirting equates with connecting with people in a fun and harmless way. Now, you have every right to not like it if your partner has a flirtatious streak, and I’ll say more about that in a moment, but it is your THOUGHTS about them doing whatever you’re doing that create your jealousy, not the objective facts of their behavior. So your job is to take responsibility for what you are thinking. That doesn’t mean you have to change your thinking, but you do have to own it.
The second thing we’ve got to do is be willing to feel jealousy. Sorry. I don’t love the feeling of jealousy myself, but it is a normally occurring human emotion, and it’s something that all of us are eligible to feel. For me, the immediate physical experience of feeling the emotion of jealousy kind of feels like there’s a pit in my stomach, or maybe my solar plexus. And my heart rate speeds up, and it feels harder to breathe. Totally yucky!
But here’s the thing with feelings. If we are willing to feel them, if we are willing to allow the physical experience of an emotion to be present with us, we can move through them. Or they can move through us. And if we can do this, we don’t have to react to our feelings in the same way. If we see our dearly beloved talking to someone charming and attractive and in a split second we find ourselves CONVINCED that they’re falling in love with that person and they’re going to leave us, we can allow the surge of jealousy that may follow that thought INSTEAD of running over to our person and telling them to stop talking to the hot human they’ve been chatting with.
When emotion is high, intelligence is low. When we are in the throes of jealousy, we may not be able to think straight. And thus way may “choose” – to use that word lightly – to act on our jealousy in ways that don’t end up being all that helpful.
If we can let the jealousy move through us, or us through it, and come to a place of relative calm, we can THEN decide what, if anything, we want to do about the situation that occasioned our jealousy.
Maybe, after our emotions have dissipated, we realize that we are not at all bothered by the conversation our partner had with that charming, attractive person that, upon our initial, default thought, we felt very jealous of. Maybe we decide the situation is no big deal to us AT ALL.
But, maybe we decide that it really does bother us when our partner, say, starts licking the ear of the person they’re conversing with. Maybe they have a habit of doing that, and they don’t think of that as flirting, but we do, and we really don’t like it when they do that to other people at parties.
Here’s the thing, people. Everyone has different ideas of what counts as flirting. Everyone has different ideas about what you can’t or shouldn’t do with other people if you’re in a committed relationship with someone else. Everyone has different ideas about what counts as cheating. If your person thinks it’s okay for them to lick other people’s ears at parties, they’re allowed to think that. If they think that licking people’s ears does not count as flirting, they are allowed to think that.
But, you are allowed to not like this, and disagree with them, and you are allowed to tell them so. You are totally allowed to make requests of your partner. It is totally legitimate for you to say, “Honey bunny, I really don’t like it when you lick other people’s ears. I only want you to lick my ear. Ears. Would you do that for me? Would you be willing to limit your ear-licking in this way?” This is something you can ask of them.
HOWEVER, there are two very important things to know if you are going to make this request. The first is that even if your partner says yes, sure, I will never lick anyone’s ear other than yours again, this will not necessarily relieve you of your jealousy. You could constantly obsess about whether or not they are actually refraining from licking people’s ears at parties. You could wonder if maybe their ear-licking behavior has morphed into them doing something ELSE that you don’t like the idea of them doing. If we’re looking for reasons to feel jealous, we will find reasons.
The second thing that’s important for you to know is that your partner might say, no, I am never going to stop licking other people’s ears. That’s just a thing I do, and ain’t no way I’m stopping just because you want me to. For better or worse, that is their choice to make! It’s not incumbent upon your partner to change so that you don’t have to feel jealous.
For the record, let me just say that I am all in favor of making compromises in the service of our relationships. Compromises are GREAT, when they are made willingly. But sometimes people don’t want to compromise, even when we think we’re asking for something that’s totally reasonable. And the we get to choose: do we want to change our thinking, or do we want to change our circumstances? If we don’t want to be with someone who licks other people’s ears, we can leave our relationship with the ear-licker. But if we really, really, really love our ear-licking partner, and they are not amenable to our request for a behavior modification, we might want to explore the possibility of thinking about their behavior differently so that it doesn’t have to be such a big problem for us. OR we can change our thinking about our jealousy. Maybe they lick people’s ears and we don’t like it, and we feel totally jealous every time we see them do it, but we decide that our experience of feeling jealousy just isn’t going to be a big deal. We decide that we’re going to orient ourselves to our jealousy in a radically different way.
Sometimes we think that jealousy needs to go away in order for us to feel okay in our relationship.
But that’s only true if we let it be, which we often do. We often let jealousy get in the way of feeling okay in our relationship, and from enjoying all of the great things about it.
Jealousy doesn’t have to be a big problem. If we can take responsibility for it and learn to handle it effectively, it does not have to be a big deal. If we clean up our thinking, we can experience less jealousy, and if we learn how to handle the immediate experience of the emotion of jealousy, we can tolerate it when it does arise, which it may.
Okay. I know there’s a lot more we could say about jealousy, and I know that dealing with our own experiences of jealousy can be exquisitely uncomfortable. If you want my help finding relief from the jealousy that is plaguing you, let’s work together. The first step is to schedule an introductory coaching session with me which you can do through my website, mariemurphyphd.com. I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.
All right everyone, thank you all so much for listening. Have a great week. Bye for now.