Growing up, you probably learned that if a boy likes you, he should not pay attention to other girls. You probably thought that, if he likes you, he should want to spend all, or at least most, of his time with you. And when a boy acted jealous, you probably thought it was sweet, and proved that he really cared about you. This belief that jealousy is a sign of love is one of the most dangerous myths we are taught.
Jealousy does not show love, it shows insecurity. And often, it is tied to a desire to control, which can quickly become dangerous. One of the first tactics an abusive partner will use to control you is to isolate you from friends and family. In the beginning, this is often done through very subtle comments and actions, aimed at getting you to feel guilty for giving anyone else your time and attention.
For example, you may have plans to go out with friends. Your boyfriend may act upset and tell you that he misses you, and wishes you would spend more time with him. This doesn’t seem overtly jealous or controlling, but if it results in you changing your plans and staying home, he just learned that guilt is an effective tool to get you to change your behavior. And if he is someone who desires control, he will use this tactic again.
Of course, when it comes to your interaction with members of the opposite sex (in a heterosexual relationship), your partner may be even more jealous and selfish with your time and attention. For example, if you have a close male friend, your partner may be suspicious of your relationship. You may feel that you need to defend your loyalty to your boyfriend, and prove that your relationship with your friend is purely platonic. Eventually, as your boyfriend continues to be uncomfortable with your friendship, you may back away from your friend completely. And, that easily, you are starting to be isolated.
Eventually, your partner may start to question where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing. He may insist that you not speak to another man, because he believes it is disrespectful to him and your relationship. He may get angry with you if you talk to anyone else, and may blame you for his angry outbursts, and even violence. Jealousy can easily and quickly turn into rage, and eventually physical violence. In fact, many abusers justify their violent actions by saying you shouldn’t have been talking to another man. Jealousy and control are closely connected – and both very dangerous.
Of course, not all jealousy is intended as controlling or abusive. You may get jealous feelings at times, as well. We have all felt jealous at times. But, it is important to recognize that, even when your intentions are good, jealousy can be very toxic – to your relationship and to your own happiness. The key is learning to be aware of when you are feeling jealous and why you feel that way, and then choosing healthier responses.
When you feel jealous because their partner is spending time with or paying attention to someone else, it is almost always an indication that there is a lack of healthy communication in the relationship. It is important to establish healthy boundaries with your partner, to let them know what type of behavior you expect, and what makes you uncomfortable. And it is also important to be secure in yourself, in your worth, and in the knowledge that you deserve a partner who is loyal to you. Then, their interaction with someone else no longer defines how you feel about yourself, or even about the relationship.
When you feel secure in yourself, you will not be upset that your partner has close friendships and spends time with other people. In fact, you will encourage him to do so, because you will have a full life and meaningful friendships outside of your relationship also. If your partner crosses the line and acts inappropriately with someone else, you will feel confident in standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, and leaving the relationship if you feel you are being disrespected.
It’s that simple.
Jealousy is not a sign of love; it is a sign of insecurity, and is often used as a tool to control you. If you want a truly healthy relationship, it is important to be aware of your own jealousy, and work on your own security and boundaries. It is also important to recognize when your partner is being jealous and communicate that it bothers you. If your partner tries to limit who you interact with, and wants you to end friendships or back away from people who are important to you, understand that this is no loving – it is controlling. And control is the foundation of abuse.
Jealousy is one red flag of an abusive relationship. So, pay attention, and express your concerns early on. Remember, you deserve to be respected– all the time.