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Why Jealousy May Be Sabotaging Your Relationships

A lot of people think that couples counseling is only for the worst of relationships.

Most people don't realize how helpful it can be to work with an experienced relationship counselor. An emotionally focused couple therapist, or EFT therapist, is someone that is a relationship expert. An Emotionally Focused Therapist may be able to improve your relationship, change habits, and find new ways to communicate.

In relationships, jealousy can be a silent killer and can fester until problems seem insurmountable.

Relationship counseling and couples therapy is a great way to heal from those issues because the therapist will work each of as partners to explore what jealousy means for both of you.

Most of us have issues in our relationships from time to time, but we're not always as diligent as we should be when seeking help.

Studies have shown that the best way to start on a path of healthy communication is by examining how we use emotions like jealousy and anger in our relationships.

Is Jealousy Sabotaging Your Relationships?

Jealousy is a difficult emotion to deal with, and it can come up in any relationship. The problem is that jealousy often leads us into an endless cycle of checking behavior (for example, going through phone records), making things exponentially worse.

It starts innocent enough: You might find yourself snooping through phone messages or wanting to check in on your significant other.

You might feel like this is the only way to be sure that they're not cheating on you. This is particularly the case with those who have been cheated on. Truth be told, it's healthy to have some jealousy from time to time in a relationship.

If this sounds like you, your relationship may be causing you to feel insecure.

When Jealousy Becomes Toxic

It's important to point out that having a positive view of jealousy isn't the same as realizing that a little bit of jealousy is completely normal in relationships. Every person in a relationship may feel jealousy at one time or another.

In an article called "12 Red Flags Reveal Your Partner Struggles With Toxic Jealousy" from the Power of Positivity blog, there are some behaviors to be aware of that may signal negative patterns. These patterns include the following:

1. Uses derogatory language towards you or an entire gender 2. Monitors social media 3. Wants to know where you are every minute of the day 4. Yells and/or becomes violent during arguments 5. They’re very opinionated about everything 6. Avoids your family and friends 7. There are specifically defined roles in the bedroom 8. Has horrible mood fluctuations 9. Strong opinions on how you should dress 10. Complains about parents and raisings 11. They’re easily offended 12. They’re a different person with friends than with you

Unfortunately, these signs are not always obvious to someone in a toxic relationship. In many cases, the patterns take place over the course of months or even years.

What does a positive point of view of jealousy mean?

A positive view of jealousy means thinking that it's almost romantic. It means thinking that no matter how strong or destructive this jealousy is, it's a sign of how much your partner loves you, or you love your partner. That's a very dangerous game.

According to psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein, "Minor jealousy is common and normal in relationships, but jealousy that involves controlling behaviors, threats, or even violence is definitely cause for concern."

With couples are caught in this type of negative pattern, there may be a mistaken notion that intense jealousy shows them that their partner loves them. In this type of behavior, couples may desperately rationalize unacceptable jealous behaviors by calling them "caring" or "love."

In more serious situations, jealousy can take a darker tone and lead to more serious behaviors, such as physical or emotional abuse.

Obviously, the idea that controlling behavior means your partner loves you is a distorted sense of how a functional relationship should work.

3 Reasons Why We Get Jealous in Relationships

Though it may be a sign the person needs to work on their own self-confidence and insecurities, jealousy could be a symptom of bigger relationship problems that can be resolved.

The feeling of jealousy often stems from three sources:

1) Lack of self-confidence

Having a poor self-image of yourself, whether you constantly criticize yourself or believe that you are not as good as others, will lead to a toxic surge of envy. Not being able to value yourself for who you are and what you have to offer will see you feeling unworthy of love and affection. If we constantly hold other people in such high esteem yet hate ourselves, we'll inevitably always compare and torture ourselves.

Now, this doesn't mean that one needs to be arrogant. It does, however, mean that being "comfortable" with yourself is the key to tackling jealous feelings.

Being comfortable with who you are will allow your self-confidence to grow. The natural outcome of having self-confidence means you'll be less likely to feel jealous and more appreciative of what you do have in your life.

2) Trust issues

Once trust has been betrayed, it can be hard to rebuild.

Many have had hearts broken and been betrayed or even cheated on. Unfortunately, shaking off these memories is definitely easier said than done.

Trust is the bedrock in love, but trust can't develop if we are instinctively suspicious and doubtful. In short, when trust is undermined, it can take a while to rebuild it.

To overcome feelings of jealousy, it may be advisable for couples to work on their relationship problems with the help of an experienced counselor instead of trying to solve them alone.

It also includes advice on repairing broken trust in a relationship, emphasizing the importance of communication between partners.

3) Societal norms

From high-profile affairs to the latest tabloids, we are exposed to cheating through a variety of mediums.

The constant stream of "what if" scenarios may begin to create a narrative that plants seeds of doubt about our own lives. In pop culture, how often have we seen the main character run off with their secret lover despite being in a relationship? And what if this happened to us?!

In some ways, we've been desensitized to the real-life effects of affairs.

Additional Causes For Jealous Behaviors

Jealousy is a complex emotion, and it can come from many different sources. While acting on jealous behaviors is never the answer, it's important to understand why you're feeling jealous.

Childhood Trauma

A cause of jealousy in relationships may be childhood trauma.

According to Dr. James Gordon, a psychiatrist and founder of the Center For Mind-Body Medicine in Washington D.C., many people who suffer from extreme jealousy may have experienced trauma as children that leaves them feeling unsafe in relationships when they are adults.


In relationships, fear appears in two types: Fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment.

The first type of fear, fear of abandonment, is when people are worried that those they love will leave them when they are most vulnerable.

Fear of engulfment happens when people are worried that they will lose their identity or ability to make decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, these two fears often exist together, leading to the "push-and-pull" behavior typical of those with deep fears of intimacy.

Understanding Your Own Insecurities

Recognizing and embracing your partner's enduring vulnerabilities, as well as your own, will strengthen your relationship.

This is what therapy is all about—helping people open up and sharing vulnerabilities in a healthy way.

Dr. John Gottman was once asked what to do about “insatiable jealousy” in relationships. He responded that:

I believe that every person has areas of enduring vulnerability. For a marriage to succeed, these vulnerabilities need to be understood and honored.
This flips jealousy on its head. Instead of something to avoid in relationships, jealousy becomes an opportunity to connect. In her book “ Daring Greatly ” Brene Brown writes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” When you understand why you get jealous, you can manage it in a way that is compassionate and constructive. Recognizing and embracing your partner's enduring vulnerabilities, as well as your own, will strengthen your relationship.


Other Toxic Behaviors To Be Aware Of

There are several other types of behavior that you should be aware of when it comes to toxic relationships.

In each of the following scenarios, it's important to recognize the pattern or patterns. Acceptance that there's a problem is the first step in being able to work toward a solution.

Serial Dating

One of the first situations in which jealousy might be sabotaging your relationships is serial dating.

This is where you jump from relationship to relationship, breaking up with partners over the slightest issues. But, again, this type of behavior results from an avoidant attachment style.

With avoidant attachment types, they may try to rationalize this behavior by complaining they feel "stifled" or "suffocated" in their relationships. However, when this becomes a pattern, it may be a sign of negative habits, not the relationship.

Looking for an Exit

With couples considering a more serious relationship or "taking things to the next level," looking for an exit may be a natural progression from serial dating if one partner is trying to avoid commitment.

The person looking for an exit might wonder, "If it goes wrong, how can I extricate myself easily from this relationship?"

Because commitment reduces your ability to leave a relationship with emotional consequences, you tend to avoid it or even justify avoiding commitment altogether.

When people look for an exit, they might start pulling back from the relationship or become distant. In some cases, they may even project and start accusing their partner of cheating. The jealous person might not explain the changes in behavior, and it can lead to an ugly fight or argument that ends with one partner storming out, refusing to speak any more about the situation.

The latter example can be true for couples who have been together a while.

Couples who feel like their relationship has "become stagnant," or they've "grown apart" from their current partner often lead to more damaging behaviors.

Awareness of these tricky emotions can help you be more mindful when these feelings arise. Rather than letting them out into the world unchecked, couples should find ways to work through their jealous thoughts together.


We've covered gaslighting in a previous blog post.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse whose aim is to deny the other person's reality or experiences. For example, if your partner says: "I'm really upset that you canceled our date," you respond with something like: "You're not really upset. It's your fault I canceled, and you're just trying to blame me for it."

Gaslighting can be incredibly damaging and signifies that you don't really believe your partner's feelings are valid or real (even though they are).

Self-Sabotage: It's Not Really A Thing

While some psychotherapists may point to self-sabotage as a cause of relationship problems, at Evolve Therapy, we highly disagree.

According to Psychology Today, self-sabotaging behavior is defined as:

Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in daily life and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors include procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.
People aren't always aware that they are sabotaging themselves, and connecting a behavior to self-defeating consequences is no guarantee that a person will disengage from it. Still, it is possible to overcome almost any form of self-sabotage. Behavioral therapies can aid in interrupting ingrained patterns of thought and action while strengthening deliberation and self-regulation. Motivational therapies can also help reconnect people with their goals and values.

There are a few reasons why we feel self-sabotage isn't "a thing."

First, there's no such thing as a "perfect relationship," and positive and negative emotions are a part of being human—it's how you deal with these emotions that matters.

While it might not feel like it at the moment, relationship anxiety can be overcome—though it does take some time and effort. Doing so usually involves more than simply being told that your relationship is fine.

Additionally, don't be afraid to call an abusive relationship for what it is. Understanding what a healthy relationship looks like is very important when setting up guidelines of what you will and will not tolerate is essential.

If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, don't be afraid to use that as a learning opportunity and move on. When you're ready to make a change, having an experienced therapist can help with and serve as someone to be accountable to. A therapist may also be able to provide perspective and exercised to help you work through some of your past.


By understanding your behaviors, you can take steps to heal your jealousy.

Ask yourself, what am I feeling? What is the fear that this person will leave me or love someone else more than they do me?

Reflect on past relationships and find out if you blame your loneliness on others or feel like it was a reflection of their inability to be close.

When you start feeling like your relationship has hit a rough patch, try talking about it with someone who knows what they're doing. An experienced marriage or relationship counselor may be able to help you move past jealousy and work toward enriching your relationship with your significant other.

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