In our first post about jealousy, we talked about the difference between jealousy and envy, explained why people may feel jealous, and began discussing ways that people utilize different behaviors to avoid either feeling jealous or learning to sit with the emotions to identify what their needs are. In this post we’ll delve more into the behaviors people often engage in to avoid feeling jealousy, and why they might be problematic, or at the very least unhelpful.
The Problem With Engaging In These Behaviors
I want to introduce you to how anxiety works in general, and why many of the “bandaid behaviors” you engage in are likely making your anxiety worse. Follow along with us in the chart below.
When something triggers your jealousy, there is likely anxiety attached to the jealousy – anxiety around losing your partner, not being good enough, being betrayed. The anxiety starts to rise and you very quickly get into fight or flight mode. At this point, people fixate on engaging in a short-term behavior to reduce the anxiety RIGHT NOW. These are the “bandaids”. They might solve the immediate problem of feeling bad, but they don’t solve the long-term problem of understanding the trigger and finding ways to work through that.
When we are at fight-or-flight levels, we think that if we don’t resolve the problem RIGHT NOW, we are eventually going to die of anxiety. Anxiety is great for getting us to act really fast in a crisis – like being chased by a lion. Your partner going on a predetermined date is not a crisis. It may feel like a crisis, but it’s really not. It can be handled later. But your brain doesn’t always register that, so we engage in a quick fix like texting your partner while they are on a date, to give us just enough reassurance that they haven’t left us quite yet. So your anxiety drops, but not for long, and you are now easily retriggered because you are becoming hypervigilant to the trigger.
If you instead sit with the anxiety and examine it, you will find out that the anxiety eventually peaks at then reduces over about 90 minutes, if you are following the instructions in our Jealousy As A Route to Identifying Your Needs post and not ruminating. This will better help you resolve your jealousy and handle the trigger in healthier ways.
Fight Or Flight Behaviors
One thing people tend to forget when they are engaging in bandaid behaviors is that they have less control than they think they do. Many fight or flight behaviors look like getting reassurance from your partner, or making them change their behaviors so that you can just avoid the bad feelings. Let’s take a closer look at some of these behaviors.
Texting your partner while they are on a date. You are at home because your date was canceled, and now you are bored and lonely and wondering how you are going to get through the evening when you have absolutely nothing to do. You start thinking about what a great time your partner is having on their date and you start to feel bad. You text your partner to see how things are going, hoping they will actually be having a terrible time and on their way home RIGHT NOW. When they don’t text you back, you assume they are probably having sex in the bathroom of the restaurant they went to, or the car, or some sleazy hotel. You text your partner again to make sure they aren’t so busy having sex that they respond back. Meanwhile, your partner is having a normal date and isn’t texting you back because it’s rude to look at your phone and text when you are on a date. You get mad that they don’t text you back for an hour, when they go to the bathroom to see why their phone is blowing up. You’ve interrupted their date, put them in a not so great mood because they are dealing with your spiraling emotions, and now neither of you are happy. Meanwhile, you have not figured out how to be alone with yourself and just wait for your happy partner to get home so they can tell you how great you are.
Giving your partner the cold shoulder. Whether you have figured out how to not text your partner (or not), the same scenario above might lead to a lot of cold shouldering. You are in a bad mood before the date, so you don’t talk to them before they leave, lest you say something horrible. Or, you refuse to talk to them when they get home because they didn’t answer your text, or you’ve been ruminating on how much they must hate you all evening. Your partner has no idea what is going on, and now feels some need to try to improve your mood, but they don’t know how. They also may be trying to figure out if they did something to hurt you, feeling hurt that you are avoiding them, or getting angry because they feel like you’re punishing them for something by avoiding them. Many people have trauma around parents or former partners who have weaponized silence, so this can be quite triggering.
Creating an emergency when your partner goes out on a date. Sometimes people may not even be fully aware they are engaging in this behavior. Your partner goes out and at first you’re ok, but suddenly something occurs to you that has to be done RIGHT NOW!, like taking the trash to the curb, or cleaning the attic. Or you have an emotional reaction that feels so big you can’t handle it yourself, and you need your partner to help you co-regulate. Many scenarios can fit this created emergency, and it can be hard when you’re in a highly dysregulated state to tell if it is a real emergency or not, because it sure feels like one! Another way “emergencies” can be created is if you start a fight before the date about something to prevent your partner from going on the date in the first place, or to tank their mood so they don’t want to go or won’t have fun.
Avoidance / Dissociating Behaviors
Most avoidance and dissociation behaviors work really well at first because they don’t often lead to strife in your relationship. They can also be useful if you are expecting that you just need time and space to learn that your partner is, indeed, going to come home to you. However they become a problem when you rely on them to manage your emotions without ever confronting the underlying insecurity. One of the best ways to identify whether these are getting into the unhealthy realm is if you decide there’s no way you’d be doing one of these if your partner was at home with you, or you aren’t actually looking forward to having the evening to yourself.
Losing yourself in video games, substances, or binging TV. Passing time by trying to just not experience is often the go-to strategy of people with addictions. TV and video games certainly don’t seem terribly damaging, and many people do this with or without the jealousy queues. Like most things in life, moderation is key. Are you only doing these things to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings? Are you doing them to the point where they are interfering with your ability to live your life, complete tasks, go to work, or take care of yourself? This can be challenging for neurodivergent people whose hyperfixations are also ways they may be avoiding sitting with discomfort from relationship challenges.
Going on dates with others just to avoid being alone. The less damaging version of this is finding friends to go out with you. This one becomes problematic when you have to find others to hang out with, or you will start resorting to possibly more fight or flight means of managing your anxiety. Plus, this could be a bit on the unethical side if you are going on dates with people just to not be alone with no real intention of spending any more time with them. Many people start out in nonmonogamy trying to schedule dates on the same nights so they can avoid the dreaded experience of sitting home alone while their partner is out. Unfortunately this is just not sustainable for most people, and it doesn’t actually lead to growth around the discomfort of being alone if that is outside your normal.
If you are the type of person that does everything they can to avoid negative emotions or consequences, you are likely to end up on this side of harming yourself and your relationship. You are likely to find that you use avoidance strategies in multiple areas of your life. Here is a great article on why this is a problem and what you can do to get out of the cycle of avoidance.
We know that these are challenging things to figure out, sit with, and work through. They can be scary, and hard to find language for. We hope that these posts help you build those skills and feel more at ease with the language to help you have better relationships.