Coping With A Jealous Lover

Your newest partner has shifted from polite to possessive—and you’re now on high alert. Here’s how to cool the situation down.

By Daniel W.K. Lee

t first you thought it was cute: the plentiful phone calls (Aw, he misses me!), the abundant questions (She really wants to get to know me!), and the territoriality (Aw, he thinks I’m his). But you’re starting to worry that all the attention is a little too Fatal Attraction. Your partner is jealous — not because of anything you’ve done, but because of his or her own insecurities about being inadequate or abandoned by a loved one, says Ana González, L.C.S.W., a Chicago-based social worker. Your date has the perception — real, imagined or otherwise — that you’re doling out your time and affection to someone else over him or her.

Of course, any time you’re being threatened physically or emotionally, you should get out, but in-between shades of jealousy merit attention, too. Let us help: Before
Even just saying “You have nothing to worry about” can show your partner he or she is valued.
things get cinematic or you find yourselves needing couples’ counseling, here are some ways to make a preemptive strike against jealousy in a relationship.

Recognize the problem
A partner’s jealousy can be easy to rationalize away — and the longer you shrug off someone’s behavior, the harder it can be to bring it up. Scott, from New York City, realized that jealousy was taking over his relationship when he felt like he had to account for his whereabouts any time he wasn’t with his boyfriend. This is a common scenario: Jealousy often appears in the form of constant calls to check up, questions about your schedule or who you’re with, your sweetie wanting to go wherever you go — or “coincidentally” turning up wherever you are. “I found myself making more plans with my friends so I could always have a legitimate reason for being ‘busy,’” recalls Scott.

Force yourself to recognize what’s going on, and listen when concerned friends comment on the tension you are trying to cope with. “Jealousy becomes too much when it interferes with the couple’s desire to stay together,” says Joseph Desiderio, L.C.S.W., a social worker with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. If you’re spending more time fighting than having fun, that’s one cue. Other red flags include changing your own behaviors because of a jealous partner: following his or her “rules” for how you spend your time, avoiding him or her by screening calls, not responding to email or text messages, or by turning off your phone.

Reassure your partner
If you sense your date starting to get too nosy about how you’ve spent your time, you can try indirect ways of curbing jealousy. Tell him or her that he or she is still your honey-love-muffin, or just give him or her an idea of when you may be back from what you’re doing. Make future plans together, but only make plans you know you can keep — rescheduling or cancelling can stoke an insecure lover’s biggest fears. Even just saying “You have nothing to worry about” can show your partner he or she is valued.

Share your concerns
If the subtle strategies above don’t help, you’ll need to address the jealousy. It can be a touchy conversation, but if you do it in person, you’ll be more likely to get through it rather than set off another spate of worry. Having the conversation in person will give your mate physical reassurance that you care. “Hold her hands, look her in the eyes and start by telling her you really like her or love her,” recommends Allison from San Francisco,
The longer you shrug off someone’s behavior, the harder it can be to bring
it up.
who had The Talk early in her current relationship because she was the jealous one. Tell your partner that you are still very interested in being in a relationship, but that some of his or her behavior is making you frustrated. “Maybe say, ‘I know you are doing this because you care, but…’ and then honestly tell her waht her behavior makes you feel,” says Allison. Sometimes your consort isn’t even aware that you are uncomfortable. Voicing your concerns will give your partner the opportunity to set himself or herself straight.

Set some boundaries
You may never be able to fully change how a jealous partner feels, but you can certainly insist that the person treats you in a way that you find respectful. Dr. Travis Atkinson, Clinical Director at Advanced Cognitive Therapy of New York, suggests something called empathetic limit-setting. Let your date know that you appreciate their affection, but that certain behaviors are off-limits. For Allison, hearing the simple statement, “I understand you want to share, but calling me every 15 minutes while I am out with someone else is unacceptable to me,” from her girlfriend helped her establish appropriate behavior. Don’t just dictate boundaries — give your reasons, such as, “When you always ‘drive by’ after I’ve been out, it makes me think you don’t trust me, and I can’t imagine having a serious relationship with someone who can’t trust me.” That way, your partner will hopefully realize that his or her behavior is having the opposite effect than the one he or she is aiming for. And that can be a powerful force, encouraging your jealous honey to take stock and forge a healthy relationship.

Freelance writer Daniel W.K. Lee’s work has appeared in OUT, Ten and various literary publications and anthologies.
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