(See the full six-part series here.)
Recap: Jealousy isn’t a very useful word. It’s an oversimplification of something that’s actually quite complex and nuanced, covering a whole constellation of different thoughts and feelings. Jealousy as a blanket concept doesn’t provide very good advice on what to do.
What we refer to as “jealousy” usually falls into three broad classes — envious jealousy, insecure jealousy, or possessive jealousy. They have different causes, different thoughts and feelings, and different paths to resolution.
And of the three, jealousy that’s rooted in possession and ownership is the most misunderstood. So let’s take a look.
Possession / Ownership
Some examples of what it can feel like:
Sad, heartbroken, possessive, territorial, shattered dreams, disappointed
Some examples of what it can look like:
- Starting to feel jealous or territorial early on—in extreme cases maybe even with a crush or someone you’re not in a relationship with yet (it’s just a technicality! They just haven’t figured out I’m The One yet!)
- Conflict or friction about how “serious” or “committed” you are as a couple
- A mismatch between your relationship template —what “should” be happening—and the reality of the relationship
What’s underneath it:
Fear of falling.
What you need to know:
Imagine you have a Maserati. It’s your most prized possession. Now imagine handing the keys over to someone. Imagine all the feelings that come up. Are they trustworthy? Good driver? Will they take care of it? Do they get what a cherished and valuable possession this is, and just how significant it is for you to trust them with it? Will they treat it with the extreme care that it deserves? Will they be deliberate, or cavalier with it?
Even as the keys are leaving your fingertips, you’re panicking. So what do you do? You hop in and ride shotgun, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the shifter, barking a constant stream of driving instructions, pointing out road hazards half a mile away, etc.
Got it? Ok now imagine instead that what you’re giving them is the keys to your heart. Maybe that gives you a sense of what’s going on here. You’re worried about whether they’re going to handle it properly, you’re trying to manage the whole thing and coming off as controlling.
Revealed: fear of falling
It’s pretty common for possessive jealousy to send a couple into a clingy / aloof dynamic. While you try to move further into “Until death do us part, forsaking all others” territory, your partner has the Sting song If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free on infinite repeat. It can seem like any disagreement on any topic can cause this to flare up. You somehow keep ending up here, with your respective actions making each other ever more uncomfortable and polarized.
So now you’re stuck in a deep inner conflict. A conflict between:
- The spark that drew the two of you together in the first place… vs. your relationship goals, desires, and beliefs.
- A real-life connection you experience with this real, living, breathing human being… vs. the “checklist” they’re not fitting into.
- Your natural impulse to love… vs. your tendency to use love as a bargaining chip.
What to do about it (a.k.a. Hard Truth for you to wake up to):
Where does our need to own someone come from? The answer is surprising. It comes from our desire to be owned by them. That, combined with our fear of our relationship conditions not getting met.
(Our need to own someone)
~ equals ~
(our desire to be owned by them)
(our fear of relationship conditions not getting met)
For those who are thinking, Huh?!, I’ll say it another way. That tendency we have to be possessive and controlling? It’s actually driven by a deep desire to give ourselves over to them fully — to hand them the keys to our heart—colliding with all of our ideas and preconditions for relationship bliss, which we fear won’t get met.
We want to own because we want to be owned, and we’re scared.
This of course is pretty much the grandaddy of all relationship decision points. So let me go straight to the heart of what might be going through your mind right now:
Don’t give up your relationship goals for someone who doesn’t seem to live up to them.
Great. Fine. Case closed.
That’s not a joke, and it’s not a bluff. I’m serious. I’m totally good with you stopping right here and calling it quits, if you are.
But while you’re composing that Dear John / Dear Jane letter in your head, gearing up to get on with your life and resume the eternal search for Mr. / Ms. Perfect… let me give you a little something to think about.
The very best, the richest, the most profound, the most amazing relationships — the ones that crack us open and rewrite our beings down to the DNA — these relationships tend to look nothing like what we imagined, or pre-planned. They are a complete surprise. They tend to shatter our most cherished expectations.
Why? Because we’re pretty clueless about what’s really possible between two people — how potent connection can be — until we experience it. Then when we do, it’s often both different and better than we were expecting.
We are built for connection. All of us. And all of our plotting and planning and efforting to get it to happen don’t really prepare us for what it’s really like when it arises.
And the biggest thing that stops connection from happening is… we’re not open to it. Because of our tendency to make the template more important than the connection. We are living under the tyranny of all the conditions we are placing on others in order to love them.
Which brings us back to the topic of Jealousy.
When we love someone as they actually are without a lot of conditions, we tend to feel less jealous.
Because the truth is this: we’re not afraid that they’ll leave us… we’re afraid that we might leave them.
Here you are urgently trying to twist their arm to surrender to you fully and commit to you eternally. But let’s be honest, to what degree are you yourself on the fence? How often do you have second thoughts about whether this is The One? Between the two of you, who’s actually more likely to bail? For all the reasons given above, it’s not uncommon for the more possessive partner to be the greater flight risk.
So I’d like to suggest a different approach.
Instead of working so hard to get this relationship to go in the direction you want it to go… why don’t you just set your checklist aside for long enough to see what’s there between you. See what arises. Let your connection evolve organically. And, without comparison, just see if you like it. Do you like the connection that you have with this person?
And if so, start to build from that. Consider that you can’t preconceive what relationships are supposed to look like. You will need to craft, together, what this relationship looks like — presume that it will be different from all other relationships that have ever existed, and different from your pre-existing expectations—and it will be based on the nature of your unique connection.
Because, regardless of whether it’s with your current partner or someone else, this is how the relationship is going to develop if it’s going to be strong, resilient, happy, intimate, passionate, fun and long-lasting.
(Next up: Too much of a good thing?)
©2016 by Ken Blackman. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Ken’s passion topic these days is how women’s empowerment intersects with intimate coupledom. A former Apple software engineer turned international sex and intimacy educator turned relationship coach, Ken is in his 20th year helping couples co-create, bond, have great sex, thrive, and live happily ever after. His work has garnered mentions in Business Insider, Playboy, Cosmo, Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour series and elsewhere. Find out more at kenblackman.com.