It was pointed out to me that in my jealousy post of more than a year ago, I said I’d write a post for the non-jealous partner. I never did. So here:
If you’re partner to someone who is jealous, start by reading the jealousy post above.
And then memorize this sentence:
The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs.
Now then. Your partner is jealous because of some combination of insecurity and lack of trust. It is NOT YOUR JOB to MAKE your partner secure or trusting, but you do HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY to provide a safe, stable environment in which your partner may develop those qualities. It’s like if someone is sick: they’ll heal faster in a clean, comfortable, safe place than they will in a dangerous, dirty place, right? You create the environment in which past hurts (which gave rise to insecurity and lack of trust) can heal.
But if healing doesn’t happen, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT because it was never your job in the first place.
Let’s deal with trust first. Are you trustworthy? I’m going to assume yes, if you care enough to read a blog post about how to support a jealous partner. But if not, kindly cut your partner loose before you hurt them even more. Okay.
If you’re trustworthy, your next question is likely, how can I make my partner trust me?
Answer: you can’t make anyone do anything (see above). You can prove through your actions that you are trustworthy, creating that safe environment I described.
Negotiate with your partner when they’re feeling untrusting; find small ways that you can validate your trustworthiness: call when you say you will, show up when you say you will, do the thing you said you would, be the consistent, honest, reliable person you are.
So that’s trust.
Now, the insecurity.
Listen very closely: nothing you can say or do will fill in the hole in your partner’s self-image. Nothing. Nothing. No matter how many times you say, “I love you” or “You’re beautiful” or “I’m yours forever,” you’ll never be able make them feel worthy of you. That feeling of worthiness can ONLY come from inside themselves.
Again, it’s not your job (it’s not even possible!) for you to make your partner feel confident about themselves. You do, however, have an opportunity that you may choose to take, to create an environment where self-worth grows.
In what kind of environment does self-worth grow? In an environment of unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and respect.
Avoid criticism. There are some important rules about when to give criticism and when not to. You’ll find most of them in the handy book How to Hug a Porcupine. If it’s something that can’t be changed, no criticism. If it’s something that doesn’t matter, no criticism. If it’s something that isn’t your business, no criticism. (Caring does not make it your business.) There are other rules about how to give criticism, I’ll go into those another time.
And DON’T OVERFUNCTION. Overfunctioning is when one person in the relationship takes responsibility for the other person’s stuff, because that other person has fewer emotional, intellectual, financial, or other resources available to manage it. The result of this is to create an UNDERfunctioner, someone who is living below their potential; they’re being prevented from maximizing their personhood by a partner who tries to “help,” which only prevents the other person from growing.
When you’re a highly competent person who cares about someone in distress, it’s hard not to take on responsibility for their problems. It’s hard to watch a person you love suffer. And the jealous partner WILL suffer. They will sit at home, on the front porch, chain smoking and petrified, while you hang out with your friends. That is just how it is. And your partner will “tolerate pain for growth,” because that is what grown ups do in relationships. (This is David Schnarch, if you want to learn more. I’ll post about it at some point, I’m sure; I mentioned it briefly once.)
And you will not call to make sure they’re okay; you will not come home earlier than you agreed, just to minimize their suffering; you will not say, “Are you sure? Because I can just stay in tonight if you need me to.” You will respect your partner’s personhood enough to allow them to stay over their own emotional center of gravity. You will allow them to hurt sometimes.
In this way – and ONLY in this way – will they learn that they are capable of tolerating separation, that they are strong and worthwhile. Only in this way will they begin to see in themselves what you see in them.
It is HARD being the partner of a jealous person, particularly if that person wants to make you responsible for their feelings. Respect them enough not to accept that responsibility.
The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs. Allow your partner to be an adult. You have an opportunity, not a responsibility; if they can’t accept responsibility for their own feelings, then they are not ready to be in an adult, loving relationship.
I am, like, SO harsh. Sorry.