Even those in the safest of relationships may have to deal with jealousy’s ebbs and flows. Your stomach likely dropped when you saw your partner interacting with their handsome coworker, and we venture to say that almost all couples have engaged in some variant of the “Seriously, they’re just a friend” argument. At times, the green-eyed monster could even seem cute. Isn’t it lovely that they give you such a lot of thought?
According to Sacramento, California-based therapist Vernessa Roberts, PsyD, LMFT, jealousy is not a relationship red sign in and of itself. According to Dr. Roberts, the root of this bad sensation is typically worry, mistrust, paranoia, or insecurity, all of which might naturally surface when you’re terrified of losing someone dear to you. Although most people dislike this feeling, she explains that jealousy may be a sign that we need our partner to reassure us if we don’t feel comfortable. Jealousy, though, is an indication of something more severe when self-doubt turns into explosive and illogical charges or controlling, guilt-tripping actions.
How we handle envy makes the largest distinction between it being good or unhealthy, according to Dr. Roberts. The former is “toxic, explosive, and uncompromising, usually indicating a desire to control the other person,” according to her; the latter is “unnatural, normal, and most importantly, permanent.” Because the boundary between the two can be blurry, we asked therapists to identify the most prevalent red flags of excessive jealousy. These are the major issues you shouldn’t overlook:
They keep tabs on everything you do.
One thing is if your partner wonders who you are calling at such a late hour or what bar you are going to with your friends without them. But if, for example, your partner insists on seeing your texts with the argument that “there shouldn’t be anything to hide,” that is a telling sign that their jealousy has crossed over into poisonous territory. According to Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, a therapist at Therapeutic Alliance of New York Counseling who focuses in providing advice for couples going through divorce,
Constantly watching your every step, such as spying on your phone frequently, is an unsustainable remedy, according to Hartstein. They may be relieved that you aren’t flirting with anyone today, but they will unavoidably continue to watch you to make sure you aren’t acting inappropriately tomorrow, which is an invasion of your privacy. Even if you have lied to your partner about past relationships or your spending habits, for example, that still does not give them the right to keep a close eye on you. According to Harstein, taking away your freedom and eroding your sense of privacy can indicate emotional abuse in addition to being extremely bothersome and straining the relationship.
When you’re in a healthy relationship, she adds, you should feel at ease and safe, not like you’re being smothered by an overbearing parent or losing your sense of independence.
Their anger outbursts are caused by their jealousy
Everyone experiences instances when their rage overwhelms them and they act in ways they aren’t particularly proud of. However, Dr. Roberts advises taking a step back and considering why you’re being so watchful if you find yourself frequently tiptoeing around your partner, making up white lies, or acting on guard out of concern that one incorrect move would start a screaming war.
Do you, for example, immediately answer their awkward phone calls because you know they will become irate if you don’t? Do you alter your attire because your partner thinks your favorite skirt isn’t “appropriate”? Although it might be challenging to recognize excessive jealousy and wrath in the heat of the moment, Dr. Roberts warns that thinking continually about your partner’s reaction to your actions is a key warning sign.
Walking on eggshells indicates a lack of vulnerability and authenticity in the relationship, which can also be an indication of emotional abuse, according to her. It also signifies a lack of transparency in the partnership. Telling them about your dinner plans shouldn’t cause you to become tense, and you should be free to express your opinions honestly even if they differ from theirs. Your body is alerting you that you don’t feel comfortable or secure with this person when you experience a surge of anxiety as you anticipate their response, and it’s crucial to pay attention to that gut feeling, Dr. Roberts says.
They forbid you from spending time alone with people.
Is anyone truly at ease witnessing their spouse laughing at inside jokes with their best friend, who also happens to be incredibly attractive and unflappably cool? No, we believe. In these circumstances, it’s normal to feel a little uneasy, but dominating conduct is different from momentary envy, according to Hartstein. Everyone has insecurities, yes, but no one has the right to dictate who you interact with or hang out with.
Not that you should dismiss all of your partner’s concerns out of hand. For instance, if your one-on-one dates with an ex-lover leave them feeling uneasy, you may acknowledge their worries (how would you feel in their position?) and set some firm boundaries together, suggests Dr. Roberts. Another example: Suppose you want to take a weekend trip with a new group of pals that your significant other isn’t too familiar with, and they are constantly questioning your plans (“Who are these people? Why don’t I know them yet?”).
You can find a medium ground with a compromise, such as agreeing to text them each night to check that you’re safe, or having them meet your friends beforehand so they’ll feel more at ease, rather than disregarding their questions or denying the invitation outright.
Your partner’s “overprotectiveness” or “concern” may simply be controlling, potentially abusive behavior dressed up as adoration if you’ve made an effort to compromise and be as honest as you can and they still persistently doubt you when you hang out with other people.
They aim to completely cut you off from your loved ones and friends.
According to Hartstein, this is a big red flag you should never overlook. Be wary, she advises, if your spouse frequently disparages your family members or attempts to convince you that they are the only one you can rely on. Instead of attempting to “protect” you, they might actually be isolating you from your network of friends and family in an effort to manipulate and control you, which Hartstein and Dr. Roberts concur is a typical precursor to an abusive relationship.
These tactics at isolation can be as subtle as griping about how frequently you talk on the phone with your brother (“Are you sure you want to call them back? They seem to be a bad influence,” or going so far as to become furious when they learn you attended a spontaneous coffee gathering (“I can’t believe you didn’t inform me first!”). Dr. Roberts argues that in order to develop as individuals, we need relationships outside of our romantic ones and that we should seek out diverse kinds of support from various populations.
Spending time apart and having your own friends, interests, and hobbies are equally as vital for you and your relationship as spending quality time together, she continues. A spouse who genuinely values you will support you in being who you are and connecting with the people and things you love, not hinder you.