As I’ve mentioned before, jealousy is a very strong emotional signal — but it’s not a very specific one.
It’s easy to panic when you experience jealousy, but it’s very much like a check engine light: Jealousy tells you that something is amiss but not what, exactly. And certainly not how serious the issue is.
It certainly doesn’t help that jealousy is often something else in disguise. For example:
- Envy (wishing what another person has were yours).
- A sense that you or your needs are being neglected.
- Feeling left out.
- A feeling that you’re overshadowed or “less than” in comparison.
- A fear that you’ll lose someone or something that’s important to you.
And in the months that have passed since I wrote a piece exploring these (6 Other Things Jealousy Can Mean), I’ve had a number of conversations that made me realize that another two phenomena belong on this list as well: Demotion and displacement.
Both demotion and displacement are more common in relationships that start out monogamous and open to additional partners later but can happen to anyone.
You’ve had a good stint at your job. You work at a small company, where they treat you well. Not only do you like your work, but best of all, you’re basically an entire department. You have coworkers, sure, but nobody does quite what you do. You’re the only one with your particular job title.
There’s no one breathing down your neck while you do your work. And you complete it, managing your workflow just the way you like.
And then one day it all changes. Another person is hired from outside into your department, doing what you do. They’re given your same job title, which irks you, because who are they? They just got here. This isn’t an entry level position – or is it?
You march into your boss’s office and demand a promotion. A raise. A title upgrade.
He stares at you, shocked. You’ve been doing your work happily all these years, and everything was fine. Why are you raising a fuss now?
Enraged at his response, you throw a stack of papers in his face and walk away.
It’s funny how our self-worth can get wrapped up in our relationships. Without even realizing it, having a particular unique relationship status can become a great source of pride.
I’ve talked to many people over the years who were blindsided by how much going from being their partner’s One and Only to being one of multiple people that their partner loves was a hit to their self-esteem.
One of the things I loved the most the first time I found myself in a committed long-term relationship was a feeling of exclusive access to another person. My partner was always there when I needed him (provided he wasn’t sleeping or working). When we moved in together, he become a great source of comfort. A person I could cuddle or talk to whenever I was feeling lonely.
Wherever my partner was, that felt like home. Having my own go-to person made me feel incredibly safe and cared for.
In some ways, he had become my human security blanket. A way of easily coping with whatever stress life threw at me.
So it was very difficult once we started dating other people, and he’d be out for the night on a date. I’d reach for him, and he wasn’t there.
I’d also feel this way when I was out with my partner and his girlfriend in group situations and they were cuddling in front of me.
Hey, I’d think, feeling a twinge. No fair. I want to cuddle with him. Especially if I were nervous or anxious, which could happen rather easily at parties due to a rush of sudden social anxiety.
It was very much like we were playing a game of musical chairs, the music stopped, and I had nowhere to sit.
My safe place was no longer available. Someone had my security blanket. I’d built my emotional “home” in our relationship, so when he went away, I’d feel temporarily… homeless.
With both of these issues I’ve found the following approaches personally very helpful:
- Building up a sense of personal emotional security
- Recognizing that jealousy is not a crime and nothing to be ashamed of
- Talking about it with my partner and/or trusted friends discreetly at a convenient time
Please also see my post How to Be Jealous in a Productive Way for more advice.
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