Dealing with a jealous girlfriend is an exercise in subtelty and tact.
She drives you mad with her insecurity, but the more you either react or withdraw, the worse it seems to get. It feels like you can't win.
If you want the relationship to survive you have to support her, without antagonizing her and making things worse.
And at the same time you have to protect yourself emotionally, keep living your life and avoid getting sucked into her negative spiral.
It is a fine line but something that is very possible if you love this woman and are committed to survival of the relationship.
In fact having a jealous girlfriend is not all bad. It shows she cares and wants to keep you around and can't bear the thought of losing you.
As a species we evolved jealousy as a way to protect ourselves and be aware of threats to our relationship. For women, it's a primal desire to ensure that the man sticks around to help her raise the children. 1
Jealousy is her way of marking her territory and if she didn't do it, she fears some other woman would lure you away.
Having a passionate, fiery and emotionally expressive woman can be a wonderful thing in many ways. The trade off is that you get to experience the negative emotions just as fiercely.
When it comes to dealing with a jealous girlfriend means you have to understand why she gets jealous, identifying the signs of jealousy and finally learning how to manage it.
Why Your Girlfriend Is Jealous
In addition to the primal need to protect against loss and make you stick around for the kids, there are several other reasons why a woman might get overly jealous in a relationship.
She Has An Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Style
Attachment theory is a branch of psychology that explores how humans attach and relate to each other.
As an infants you are completely dependent on our parents for our physical and emotional wellbeing. They are the first people you have a relationship with. The nature of the attachment you form with them will then have an impact on your romantic relationships in adulthood.
One of the attachment styles is known as anxious-ambivalent. This attachment style develops when parents are inconsistent and unpredictable in the way they relate to their children. They often flip between being neglectful and being overindulgent. The child becomes confused and never knows what to expect.
What this does is create a person who is naturally suspicious and exists in a perpetual state of being abandoned.
It may be that your jealous girlfriend has an anxious-ambivalent attachment style. While you can't demand that she change this, it is worth knowing that it is possible to change one's dominant attachment style in adulthood. She will have to be willing to recognise the issue and do the work, but it is possible.
She Has Deep Underlying Insecurities
Jealousy and insecurity are closely related but are not quite the same thing. Jealousy is triggered by something externally, while insecurity is the underlying state of mind that makes her susceptible to jealousy.
These insecurities means she doesn't value herself and is always on the look out for the worst case scenario.
Instead of trusting you until you lose her trust, by default she doesn't trust you until you reassure her. Unfortunately this reassurance is needed always and constantly and is both unnecessary and exhausting.
She Has Had Bad Past Relationship Experiences
Perhaps your girl was cheated on in the past. Perhaps her ex left her for her best friend.
While everyone carries some degree of baggage from the past, if she has had a traumatic experience it may explain why she is jealous.
That doesn't make it okay for her to be emotionally abusive towards you, but understanding goes a long way to supporting her to overcome her fears.
She will still have to take responsibility for changing her ways.
Maybe You Do Trigger Suspicion
Most of the reasons why your girl might be jealous are to do with her. It is her problem and she is the one who has to change.
However there is one exception. Maybe she is a perfectly level headed girl who isn't normally prone to jealousy or insecurity, but you are doing something that would trigger suspicion in any reasonable person.
I'm not saying this is the case, but it's worth reflecting on your behavior just in case this might be a possibility.
For example if you are sleeping over at your best female friends house, that is something that might trigger jealousy. Of course it could be a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but it might also be a perfectly reasonable thing to be jealous about.
Signs Your Girlfriend Is Jealous
Sometimes the jealousy creeps up on you without you really noticing it until it is out of control.
The earlier you can catch it the easier it is for you and her to deal with it.
If you start seeing several of the following signs then it might be time for you to have a serious discussion about the impact her jealous behavior is having:
- She doesn't like the fact you have female friends
- She is uncomfortable with you spending time alone with any other woman
- She asks questions and appears uncomfortable about your female co-workers
- She is suspicious of what you do on boy's nights
- She can't handle you looking at other women
- She can't handle you even mentioning another woman
- She calls you constantly when you are apart
- She snoops in your phone and stalks your social media accounts
- She can't handle that you have exes
- She is constantly scared you are going to leave her
- She is constantly scared you are going to cheat
Is It Worth Dealing With A Jealous Girlfriend Or Should You Just Walk Away?
Just because your partner has an issue with jealousy doesn't mean that you have to leave her.
After all we all have our flaws and, if handled correctly, this one is manageable.
However if her jealousy is uncontrollable then you have to weigh up whether the relationship is worth fighting for, or whether it would be better to just walk away.
The key thing to understand is that while she may decide to change, you cannot force her to change. You can support and reassure her but ultimately the drive to change must come from her.
Many relationships fail when one partner tries or expects the other to change something fundamental about themselves.
You need to expect that this jealousy, as it is now, is part of who she is and is always going to be there. If it can be improved then that is a bonus, just don't count on it.
If you can stomach that, then stick it out. If you can't handle that, then think about walking away. It's up to you to decide how serious her jealousy is and how much of it you can handle.
Just remember that every girl has a catch and every relationship has its challenges. You might find another girl who isn't jealous, but she will come with some other flaw.
How To Deal With A Jealous Girlfriend
She is the one who has to deal with her own emotional issues.
However there are things you can do to support her and avoid the triggers.
Don't take it upon yourself to fix her, but if you want to stay in the relationship then you need to figure out a way to manage.
1. Be Subtle When You Check Out Other Women
There is no way you can avoid checking out other women altogether. We all do it and even if you try I doubt you will be able to totally abstain. Just keep it subtle and avoid obvious ogling.
2. Avoid Talking About Female Celebrities
We all have our favorites. Among most couples it is harmless to talk about the celebrities we like. In fact it's not uncommon for couples to have a favorite celebrity that they would be allowed to cheat on their partner with.
But when dealing with a jealous girlfriend make sure to avoid this topic. It's not worth the angst to point out how good looking your favorite celeb is.
3. Don't Criticize Her Appearance Or Compliment Her By Comparison
This should go without saying but don't tell her she needs to change anything about herself, it will only fuel her insecurity.
If you compliment her by comparing her to other women she could get angry with the fact you checked out other women in the first place. So instead of saying "You are the most beautiful women at this party," just leave it with "You're beautiful."
4. Don't Withdraw Even More
The natural reaction when you have a jealous girlfriend who is accusatory is to withdraw from her and become even more secretive.
Even if you have done nothing wrong, withdrawing will make it seem to her like you actually have something to hide. While it feels like the best way to protect yourself, the better approach is to actually be even more open.
Sometimes jealousy can come from her feeling like you are too closed off and shutting her out. By opening up to her and letting her in, it will give her the reassurance she needs that you are committed.
Even if she is constantly calling you or asking where you are, be open and honest and reassure her.
5. Talk And Improve Communications
The worst thing you can do is get frustrated with a jealous girlfriend.
It's hard but you have to do your best to understand and validate her feelings.
Try to accept them without criticism and talk it out with her. The better your communication the more she will trust you. Rather than just hoping that trust builds organically, you have to make the effort.
It can also help if you encourage her to let the jealous feelings out. If she can talk it through with you instead of suppressing them then you will probably avoid outbursts of rage.
Remember jealousy is just a woman's way of protecting her territory. If you let her do it within reasonable limits then it should be fine.
6. Reassure Her
It is important to understand that this process takes time and not to expect overnight changes.
You need to suppress your frustration for a long time.
Reassure her that you understand her feelings but are committed to her and committed to the relationship. It will be draining having to reassure her on a regular basis but if that's what you have to do, then that's what you have to do.
Reassure her that you understand it will take time to work through the issues but that you are prepared to be patient.
7. Set Boundaries
While it's important to provide reassurance, this has to be within reasonable limits. It's important to aslo set boundaries for what behavior you will and will not tolerate.
You have to keep living your own life and you can't let her jealousy control you. You need to show her that you see things from her point of view but that she needs to learn to handle your independence, rather than you restricting your life so she won't feel threatened.
These boundaries need to be firm but set with politeness and respect. They need to be discussed during a calm period and not in the middle of a freak out.
An example might be that when you are out with the boys you agree to ring her twice during the evening for a five minute chat. In exchange she is not to call you at all, so you can enjoy your evening without being harassed.
8. Help Build Her Self Esteem
If your girlfriend gets jealous because she doesn't think she is worthy of you and is scared that you are going to trade her in for a better model, then she has self esteem issues.
If you can help your jealous girlfriend to build her self esteem in other areas then it will help reduce the jealousy.
This is a slow process that can't be forced. However one of the joys of being in a relationship is the chance to help each other become better people. If you can build her self image this will have positive flow on effects in other areas of her life.
Jealousy is natural and is an emotion we all experience from time to time. In fact a little bit of jealousy can be perfectly healthy.
Things get out of balance when someone is either irrationally jealous or jealous so frequently that it becomes suffocating.
You can decide what your tolerance level is and whether you are willing to work on it.
However if you do decide to stay make sure you are patient, support her and reassure her, but know that she has to do the hard work to change.
If you are struggling with a girlfriend who is jealous and insecure or you yourself are the jealous one then I recommend the "10 Steps To Overcoming Insecurity In Relationships" program.
It's a comprehensive, step by step guide to help you deal with your issues and get back to a healthy relationship.
- Buss, David M. Dangerous Passion New York: Free Press, 2000.