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Archive for Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Jealousy destructive in relationships

November 7, 2006

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Dear Dr. Wes & John: I have a real problem with jealousy, to the point that it makes me physically sick when my boyfriend even talks with another girl for too long. I always worry that he is going to betray me, even though my friends tell me he isn't.

John: I know your friends have already told you this, but whether or not your boyfriend talks to other girls is not an indicator of whether he will leave you for one of them. One of my friends used to keep her boyfriend meticulously under watch. One day, he announced he was through with the relationship - and found a new girl the same day. He didn't give any warning signs, and my friend felt she had been torpedoed. I am reminded of last week's edition of the Zits comic strip, in which Rich and Amy finally break up and the whole school is in shock. Couples who constantly worry about the state of their relationship are much less stable than those who take it one day at a time.

Remember that your boyfriend's opinion of you is not the standard to which you should hold yourself. In every junior high or high school, there are smart, beautiful girls who never get asked out. Ironically, the ones who let it hurt their self-esteem become less interesting to boys. When your relationship ends, as it probably will, you'll be left with yourself. Are you someone you want to be stuck with? The best girlfriends (and boyfriends, for that matter) make time to improve themselves, by playing an instrument, learning a language, playing a sport, etc. If you have other interests to fall back on, you won't be as scared that he will break up with you, which will make it less likely that he will.

I would encourage you to talk to your boyfriend about your relationship. The most important item to discuss is the goal of your relationship, because if neither of you knows what the other wants, you will be much more hard-pressed to find it. Are you just together for a fun time, or do you want a long-term commitment?

Develop a realistic understanding of what each of you is allowed to do with the opposite sex, and then stick to those rules. Some girls don't mind if their boyfriend flirts with other girls, but if you're uncomfortable with that, your boyfriend should pay attention. In your case, however, you should let your boyfriend at least associate with other girls. A relationship with you can't take priority over his relationships with 50 percent of the world. Besides, I'm guessing that when your boyfriend talks to other females, he is reminded how much you shine in comparison to them.

Dr. Wes: Jealousy is an anxiety-based emotion. I tell guys and girls that there is exactly NOTHING they can do to control what their partner does when they're not around. NOTHING. The partner either believes cheating is OK or s/he doesn't. So jealousy is one of the most useless emotions we've concocted. Think about it: Do you know anyone who has a good relationship with someone they are constantly trying to snoopervise, control and nag? Do you like it when your parents use these sorts of tactics to keep track of you?

There are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of getting cheated on and hopefully redirect your anxiety in the process:

¢ Pick someone who is generally trustworthy. It is shocking to me how many people choose to be with a partner they cheated with, or whom they know lies to others or steals or engages in some other nefarious behavior. If you choose someone who is dishonest to others, don't expect them to be honest to you. I know you think you're the one special person he can be real with, but it just isn't happening.

¢ Make your relationship the best it can be for your partner. People like to be in relationships that meet their needs, and they flee those that don't. We'll address this in a future column, but for now DON'T assume I mean that you need to sleep with someone in order to accomplish this goal. However, as John notes, being overbearing and anxious will not make this a fun relationship for either of you. It may actually increase the likelihood of cheating.

¢ Be the partner you want to be with. I am astonished at how many people (kids and adults) are infuriated that their partner flirts with others, but seem to think it's fine if they do it themselves. Good old Sigmund Freud talked about projection - that people tend to see in others their own worst characteristics and to complain about them as if they were really trying to convince themselves. It may sound corny, but before you can trust anyone else you have to trust yourself and behave accordingly.

¢ Give it some time before you get serious. As people age, they sow some of their wild oats. They're more interested in exclusive relationships. You don't have to be (figuratively) married in high school.

I do feel for you. This is really the age of anxiety for people who want to be in serious relationships. "The Hookup Handbook" is popular reading now days, claiming the era of serious dating is over. The authors note, "Girls are the new guys," meaning that they are now interested in short, emotionless relationships. Given the ease with which anyone can find sexual outlet these days, any girl (or guy) who wants to be in a trust-based relationship is bound to feel jittery at times. But unless your partner is equally dedicated to that kind of relationship, there's nothing you can do to force him. If he is, enjoy it and force yourself to ignore your own anxiety.

Next week: Shyness. The not-so-secret problem that haunts more kids than you know.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services.

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