Jealousy Management

More Information for Chapter 4, pages 47, and 55-57

Three and a half pages in the Compatibility Code deal with the issue of Jealousy-what is it, when is it inappropriate, how do you deal with it. Since the introduction to the issue of jealousy is well explored in the book we devote our attention here to expanding on the 5 steps that discuss recovery from jealousy.

Accept that the Relationship is Over

Millions of women live lives of turmoil because they continue to wish and hope that a broken relationship might somehow become magically unbroken, or, that an impossible romantic target may become available. One of the more vivid images of this on film occurs in the movie When Harry Met Sally. Sally’s girl friend (played by Carrie Fisher) is constantly obsessing about some attractive married man and looking for signs that his marriage might be in trouble (and if it is in trouble he might divorce, and if he divorces then he becomes available, and if available he might be interested in her). The film is a comedy so Ms. Fisher’s obsession is treated as a joke and adds to the general hilarity, But think for a moment how terminally tormenting such a life would be.

In the case of a broken relationship, the more probable an eventual reconciliation [you desperately look for signs that he might be interested or change his mind], the more certainly you will be sentenced to extended suffering. If the relation has completely severed (e.g., he is now dating someone else) then it is easier to accept that it is time to move on.

“But some broken relationships do reconcile,” I hear you cry, Quite right. I would suggest that if you think reconciliation is possible (and desirable), then you should follow Brad Sugar’s advice. Remove yourself from emotion and consider objectively the likelihood and the desirability of whether reconciliation is something worth working toward. I would further urge that you explore this with an objective counselor and the two of you dispassionately examine the two questions:

  1. Is reconciliation possible? And, equally important,
  2. Is reconciliation desirable?

If the answer to both is “yes”, then, with the counselor, map out your plan to work toward reconciliation. Once the plan is in place, do it.

Elizabeth and I counseled with a young woman who was “almost engaged,” was eager to marry, and wanted to hurry along her boy friend in that direction. After three sessions she became aware that the relationship couldn’t work and a few weeks later broke off the association. In this case, the answer to question #1 (is it possible) was probably “yes”. But the clear analysis revealed that the answer to question #2 was a definitive “no”.

If the plan works, Great! If not, we’re back to the original question

Even if you are not attempting reconciliation I think that a single session with a counselor would be useful. The counselor would be able to clarify that the relationship is indeed terminated, that it is self destructive to consider reconciliation, and why precisely that is so. In other words, the counselor would help you come to closure. He or she could also help you come up with “self statements” that you could repeat when your desire for the (now) off-limits relationship beckons like the sirens.

Most Forms of Jealously Are Now Inappropriate

Restating the 6 components of the definition of jealousy from chapter 5 in the Compatibility Code, we now add more detail:

1. “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness”: Does it bother you that Carole Lombard was married to Clark Gable? Of course not! They’re both dead now. There is no issue of rivalry or unfaithfulness for someone who is dead. In your case, the former relationship is equally dead-to you anyway. How someone else relates to him is no concern of yours. They are not your rivals. “But I love him and don’t want him to be hurt!” I hear someone wail. Grow up and get over it. He will make his own choices now.

2. “disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness”: Whether you’re talking about the reality (see #1) or suspecting rivalry or unfaithfulness (#2); it is no concern of yours. Go back and read #1. “Disposed to suspect” suggests someone who has a tendency that direction. If your tendency to suspect is severe, please get counseling and let an expert help you overcome this problem.

3. “apprehensive of loss of one another’s exclusive devotion”: You’ve already lost it. The apprehension is over and the reality has emerged. We now deal with the reality not the anticipation of disaster.

4. “hostility toward a rival or one thought to have an advantage”: Do you regard Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston as your rivals for Brad Pitt’s affection? I certainly hope your answer is “no” that question. Just as Brad Pitt is unavailable, your former partner is equally unavailable. I appreciate that it hurts if someone that you loved has the affection of another, but the best advice is simply “Don’t look!” It will only bring you torment! Someone interested in your former partner is not a rival. If you are still in love, they do, indeed, have an advantage. That’s why it is best, once the relationship is broken, to cease looking.

5. “vigilant in guarding a possession”: He is no longer you possession. Vigilance is entirely self destructive.

6. “distrustfully watching”: If you wish to avoid pain, here is simple advice: DON”T watch distrustfully!

Change of Setting

Whether or not it is desirable to change setting boils down to a simple cost-benefit analysis-do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Before we consider such an analysis, however, let’s clear the air of one troubling issue:

Some people think it is cowardly or somehow unacceptable to “run away” from such a problem. I assure you that cowardice is not the issue. The question is. “what will allow you to recover most quickly from a broken relationship?” If your circumstances allow you to switch settings and switching settings would significantly speed recovery, then, as Spock might say, the logical response would be to go ahead and do it.

So with that bit of baggage dealt with, let’s consider the cost-benefit analysis. There are essentially two classes of change-of-setting:

Short term-such as spending a couple of weeks at your parents, and
Long term-when you actually move to a different location

First, your circumstances might prevent changing location at all. For instance if you have school-age children, your parents have died and you have no friends who are able to board you, even for a short while, then you stay where you are. If your torment is severe it would be wise to see a counselor and explore possible options. On the other hand, few things are actually impossible; it is usually just that the cost is too high. If your pain continues to escalate, then you might eventually be willing to pay the higher cost-such as move to a different location.

If you deem a change possible, you begin by creating a “T” chart with pros listed on the left and cons on the right. If the “pros” clearly outweigh the “cons,” then make your move. If it is close, however, it would be wise to consult with an objective friend or a counselor who might help you to include factors that you failed to notice and help you weigh the relative importance of each item. In such a consultation ambiguity may clarify.

Finally it is important to remember the words of Teddy Roosevelt: “When faced with an important decision the best decision is the make the right choice. The second best decision is to make the wrong choice. The worst decision is to do nothing at all.” So even if you make the wrong choice, action is almost always better than non action. Action may take courage on your part, but a successful life cannot be lived without courage.

Behavior Modification and the Rubber Band

When I begin talking about rubber bands, many people think I am joking. A rubber band is a simple application of basic behavior modification principles promoted by B.F. Skinner. Behavior modification holds that if a certain act is rewarded, it increases the likelihood that such an act will be repeated. If a certain act is punished it decreases the likelihood that that behavior will occur again. During the course of a lifetime, this principle applies millions of times. Why do we not touch the burner of a hot stove? We know of the instant punishment-a burnt hand. Why when hungry and presented with tasty food do we eat? We know the instant reward-a full stomach and a feeling of satisfaction.

Curiously the effect of the rubber band seems to extend well beyond one’s conscious thoughts. The principle is simple: there is a behavior we wish to extinct (or at least diminish significantly)-thinking about our ex. There is a simple punishment: When we think about our ex we snap the rubber band, and shift our thoughts to some prearranged topic (described in the next section labeled “alternative focus’). Initially the process is conscious: “Oops, there I go again thinking about Mr. Jerk. I will now snap the rubber band and it will sting.” Over time the process becomes less conscious. One’s thoughts turn toward Mr. Jerk less and less frequently. When they do, the snap happens again. When I tried the process (with a different topic) I was surprised at how quickly my thoughts quit drifting that way. Let’s face it; Mr. Skinner knew what he was talking about.

Another important topic concerns when you should start such a program. When you are in the “raw” phase just following a breakup, you thoughts will turn toward Mr. Jerk hundreds of times in a day, sometimes thousands. The rubber band is ineffective during this phase. You will just get sore wrists. When you have recovered enough that you can focus on other things and your self-destructive thoughts about Mr. Jerk happen, perhaps, 50 times a day; then the rubber band can be effective. When the process is complete you can still choose to think about your ex if you wish, but your mind does not naturally drift that way.

The rubber band only serves as a metaphor. There are thousands of different “negative reinforcers” that might fit your circumstances better. Just be certain that what you have selected conforms to the characteristics of the rubber band:

  • It is simple
  • It is quick
  • It doesn’t take much time or effort
  • It is possible to apply consistently

If you are able to use another process that conforms to those characteristics, the effects should be just as promising as the rubber band. 

Alternative Focus

Nature abhors a vacuum. An effort to simply eliminate certain types of thoughts, in isolation, can be almost impossible. If I said (and meant it), “I will give you $1,000,000 if you don’t think about ‘brown monkeys’ even once during the next 5 minutes” during the next 5 minutes you mind will obsess on one topic only, ‘brown monkeys’. The only way you are going to win that contest is if you don’t hear the phrase you are supposed to not think about (brown monkeys) and agree to the bet.

Jesus tells a story that illustrates the point just as vividly: It is the story of the man who had a demon cast out of him. After awhile, the demon returns and finds his former habitation swept and in good order. The demon goes out and finds 6 other demons worse than himself and they all go back and possess the man. Jesus says, “the latter state of the man is worse than the first.”

So in an effort to rid ourselves (in this case) of jealous thoughts we need not only to eliminate the self-destructive thoughts but replace those thoughts with something positive or constructive. The replacement thoughts fall into two categories:

  1. Topic-specific thoughts, and
  2. Thoughts that focus on a different topic

To apply an alternative focus, #1, #2, or both might be appropriate.

Topic specific thoughts:
Usually these thoughts fall into the category of clarification and justification about your choices. When you are hurting, confused, wanting him back or overly emotional, this type of statement helps you to clarify why you made the choice you have, why it is right, and helps to objectify an otherwise emotional situation. A self statement might run something like this:

Yes, I am hurting now, but the choice I made weighed all options and it is clear that contact with Mr. Jerk and thoughts about Mr. Jerk are entirely self-destructive. Therefore, I CHOOSE TO NOT THINK ABOUT HIM!

You should create your own statement that will get the point across most vividly to you. In some cases, that single statement is enough. You have reminded yourself and you go on your way rejoicing. However, if you continue to obsess about him, then you must move on to category #2

Thoughts that focus on a different topic:
Just as a statement about your ex that is topic specific (previous section) you need to be equally clear on what alternatives you will focus on to avoid self-destructive and jealous thoughts. If you don’t have a specific plan in mind then you are likely to slip back to your obsession. One method that I found effective is based on prior knowledge: I have memorized hundreds of Bible texts and several lengthy poems. After I have made the initial topic-specific statement then I begin “They roused him with muffins, they roused him with ice, they roused him with mustard and cress; they roused him with jam and judicious advice they gave him conundrums to guess” . . . and on . . . and on. When I am reciting memorized material it requires sufficient focus that I am unable to think about anything else.

Another method that I adopt is to figure out something that requires keen focus. I was a nationally ranked runner when young and I have often made the statement that I could name more than 1000 track and field athletes without external cues. I have never proved this statement, but I once named all the male 400 meters runners I could think of (I came up with 83). Once again, when coming up with these names I am unable to think about other things.

That is the basic quality of alternative focus: Think about something sufficiently gripping (whether thoughts or activities) so that alternative thoughts are not possible. Maybe singing a song can work, or doing push ups, or running around the building. Choose something that fits you. Then, apply it consistently until the former obsession is no longer obsessive.

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