Jealousy makes us paranoid that our friends and partners will abandon us, disturbing our relationships and causing us to completely lose peace of mind. The more jealous and possessive we are, the more we drive others away. Realizing that we all have the capacity to love an enormous number of people and things helps us to overcome jealousy. Having love for others does not diminish either our partner’s love for us or ours for them; in fact, it enriches it.
Jealousy vs Envy
Jealousy can take several forms. If we’re single and feel jealous of a couple or attracted to someone who’s already in a relationship, it’s actually envy. We wish we could receive the person’s affection and attention instead, or we wish that we could have such a loving relationship. In both cases, we’re envious about something we lack, and this can bring up feelings of inadequacy and other self-esteem issues.
Jealousy in Relationships
Jealousy when we’re in a relationship can be even more disturbing. Rather than focusing on what another person has, it focuses on our partner or friend and a third person; we’re usually scared that we will lose our special relationship to the third person. We become intolerant of any rivalry or of possible unfaithfulness. For example, we feel jealous if our partner flirts with other people or spends a lot of time with others. Even a dog feels this type of jealousy when a new baby arrives in the house. This form of jealousy contains elements of resentment and hostility in addition to strong elements of insecurity and mistrust.
If we’re insecure, then whenever our partner or friend is with someone else, we start to feel jealous. This is because we’re unsure of our own self-worth, and insecure about the other person’s love for us, leading us to not trust our partner. We fear that we’ll be abandoned. It’s possible to have this fear even if our partner or friend doesn’t spend time with anyone else at all. With extreme possessiveness, we’re paranoid that they could leave us any moment.
To deal with jealousy, we need to reflect on how the heart has the capacity to love everyone – this is one aspect of our Buddha-nature. When we reaffirm this fact, it helps us to overcome jealousy by seeing that loving one person does not exclude loving others. Just think about ourselves and how we can open our own hearts to so many people and things (See What is Love?). With open hearts, we have love for our partner, friends, children, pets, parents, country, nature, God, hobbies and so on. There’s room in our hearts for all of them because love is not exclusive. We’re perfectly capable of dealing with and relating to all these objects of our love, expressing our feelings in manners appropriate to each object. Of course we don’t express our love and affection to our dog in the same was as we express it to our wife or husband or parents!
If we ourselves can have an open heart, so can our partner or friend. Everyone’s heart has the same capacity to extend love to an enormous number of people and things – even to the entire world. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect and even demand that they have love only for us and never have other loving friendships or outside interests. Do we think so little of them that we feel they have no room in their hearts for both us and other people? Do we really want to deprive them of realizing their Buddha-nature capacities of love and, consequently, some of the greatest joys in life (Read more about Buddha-nature)?
Here, we’re not talking about sexual infidelity. The issues of monogamy and sexual unfaithfulness are extremely complex and bring in many further issues. In any case, if our sexual partners, especially our marital spouses, are unfaithful or spend a great deal of time with others – especially when we have young children together – jealousy, resentment, and possessiveness are never helpful emotional responses. We need to deal with the situation in a sober manner, because yelling at our partners or trying to make them feel guilty hardly ever succeeds in making them love us.
Opening Our Hearts to Love
When we think that love and close friendship can only be with one person exclusively, we feel that there’s only one person – our partner or friend – whose love matters. Even if there are many others who love us, we tend to ignore that fact and think, “That doesn’t count.” Continually opening our hearts to as many others as possible and acknowledging the love that others – friends, relatives, pets, and so on – have for us now, have had in the past, and will have in the future helps us to feel more emotionally secure. This, in turn, helps us to overcome any fixation we may have on anyone being a special object of love.
Omniscience and all-loving both imply having everyone in our minds and hearts. Nevertheless, when a Buddha is focused on or with only one person, he or she is 100% concentrated on that person. Therefore, having love for everyone does not mean that love for each individual is diluted. We need not fear that if we open our hearts to many people, our personal relations will be less intense or fulfilling. We may cling less and be less dependent on any one relation to be all-satisfying, and we may spend less time with each individual, but each is a full involvement. The same is true in terms of others’ love for us when we’re jealous that it will be diluted because they also love someone else.
It’s unrealistic to think that any one person will be our perfect match, our “other half,” who will complement us in all ways and with whom we can share every aspect of our lives. Such ideas are based on the ancient Greek myth told by Plato that originally we were all wholes, who were split in two. Somewhere “out there” is our other half; and true love is when we find and reunite with our other halves. Although this myth became the foundation for Western romanticism, it does not refer to reality. To believe in it is like believing in the handsome prince who will come to rescue us on a white horse. We need loving relationships with many people in order to share all our interests and needs. If this is true of us, then it is also true of our partner and friends. It’s impossible for us to fulfill all their needs and so they too need other friendships.
When someone comes into our lives, it is helpful to view them like a beautiful wild bird that has come to our window. If we are jealous that the bird also goes to other people’s windows so lock it up in a cage, it becomes so miserable that it’ll lose its luster and might even die. If, without possessiveness, we let the bird fly free, we can enjoy the wonderful time that the bird is with us. When the bird flies off, as is it’s right, it will be more apt to return if it feels safe with us. If we accept and respect that our partner and friend also has the right to have other close friendships, our relationship will be healthier and more long-lasting.