We consulted Natalie Dickinson, an Ottawa-based couples therapist and registered social worker, for some help. "Comparing one's relationship to another's is not only normal, but can be healthy and helpful. The downside is that it leaves room for jealousy," she says. "While feelings of jealousy are normal, it often doesn't bring out the best in us. How you cope with those feelings, therefore, is key."
It's easy to say, "I should just stop comparing my relationship to theirs," but following through can be difficult. Luckily, it's not impossible. Try applying these tips to common social situations in order to silence your inner critic.
1. Acknowledge the feeling
Do you become touchy, verging on miserable, when you witness friends' happy relationships? Your colleague is flashing a five-carat princess-cut Tiffany sparkler when you return from Christmas holidays; a close friend announces her much-anticipated pregnancy; your sibling buys a charming turn-of-the-century brownstone with his new girlfriend -- do these events spark a twinge of jealousy?
Although these are your friends and family members, instead of being happy, your first reaction is anger and deep resentment that none of these milestones is happening to you. "The first step to changing any behaviour is to recognize when it occurs," says Dickinson. "In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, our thoughts, feelings and reactions often occur in the blink of an eye. Making an effort to slow down and recognize when an unwanted behaviour occurs is critical."
2. Don't bend the truth about your relationship to one-up friends or relatives
"Sometimes unwanted behaviours can be persistent, and tough to change on our own," says Dickinson. "It helps to know what feelings and thoughts triggered the behaviour. Beginning to untangle some of the thoughts and feelings that influence our behaviours is necessary if we want to make lasting changes."
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Is it fear, anxiety or a feeling of not measuring up that makes you tell little (and big) white lies about how great your partner is at helping around the house, how amazing he is with your parents or how he lavishes you with extravagant gifts?
Whatever it may be, Dickinson advises exploring it rather than continuing with this behaviour. "Once we have more insight into why we reacted a particular way, it becomes easier to challenge some of those ideas and come up with more helpful ways to behave," she says. "Enlisting the help of a therapist can be useful in making lasting changes."
3. Refrain from judging other people's relationships
While trying to change long-standing behaviours can be challenging, with effort and persistence, it is absolutely possible. "For example, I snapped at my sister when she told me about her new partner, because deep down I was actually jealous her partner is more successful than mine," says Dickinson.
To remedy this, communication is key. Share your feelings with your partner so they can help alleviate some of the anxiety prompting your negative thoughts. "If seeing another's relationship brings up serious questions about your own, it's important to find time to talk about your concerns with your significant other," she says. And if you have children, never air your feelings about family members' or friends' romantic relationships. It will cloud their judgment of those people and teach them that negative gossip is acceptable.
4. Write down what you love about your partner (and reference it often)
Do happy couples make you feel anxious and overly critical of your partner? "It is normal that spending time with happy couples would bring up feelings of anxiety or jealousy about your own relationship. It is important, though, to ask yourself whether those feelings are founded or not," says Dickinson.
Try deliberately looking for positive things in your own relationship to take the focus off of the negative. You might be familiar with keeping a gratitude journal, but why not write down things you are grateful for in your partner on a regular basis? Think of it as a personal relationship highlight reel that you keep handy as a reference.
Include things like the three kindest things your partner ever did for you, your favourite memories of times spent together, the last time you laughed together or the last time you were surprised by something thoughtful that your partner did. "Remember, all relationships have their strengths and weaknesses, so just because a couple is happy and secure, it doesn't mean that they don't put work into their relationship, too."
It is natural for the happiness of others' relationships to sometimes trigger feelings of envy, but by acknowledging and dealing with these unkind thoughts, you can avoid the negative impact they have on you and your personal relationships.
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