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4 Signs of Toxic Jealousy in Relationships, According to Experts

4 Signs of Toxic Jealousy in Relationships, According to Experts

Even people in the most secure relationships may have to navigate waves of jealousy. It’s totally normal if your stomach sinks after seeing your partner bond with their attractive coworker, and we’d venture a guess that almost all couples have had some variation of the, “Seriously, they’re just a friend” debate. The green-eyed monster may even seem kind of endearing at times. (Isn’t it so sweet that they care that much about you?) 

Jealousy isn’t a relationship red flag in and of itself, Vernessa Roberts, PsyD, LMFT, a therapist who works with couples in Sacramento, California, tells SELF. At its core, this uneasy feeling usually stems from anxiety, suspicion, paranoia, or insecurity—all of which can naturally arise when you’re afraid of losing someone important to you, according to Dr. Roberts. “Although most of us don’t like this emotion, jealousy can actually be a healthy indicator that maybe we don’t feel secure and need some reassurance from our partner,” she says. But when self-doubt spirals into volatile and irrational accusations or controlling, guilt-tripping behaviors, that’s when jealousy is a sign of something more serious.

“The biggest difference between healthy and unhealthy jealousy is how we manage it,” Dr. Roberts says. The former is natural, normal, and most importantly, temporary; the latter is “toxic, explosive, and uncompromising, usually indicating a desire to control the other person,” she explains. The line between the two can be fine, so we asked therapists to share the most common warning signs that jealousy has gone too far. Here are the biggies you shouldn’t ignore:

They monitor your every move.

It’s one thing if your partner is curious about who you’re calling so late at night, or what bar you’re hitting with your pals without them. But if you feel like you have to report your whereabouts at all times, say, or your lover demands to see your texts under the justification that “there shouldn’t be anything to hide,” that’s a telltale sign that their jealousy is crossing into toxic territory, Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, a therapist at Therapeutic Alliance of New York Counseling who specializes in couples counseling and divorce guidance, tells SELF.

“Constantly keeping tabs on your every move, like regularly snooping on your phone, is an unsustainable fix,” Hartstein says. “They may feel better knowing you’re not flirting with someone today, but they’ll inevitably keep surveilling you to make sure you’re not doing something tomorrow, which is an invasion of your privacy.” Even if you’ve lied to your partner about your past relationships, say, or fibbed about your spending habits, that still doesn’t give them the right to watch you like a hawk. Not only is it super annoying and a strain on the relationship, but taking your freedom away and destroying your sense of privacy can signal emotional abuse, according to Harstein.

At the end of the day, you should feel relaxed and safe when you’re in a healthy relationship, she says—not like you’re being smothered by an overbearing parent or losing your sense of autonomy. 

Their jealousy results in angry outbursts. 

Everyone has moments when their anger gets the best of them and they react in ways they’re not too proud of. However, if you’re frequently tiptoeing around your partner, telling white lies, or staying guarded out of fear that one wrong move will instigate a screaming match, take a step back and ask yourself why you’re being so cautious, Dr. Roberts recommends. 

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