Jeremy doesn’t see why his girlfriend Karen still keeps in close contact with her ex. Karen and her ex don’t have kids together and there is no good reason that Jeremy can see for them to text and call one another on a regular basis.
When she and her ex broke up, their dog Sam went with her. They both were very attached to Sam and Karen’s ex asked Karen to promise that he could still spend time with him.
Because of this agreement, Karen texts her ex about Sam a couple of times a week. He watches Sam when she goes out of town and, often on Saturday mornings, Karen and Sam meet her ex at a local dog park.
Jeremy appreciates how important Sam’s welfare is to Karen. He thinks it’s admirable that she lets her ex continue to spend time with this beloved dog. But, he often feels left out. He worries that Sam is just an excuse for Karen and her ex to stay connected.
It’s clear that Jeremy and Karen are stuck in a big jealousy-fueled argument.
They often go back and forth about this and don’t get any closer to a resolution. Jeremy believes that either he’s going to “win” and Karen will drastically limit her contact with her ex or he’ll “lose” and things will continue as they have been. If he loses, he’s sure that his jealousy of Karen’s relationship with her ex will get worse.
The ultimate loss, of course, will be if they keep clashing over this issue and break up because of it.
There’s no doubt that relationships can get complicated and messy.
When your partner is somehow tied to his or her ex, there may be valid reasons for them to be in regular contact. Maybe they have children together and need to coordinate schedules and address parenting questions together. It could be that there are pets or financial assets (like a house, car or boat) that link them together even though their relationship has ended.
Or, your partner and his or her ex may just want to remain friends. Whether or not the reason for continuing contact seems valid to you, it still might bring up jealousy.
When you hear your partner talking to the one who used to be such an intimate and important person in his or her life, it trigger fears, worries and a whole lot of hurt. When you communicate your concerns to your partner, tension and conflict occur
No-win jealousy stalemate
When it seems like only one of you will win and the other one will lose, you both feel stuck and miserable. A win/lose stalemate always creates distance and disconnection in your relationship. Even if someone “gives in,” the sense that only one of you has “won” can cause a deep divide.
It might feel good in the moment if you get a “win” and your partner stops doing whatever you believe was making you feel jealous, but this comes at a big cost. Your partner is likely to feel resentful and disempowered. It’s less likely that he or she will actually follow through on whatever you two “decided” because it wasn’t an agreement reached freely and consciously by both of you.
Your jealousy won’t just disappear either!
Stop the stalemate in your mind
When you notice yourself really digging in your heels, pause and look at the situation differently. Remember, the reason why you feel trapped in a win/lose stalemate is mostly because of how you’re viewing whatever is going on.
As stubborn and immovable as your partner seems to be, it’s probable the you’re being just as stubborn.
The more openly and flexibly you can approach this, the easier it will be to stop the stalemate.
Start with the thoughts you’re having. Turn a thought like, “She refuses to consider what I want!” into “We don’t seem to be listening to one another” or “I’d like us both to feel heard and understood.”
When you have a thought that keeps you stuck in a win/lose stalemate, reach for something different that is equally true to you but provides a sense of movement forward and toward re-connection.
Focus on what this is REALLY about
Get clear about how you feel and what you believe about this issue or situation. Look deeper than your jealousy and get to what your core wants and needs are.
What is the bottom line for you when it comes to this issue? Figure out which aspects are most important to you and which are secondary or mostly distracting you from your core wants and needs. As you get to what your “side” or your position is really about, you’re freer to be flexible in some areas and firmer in others.
When necessary, you can set a boundary and do so without your partner feeling closed down or controlled. You can also really hear what is true for your partner. You can identify the places of overlap for what you each want– this is where solutions reside.
It IS possible for you both to win.
When you open up and really listen to one another, it’s easier to find a resolution. What you come away with may be completely different from what you expected and it may also be an even better way to address the problem while keeping you and your partner close.