Jealousy & Long-Distance Relationships

Written by
Michael Wells

Jealousy & Long-Distance Relationships

Written by
Michael Wells

Jealousy & Long-Distance Relationships

Written by
Michael Wells
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QUESTION
"Why am I so jealous of the female friends my boyfriend has made since we've been in a long distance relationship?
"There's one girl in particular who he's with almost everyday and it makes me really upset. How do I control my emotions?"

About a week ago, I caught up with one of my favorite dance partners, who I haven’t seen in nearly a year. She has an incredibly cute son who is now just over 1 year old, who hasn’t seen me since he was very tiny.

My dance partner and I missed dancing together a lot, and after some coffee and catch-up, we decided to have a dance and see what we remember.

We found a nice gazebo in the park with a danceable floor, and started up our favorite zouk playlist.

Her one year old son found all of this fascinating. Park. gazebo. music... he seemed enthralled with these new experiences. He toddled around exploring everything with the epic fascination and curiosity of a 1 year old.

Until...

The moment we embraced to dance, he looked a little bit worried. He immediately stopped his explorations, walked directly across the gazebo, squeezed between us, and stood there steadfastly with his arms wrapped around mom’s knees.

And, just to make things clear, he looked up and back at me like he wanted to say…

My mom.”

What is Jealousy?

He wasn't taught to react that way.

His mother had never seen him do that before, and as far as we knew, he'd never seen anyone else do it either. For him this reaction was instant and automatic. He didn’t have to think about it, he just felt something, and he responded to that feeling.

While his mom and I giggled at this never-before-seen behavior in her son, we marveled at how "cute" it looked. But for me it was a very "wow, look at that" moment. A rare moment of absolute purity of emotional psychology and behavior.

What we witnessed may have looked very cute, but for him it probably wasn’t. It was an experience of jealousy.

All of this was fascinating for me to witness and recognize- because like him, I am also a product of evolutionary psychology- and I've felt those exact same feelings before. This little guy taught me in 5 seconds flat that we know jealousy before we even know words.

Why Does Jealousy Exist?

As humans, we effectively have three different functional layers of our mind. You can think of them as the reptile, the mammal, and the human.

  1. The reptile - has survival emotions such as fear, lust, and anger. These emotions keep you alive.
  2. The mammal - has social emotions such as like, love, approval, jealousy, and shame. The emotions connect you with others, which improves your survival significantly. There’s strength in numbers.
  3. The human - has the rational mind, which solves problems, creates, and imagines the future.

Jealousy is a part of our mammal-brain programming.

It's about protecting our relationships, because they are important to us. our survival and our future. When a relationship that is important to us feels threatened, we feel jealous.

Personally, I'd describe jealousy as a combination of three emotions... anger, fear, and love- all at once.

Jealousy Requires Love

Let's talk about love.

At a neurological level, the feeling of love between two people is based on oxytocin, a neurotransmitter which is designed to promote pair-bonding.

We feel love towards people who we value, trust, feel secure with, and who we depend on. Your rational, conscious mind might disagree, but we’re talking about your mammal mind here. If your emotional brain sees something valuable and important to you about this person, you will feel love- even if intellectually you dislike them terribly.

This explains every difficult family relationship ever, doesn't it?

Oxytocin is that warm & safe feeling you have when you’re with someone special, but it's also responsible for those uncomfortable relationship feelings...

  • Longing for someone, when they’re not there.
  • Jealousy, when that relationship feels threatened by someone.
  • Heartbreak, if that relationship ends.

The Problem of Long-Distance Relationships

Here's why this is important to understand.

Your mammal brain and oxytocin evolved 250 million years ago, long before airplanes, Facebook, and the modern life we live.

It wasn't designed to cope with long-distance relationships.

Long-distance relationships sound great to our rational mind, because our rational mind is all about the future, and prediction of “what will be.”

That future looks wonderful and rosy.

But our emotional mind is weighing things up very differently.

It can only see right here, right now and it just isn’t designed to know how to deal with this situation. It doesn't know how to maintain a strong romantic attachment to someone that you cannot be with,

Your emotional brain expects you to be with this person you love, to protect them, and be protected by them. To see them every day, and care for them.

How does this happen when they are 1,000 miles away?

Our modern reality is that suddenly we find ourselves in situations where we are building and maintaining relationships that don't align well with our fundamental design as mammals.

Your oxytocin is working just fine, but your situation creates a challenge for you.

What You'll Feel

Because a long-distance relationship seems "broken" to your mammal brain, it will generate all kinds of not-so-fun emotions.

These are probably the main ones...

  • Loneliness. You miss close, trusting, intimate human connection.
  • Longing. You crave being with your partner, and miss them terribly.
  • Insecurity. To your mammal mind, them being away from you represents a risk to your security, and you feel that intensely.
  • Jealousy, at any potential threat to your relationship.
  • Confusion, at any situation where someone shows interest in you. Rationally, you're not interested because you're in another committed relationship. But emotionally, your mammal brain is craving that feeling of connection, protection and security with a real person that it can see.

Right now, you’re experiencing jealousy because your mammal mind wants you to stand between your boyfriend and this interloper, and protect your relationship.

But, you can’t… and this is why long-distance relationships often struggle.

What You Can Do

Awareness of what's happening in your own mind is the first step. Once you have that, there are some additional steps you can take.

Discuss, and Negotiate Boundaries

Sit down and discuss this with him. Share your feelings, and anxieties, and thoughts. Mutually set some boundaries.

He may struggle to understand, or feel defensive- remember he's in this long-distance relationship too so he has the same challenges. See "confusion" above...

He needs to know what you need, in order to make this relationship work.

Ultimately, he may not "get it" and may think you're over-reacting. Ask him how he'd feel if the situation were reversed, and you had a close male friend.

I want to warn you that all of these discussions will be very difficult, but they are healthy, powerful discussions. You'll know each other better, and you'll know yourselves better. At the end, if you're still together, you'll be stronger than ever and be far better at communicating about life's challenges.

If you end up apart, then quite honestly, that's probably for the best too- but you need to make this decision for yourself.

Set Your Own Expectations

You’re in one of the most difficult kinds of relationships possible, and it will be very difficult to maintain a long-distance relationship for any real length of time.

All relationships are challenging to begin with, and here, both of your emotional minds ( both yours and his ) are really going to struggle with being apart.

Take Action

I’d discovered that anytime I feel an uncomfortable emotion, my emotional mind is trying to get me to DO something.

It’s my job to figure out what that is, and DO it.

If I can’t do it - such as in your case where you cannot be there to protect your relationship when it feels threatened - at least you can understand why you’re feeling pain ( jealousy in this case ), and ask the all-important question…

Does this make sense for me, and is this a relationship that I can depend on?

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First published on 
July 16, 2020
. Last updated on 
July 22, 2021

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