Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer “radical empathy” and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Today the Sugars talk about how to handle being jealous of a significant other. A listener writes about being jealous of a girlfriend’s success, yet simultaneously feeling happy for her. This person worries that being honest about being jealous will damage the relationship. Is there any way to get over this feeling of envy?
Over time, I’ve come to define myself by what I do, as I think many of us do. A few years ago I decided to go to graduate school, and just a couple months in, I met my girlfriend in the same program. Because we’re always together, it’s added interesting turns to our relationship, and while it can be difficult, I feel that it’s given us an incredible bond and understanding of one another.
Since meeting, we’ve both enjoyed a good amount of success in our field, some of which has been together and some as individuals. She’s much more carefree, social and outgoing, whereas I’m much more of a high-strung introvert in regards to new situations and people. In most cases this works out fine for us, and she’s been a positive force to counter my fairly cynical outlook on life. Oftentimes, I get myself so stressed and down about my work that I find it hard to continue; she’s always there to talk me back down and give me the motivation I need.
Lately though, my insecurities are causing me to have inner turmoil that I don’t feel I can express to my partner. She’s just been given an incredible opportunity for her work, one that was on both of our career-goals lists. She is entirely deserving of this recognition. She works hard, Sugars, really hard, and I’m very proud of her for earning the opportunity.
But I’m also so incredibly jealous. I’m more jealous than I am happy for her. I feel like I have a raging jealous monster inside me that I can’t get to shut up. I don’t want to feel this way. I even know that if I had attempted to get the same opportunity she did, which I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been ready for it anyway. So it’s not that she got what I think I should have gotten, it’s that I can’t help but think of all the other great things that will come for her following this. And then conversely, I wonder what it will be like if my own practice never takes off while hers flourishes?
I don’t want to bring up my jealousy with her and have my usual negativity rain on her parade. I don’t want her to think of me as a burden as she is preparing, or worse, feel afraid to keep me in the loop about any part of this opportunity for fear of hurting my feelings — though I fear this has already happened. After she received her news, I only found out because a professor was discussing it with her while I was in the room.
Sugars, how do I combat the jealousy of her success? Do I let her know how I feel? I don’t want to damage my relationship because I love her, and really, I want her to be by my side.
Steve Almond: Envy, it’s OK that you have this feeling. The question is, how much power do you give it? You’re sincerely happy for her, and so you’re owning these feelings. But I think it’s really important that she hears that loud and clear, because her first instinct is going to be to feel blamed or like she needs to be apologetic about this achievement.
You need to think really deeply about the nature of jealousy — that’s about you, your relationship to your work and your relationship to the feeling you have when you see other people getting what you someday hope to get. It’s important to own that and do some internal work to resolve some of those feelings before you bring them to your girlfriend.
Cheryl Strayed: I do think that when it comes to jealousy, you need to be really careful about how you share those feelings. Right now, you’re on one side and your girlfriend’s on the other side. Instead, shift it to say, “We’re in this together. You got something that we both want, and here’s how I feel about it.”
Steve: I think it’s important to also address, more specifically, that there is this expectation that the man’s job is to achieve and to be dominant, whether it’s financially or through career advancement.
Cheryl: The idea that masculinity is built on female weakness is false manliness. The strongest man is somebody who is absolutely not threatened by the strongest woman.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear from a woman who doesn’t like the fact that she makes more money than her husband does.
Have a question for the Sugars? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered on a future episode.