Hey man, I'm starting to worry my partner is disinterested in me. I'm not the jealous type, but I'm starting to feel myself getting anxious when they're out with friends. How do I stop these thoughts?
Hey man, let’s get right into the expertise here. Jack Worthy, a psychotherapist, wants you to know that “jealousy is normal”. We all experience it, and actually. “We evolved to feel jealous,” he says. “Jealousy is the emotional discomfort that prompts us to invest in our relationships.”
That being said, just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s good. Jealousy often comes from within – it’s born out of self-esteem issues, insecurities and anxieties. In fact, the anxiety you’re starting to feel might be derived from it. Others feel angry, even vengeful. The fact that feeling jealous as hell is almost always a “you” problem isn’t so bad, though. It means we can do things to work through it, and that despite your brain throwing a complete wobble about everything, there might not be any massively life-altering changes to your life on the horizon at all.
You say you’re not “the jealous type”, and that’s fine, but really it wouldn’t matter if you were. You’re not feeling great either way, so “we need to look at what is triggering this feeling”, says relationship expert John Kelly. By this, Kelly means we need to look at the specific circumstances affecting your mood.
What’s taken you from feeling happy in the relationship to thinking there’s a chance it’s on the rocks? It looks like you’ve already identified two things: They’re out with mates more and are less responsive when they’re out, and you’re worried they’re becoming disinterested in you.
Let’s start with them being out more. Given our social lives are pretty much back – albeit tainted by a cost of living crisis – many people will have experienced a reshuffling of their time spent with others. Some might be staying home as much as they did; others might not. Walking the balance between mates and people we fancy can be difficult, but especially if you’re readjusting to not being in a pandemic.
If, when they’re away from the relationship, they’re seeing friends and doing interesting things while you're ordering takeaways, binge-watching TV or playing video games while sinking cans,“that jealousy might be your nervous system sending you a different sort of signal,” Worthy says. “That might be your nervous system sending you a signal saying this person is growing and vibrant, in a way that you are currently not.”
If honestly and rationally, you feel things within the relationship itself aren’t that bad, but something is just a bit off in your life, look into how you're investing your time outside of the relationship. "If you notice them being more active outside of the relationship, I would say you don't need to make an announcement at all,” Worthy adds. “You just go and do likewise. And if it still isn't right, then speak to them.”
While it can feel a bit scary, isolating or frankly brutal, you don’t want a relationship to become the justification for your existence. Create meaning for yourself outside of spending time with them. Worthy says to “pursue things that create self-respect. That can be socialising, it can be training for a marathon, reading a book – any personal achievements”. At the least, it might help you navigate the free time you have while the person you like is out there doing cool shit. It might also help you to associate them spending less time with you as them growing as a person, while you have the freedom to do the same in a relationship that supports you.
Perhaps it isn’t just that they’re around less, though. You say you’re worried about a lack of interest. What does that look like, exactly? It could be that they’re unresponsive when they are out, and getting home later too. Perhaps when they are around, they're on their phone more. Often, for the person oblivious to these feelings, this can be unintentional and seem a little irrational to be accused of.
But to the person who’s been sitting at home all day waiting to hang out with that someone, it can be hard to understand and process the situation without leading to neurotic or stressful thoughts. Whether that’s you thinking they’re disinterested and are looking to find fun elsewhere (platonically or otherwise), we have to accept that ultimately, you don’t know that’s true and that it’s a feeling you have conjured up.
This is a rare instance where it’s best to try and figure things out for yourself before talking to them about it. “Ask yourself what your partner like when they’re with you,” advises Worthy. “Are they interested in seeing you, do the two of you have fun together? Does the energy still feel good? Is there intimacy still, are you making eye contact? Because all of these things matter more than how much time you spend together – it’s about quality.”
Reassuring yourself is key, as both experts feel this often points to low self-esteem issues more often than a warning something is going badly in the relationship.
It’s also a good idea to reflect on things less directly at the heart of the matter too. Therapist Sally Baker says to consider whether anything has “changed in your stress levels. For instance, is work feeling more pressured or less reliable, and could you be erroneously projecting those insecurities onto your relationship?”
If, after you read this and gone on a nice walk and had a think about it for a few days, you still feel horrible and even more convinced something is up, try relaying the concerns to a trustworthy friend and seeing what they think. Whether you self-process or speak to mates, aiming to get to the bottom of how you feel is key.
"If you just let this stuff build up inside of you, then it's not going to ever be resolved," says Kelly. This can lead to more tension, and let’s face it, the issues will probably come out in a far less dignified way, which will be less vibey for everyone involved.
And if you’re still unhappy and feel like your relationship is changing and you don’t know what to do about it, then it's not a bad idea to speak to the person you’re with. Just choose a good time for it, like a morning where they haven’t got much going on – and definitely not after one of you has just come in from a night out. Keep it all calm and relaxed: They might be completely shocked you feel the way you do, and you want to be able to communicate clearly with them. “Put your point across to the other person, but mainly to just check in and see where they are, and see if they can alleviate any of those fears and worries,” Kelly suggests.
Remember, there’s no shame in showing that you’re actually feeling a bit vulnerable. “It’s no one else's job to save you or boost your confidence but a non-judgemental conversation about your relationship could help allay your fears,” says Baker.
Say you’ve had the chat and it turns out your instincts are correct: They’re unhappy and feels like something is missing in the relationship. Fuck it, say they even are disinterested in you and you break up. You’ll be a bit upset for a while, of course, but at least you know the situation wasn’t self-esteem and that ultimately, you just became a bit less compatible. Well, then maybe you look to move on. Evaluate the spare time you have and find the things you love to do for yourself. Make sure you feel good about you, and then perhaps next time, things work out better. It’ll be alright.
But really – usually – this comes from insecurity, and working on you will solve that, too. Best wishes.