When jealousy rears its head, it’s never pretty. When we start comparing ourselves to others, we can feel inadequate and insecure, and worse, it can put strain on our relationships because there often isn’t an easy way to talk about it. We’ve all been jealous and we know it’s not easy to deal with, but what happens when things flip and you’re on the receiving end of jealousy from someone who has started tearing you down instead of building you up? HC talked to Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychologist and creator of the popular advice blog The Friendship Blog, for some tips to navigate this common but difficult friendship road bump.
Proceed with caution
Jealousy is tricky terrain. Because jealousy usually isn’t confronted head-on, it can be hard to be 100 percent sure that it’s the cause of tension in friendships. We’re often hesitant to assume people are jealous of us, and for good reason. After all, something could be going on that has nothing to do with you at all. You can have your suspicions, of course, but how do you broach the topic with your friend without seeming self-centered or accusing her of something completely off the mark?
To start, there are signs of jealousy you can look out for. Your friend might be clingy, competitive, passive aggressive or unsupportive of things that make you happy. But even if the signs are there, according to Levine, you shouldn’t bring up the J word until absolutely necessary.
“Before you confront a friend, you need to carefully think through your goals [in confronting her],” she says. “Accusing someone of being jealous may not be a good approach because it’s only likely to put her on the defensive. If you are upset by something your friend does or says that makes you think she may be jealous of you, point out the specific behavior that’s objectionable and talk about that.”
To keep this conversation as smooth as possible, utilize “I” statements and assume that her intentions were not to hurt you. If you’re lucky, this conversation will open lines of communication between you and your friend and the two of you can talk things out. If not, it might be time for some troubleshooting.
If your friend is jealous of your relationship
It’s not hard to understand why this happens. There’s nothing wrong with being single, but when your friends start dating, it can be difficult to be the single woman out. When you’re the one in a relationship and your friend starts exhibiting signs of jealousy—whether she’s subtly complaining about your boyfriend, being a bit too encouraging about breaking things off when you’re having relationship problems or being unwilling to hear stories about your relationship—what do you do?
First things first, consider that she might have reason to be jealous.
“[Jealousy] may suggest that your friend needs some reassurance that you still value her friendship and want to spend ‘girl time’ with her although you don’t have as much time as you once had,” Levine says.
Have your girls’ nights out been replaced exclusively by date nights, or have you found yourself talking excessively about your boyfriend? It’s understandable if you’re excited, but take measures to tone it down if you know you’d be annoyed if you were in her shoes.
“My friend made me realize that I was totally being ‘that girl’ with my boyfriend,” says Brianna*, a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. “At first, I thought she was just nagging, but we talked about it and it turned out it wasn’t just petty jealousy.”
If you’ve been the single friend before, Levine recommends reminding your friend that you understand where she’s coming from. She also suggests you make efforts to not only have alone time with her, but to also consider including her in some of the things you do with your boyfriend. Don’t force her into being a third wheel, but if you make it seem as though your relationship isn’t some sacred, separate part of your life that she’s not allowed into, things will return to normal in no time!
If your friend is jealous of your other friends
Whether your friend expresses her jealousy of your other friends by trying to tag along on all your plans or by talking bad about your friends, it can put a serious strain on your friendship. Not to mention, it can be awkward… or seriously aggravating.
“My last year’s roommate would do nothing but complain that I was never home,” says Rachel Cisto a collegiette at the University of Hartford. “[If] I went to a friend’s apartment, she’d demand to know what friend, what complex [and] when would I come back, and when I didn’t tell her, she would whine and complain that I didn’t want to be her friend and clearly I hated her and [ask] why wasn’t she invited to spend time with my other friends.”
Rachel eventually got a new roommate, but for less extreme cases of jealousy, there are definitely ways to deal.
“If your friend is jealous about your other friends, it may suggest that she feels insecure either about herself, the friendship or both,” says Levine. “If she is so jealous that she makes you feel uncomfortable socializing with other friends, you have to let her know that you enjoy her friendship but also have other friends who are important to you.”
If having that conversation sounds daunting, you may want to take steps to include your jealous friend in activities with your other friends, but only if you feel comfortable doing so. You should never feel as though it is your job to include her, but if you haven’t considered the option of combining friend groups, it might be the quick fix you need.
If your friend is jealous of you
It can be hard to pinpoint why your friend is potentially jealous of you, whether it’s your talents, your personality traits, your looks or some other facet of yourself. However, jealousy might manifest in the form of her tearing you down so she can feel better about the traits that she thinks she lacks. She might do this through insults, passive-aggressive remarks or constantly comparing the two of you.
No matter how she does it, confront her about this behavior without being accusatory and make it clear how her behavior is making you feel. You can say something as simple as, “Recently, I feel like you’ve been making a lot of comments about my body, and while I’m sure you don’t mean it to be hurtful, I wanted to let you know that it’s coming across that way.”
Levine also suggests thinking about why your friend might express herself this way.
“While your friend may be jealous of your looks or intellect, for example, she may not realize that you admire some of her strengths, too,” she says. “Take the time to point that out to her.”
When to cut things off
Sometimes jealousy is a sign of a bigger problem. If your successes, good qualities and happiness make your friend unhappy instead of proud and glad for you, that might be a sign that your friendship isn’t as strong as you thought it was in the first place.
“Friendships are voluntary relationships that are supposed to be mutually satisfying,” says Levine. “If you find that a friend is consistently demanding and draining and [you] have frequent misunderstandings with each other that can’t be resolved, you may need to create some distance between you and your friend.”
Nervous to have that conversation? Levine has the following tips:
- Write a script for yourself before you talk to her. Your breakup words won’t be easily forgotten by your friend.
- Take responsibility for your decision rather than blaming her.
- Try to be honest without being hurtful. For example, you could say, “I’ve realized this friendship is too draining for me,” or, “I need some time and distance from our friendship.”
- Remember that this person once was your friend; you don’t want to hurt her even if you feel hurt.
Don’t feel bad for having to sever ties. With all of the stresses that collegiettes have to deal with on a daily bases, toxic friendships should not be one of them. If communicating and attempting to change the situation leads nowhere, it’s time to cut your losses and move on. After all, you deserve so much better!
*Name has been changed.