The Seven Deadly Sins: Part one - Envy

According to tradition, The Seven Deadly Sinsare: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

This series of blogs looks into how these ‘sins’ can play into relationships. 

Envy: The intense desire to have something that someone else possesses. 

It is human nature to compare yourself to others, but when it comes to relationships, this is a mistake best avoided. We have all heard the saying ‘nothing is quite as it seems’ and this couldn’t be more accurate when it comes it love. It’s easy to view a relationship from the outside and envy what those two people have in comparison to what you have; ‘they always look so happy’, ‘they’re perfect for each other’, ‘they never seem to argue’ but the reality is more often than not quite different. In the age of social media where people are encouraged to post picture perfect lifestyles, taking things with a pinch of salt can sometimes be the best approach. 

Let us first remember that when you see couples posting about themselves online, you are seeing only a small snapshot of their reality. It is highly unlikely that the people in question will post anything other than the best version of themselves and their relationships. Projecting the image of relationship bliss is far more inviting and enviable than posting the day to day reality of relationships.

So if you are tempted to compare your relationship to the Prince Harrys  and Meghan Markles of the world, take a moment to consider that maybe, just maybe, you are already living your own fairy-tale. 

Relationships of any kind are hard work. Be it friendships; if you want to remain on good terms and connected to a friend, you have to put the effort in to see them regularly so that the connection remains, or romantic relationships; you need to take time to be with your partner, to build memories together and to really talk to each other about whatever is happening in your life at that time. 

Envy can impact your relationship in many ways. From an internal perspective, comparing your partner to someone else’s can be the start of a downward spiral. Statements such as ‘why can’t you be more like X, he’s always happy to spend all his free time with his wife and kids’, or ‘X loves going out every weekend with her partner, why can’t you be more like her’ can have a detrimental impact on your relationship as a whole. This is because, after all, it’s never nice to feel like the qualities you offer your partner are being compared to those of someone else. 

When envy begins to creep in, in this way, it can be helpful to remember what attracted you to your partner in the first place. You are with that person for a reason, so there must be some qualities that drew you to them in the first instance. Psychologist Dr Georgina Barnett and colleagues at Seventy Thirty explored The Psychology of Attraction in a recent podcast which highlighted an introduction into some of the different approaches to what we find attractive and why. The matching hypothesis for example, explains that we tend to be attracted to someone of equal attractiveness. There are many different theories about what we find attractive and why, some of which Noam Shpancer Ph.D .explores in his article Laws of Attraction: How Do We Select a Life Partner? These range from factors such as exposure and familiarity, to personality and character, and on and so forth. Whatever the reason that drew you to your partner, keep that at the forefront of your mind. 

When it comes to envy, the phrase ‘The grass is always greener’ is often a prevalent thought. You envy what someone else has and automatically assume your life would be far better if you had the same; if you’re single, you long for the security and comfort of a long-term relationship, and if you are in a relationship you long for the freedom and far reaching social life of your single friends. 

Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski in their article Why Does the Grass Often Seem Greener Elsewhere? Found that “We may overwhelmingly focus on what is wrong in our situation and forget about what is going right. Despite plenty of positive things in our environment, our attention naturally fixates on problems.”. This applies to envy in that it is an emotion which, more often than not, comes to the forefront when we are feeling in a negative mindset. If you are having a good day, feeling happy, loved and in good health it is quite easy to naturally relish all the things you love about your partner and see the positive traits they have; thoughtfulness, understanding etc. However, the opposite can be said if you are having a bad day and are in a negative mindset. Suddenly those usually endearing qualities turn into ‘reasons’ to feel envious and look elsewhere or at least feel like you ‘should’ be looking for bigger and better things.  

Remember, happiness isn’t a guarantee which comes with life. You have to want it, be passionate about it and work hard to achieve it. Once achieved, whether that be with the partner you’ve always hoped for or the job you dreamt you’d get, the next stage is to work hard to maintain it. Envy can become an issue when something else in your relationship is lacking. It is during these times that we tend to focus on the negatives which make it so much easier to justify our feelings of envy and this is where the hard work begins.

Joshua Becker wrote A Helpful Guide to Overcoming Envy and found that ‘One of the biggest reasons we envy the life of another is because we have begun to take our blessings for granted.’It can be helpful to remember the things you enjoy about a certain situation in order to stop feelings of envy coming into play. For example, if you are working in a field that you initially found appealing, which would be a given if you decided to take a job in that field, remember why you said yes. Consider all the skills you have learnt in that role, the colleagues you enjoy spending time with and the reasons why you have stayed in that position for as long as you have. The same applies to romantic relationships. Remember why you said yes to the first date with your partner, when you fell in love with them, the memories you have shared so far and the plans you have for your future together. 

Taking time to be thankful for what you have, instead of being frustrated by what you don’t, can do wonders for your relationship and state of mind. Incorporating Mindfulness into your day to day life can help with this as “becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted”. 

It is human nature to get frustrated and to want something else. There are some who would even say this is a helpful emotion to have as it can make you strive to achieve more or to change the things you are not happy with. For example, if a friend of yours has progressed up the career ladder and has achieved successes you feel you would like in life, instead of feeling envious, try to feel inspired. See them as someone to look up to, a yard stick of what you would like to achieve and the direction you would like your life to go in. You could even try talking to them about how they have come to the position they are in today and see if there is anything you can implement in your own life/relationship to help you reach your goal. 

Loveisrespect.org published a blog on What is a Healthy Relationship? and found that the following tips can help you and your partner create and maintain a healthy relationship: Speak Up, Respect Each Other, Compromise, Be Supportive and Respect Each Other’s Privacy. These points may seem simple, but are often over looked when we are in an envious mindset. Once you find the person you want to commit to, keep these tips in mind as ways to maintain your relationship thus avoiding envying others. 

So to conclude, whether you are in a relationship or single,take time to smell the roses, push doubt from your mind and instead of feeling envious about all the shoulda woulda couldas, consider where you are now, what you are grateful for and happy about in your life, and if there is something you don’t like about it, change it because you want to and not because the green-eyed monster we call envy tells you to.