Did you ever have the sneaking feeling that your best friend at work has their own agenda which doesn’t necessarily include your success as a priority? You’re not alone and there’s a very good reason for it.

“Life partners and best friends are naturally competitive with each other and it’s better just to recognize that it’s natural – perhaps a repeat of sibling rivals – than to see it as just personal,” according to Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author. “The feeling of measuring yourself and your achievements against someone else’s, especially someone who is close at hand and with whom you have to share and negotiate, is natural.”

Maybe, but what happens when those feelings have you wondering if you still trust that person with your work challenges or questions?

Don’t second-guess your feelings

If you feel that nagging feeling that something is wrong, it’s probably because you’re right. “We too often feel confused, ashamed, or sheepish about acknowledging our competitive feelings that are experienced as envy, jealousy, or self-pity,” Young-Eisendrath said.

But being competitive is what usually leads some of us to greatness. Then again, if you can’t acknowledge those feelings, you might cover up some of the other feelings that drive you.

“The worst of these, and the one that can lead to sabotaging success or accomplishment is envy. Envy leads to putting down or diminishing something that one cannot get for oneself. It’s the “sour grapes” approach of resentment of someone else’s success, money, attractiveness, leadership, creativity.”

So, let’s back up here for a moment. Are you envious of your partner or coworker? Do you feel like they’re jealous of everything you’re accomplishing? If they don’t admit their feelings, they might twist it and instead put you down.

Or, as Young-Eisendrath explains it, “if you don’t feel you can match up to someone, you will tend to want to put them down.” She offers these examples — Oh, you didn’t really need that! What’s the point of getting that degree? Going on that vacation? I wouldn’t want that — to give you an idea of some of the insidious ways people can put you down intentionally or otherwise.

The envy is real

When envy pokes its nose into a close relationship, Young-Eisendrath believes that friends may need to use the skills of something she developed called Real Dialogue to sort things out.

“This means speaking for yourself (taking responsibility for your own impressions, feelings, opinions and not saying ‘YOU made me feel this way’), paraphrasing (stepping back, taking a breath and finding out if you truly understand the other person’s impressions, feelings, opinions instead of just rehearsing your own), and remaining open and curious about what is going on with the two of your as separate people,” Young-Eisendrath says.

And whether it’s your work wife or life wife, always remember “You will always be separate people. You will always be achieving things in a different order and in different ways; you will rarely, if ever, have exactly the same good fortune at the same time,” Young-Eisendrath elaborates.

And each and every time might be different: “You will need to sort out carefully each of your own experiences at times of either’s success … especially sudden success.”

Don’t allow bad feelings to fester

“If the competitive themes in your relationship are not sorted out, allowing each person to feel accepted and witnessed, even in the midst of jealousy and pride or self-pity, then the competition and rivalry can get the better of your love and loyalty,” cautions Young-Eisendrath.

And getting into a cycle of jealousy or hostility might not only ruin your friendship but your career potential as well.

“Ultimately, the more hostile and hateful aspects of envy will undermine the competence and good luck that either of you can bring to newfound accomplishments,” she adds.

If that happens, you’ll both run the risk of damaging your ability to create future success together or apart. Because let’s face it, it’s hard to get over betrayal, much less from someone who is supposed to boost you up in life not drag you down.

It might sound a bit oversimplified, but Young-Eisendrath advises: “Don’t let that happen. Instead, allow that both of you to have and accept competitive feelings with each other and work through them, with respect, to support your love.”

Originally published on The Ladders

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