Beat jealousy in your relationship – for once the ‘green-eyed monster’ is out of control, this dark and deep emotion can stifle and destroy love. And we ask: Can jealousy ever be good?
There is a purpose to most human emotions. Love leads to pairing, caring and, in many cases, having children. Fear readies you to resist attack. But what of jealousy? At first sight it seems to be totally negative, causing misery both to the jealous and their partner. It breaks up marriages and relationships, and in extreme cases, leads to violence and even bloodshed.
Whereas envy is a state in which only two people are involved, jealousy usually involves a triangle, a threesome – you, someone you care about and someone (or something) that threatens to take that someone away. It is therefore firmly rooted in the sexual side of a relationship. And this simple fact explains why, for the human race as a whole, jealousy may have a positive side as well.
It can be argued that jealousy strengthens the sexual bond between partners, and prevents individuals going their separate ways on a sexual whim. Where the bringing up of offspring is concerned, this has to be of benefit to the species as a whole.
Jealousy can also help to split up couples who may not be well suited to each other anyway.
If a marriage or an affair is breaking up, jealousy often provides the language and the dramatic framework for the break-up. Sometimes it produces the grounds for divorce, too. And the pain of the emotion can spur the two now separated partners to set about making new lives for themselves.
Different for men and women
Researchers have found that the feeling of jealousy does seem to be different for men and for women. For men, jealousy is often based on sexual issues, while women may say that they are more concerned about the loss of time and attention from their men.
This difference may centre on age-old biological differences between male and female bodies. It is theoretically possible for a woman to be much more unfaithful to a man, than a man can be to a woman. A woman could have innumerable lovers in one day, while a man’s ability to cheat on his partner is limited by how often he can manage to achieve and keep an erection.
One study by psychologists shows that men tend to be more jealous if they have a low opinion of themselves, while women’s jealousy depends more on how dependent they are on the relationship. Equally, men are more concerned about the loss of self-esteem involved in finding that a partner has been unfaithful, while women are more concerned about completely losing a sexual partner.
Women also say that the intensity of their jealous reaction depends on the attractiveness of their rival. A man, however, can actually take it as a back-handed compliment – and thus a boost to his ego – if a particularly handsome man is attracted to his wife. But out of concern for his ego he is more likely to ask himself: ‘Is the other man a better lover?’
Psychologists have also isolated varieties of jealousy that might be considered abnormal and unhealthy.
The first is morbid jealousy where the sufferer broods constantly on their partner’s possible infidelity usually without cause. It is a depressive and self-pitying state of mind which often disguises deep personality disorders. These extreme forms of jealousy can even cause the sufferer to show signs of mental illness.
In a group of 36 wives who were suffering from agoraphobia – the morbid fear of going outdoors or crossing open spaces – it was found that seven were married to abnormally jealous men.
The husband’s jealousy actually hindered the treatment of the agoraphobic woman. Also, any improvement in the wife’s condition led to increasing agitation on the part of the husband. One husband even attempted suicide to force his wife to give up treatment. It seemed that is was easier for these wives to remain agoraphobic – and not go out of the house – than for them to face their husband’s obsessive jealousy. And it was easier for the husbands to believe that their wives were ‘ill’, than to admit that they were frightened that she might be unfaithful.
What fuels jealousy?
The major difficulty in coping with a jealous partner is that jealousy, unlike any of the other emotions which affect relationships, has an enormous appetite. Jealousy can feed on anything. A man’s glance at a pretty girl in the street is fuel for his partner’s jealousy. But his studied effort not to glance at a pretty girl in the street can be taken in the same way. She may say: ‘I saw her looking at you as if she knew you. Funny, the way you avoided her and kept your eyes on the pavement. Are you quite sure you don’t known her? Are you hiding something?’
If there are no real events on which it can feed, jealousy will find fuel in the imagination. It is a suspicious and questioning emotion.
Jealous people are prone to ‘come across’ letters, photos, significant bills, and receipts in which they can find a hidden meaning. In truth, they look for them. Similarly, they are extraordinarily receptive to ‘suspicious’ gestures, looks, or tones or voice.
If, for example, a husband watches his wife lynx-eyed at parties and holds bitter post-mortems afterwards on her obvious interest in another guest, she will probably have found that she can argue for hours that she had no desire to make love to him and that she did not even find him attractive, to little avail.
Irrational jealousy is not a simple here-and-now feeling. It is not necessarily a reaction to actual loss of love (although it might have begun with such an actual loss in the past), but an apprehensive fear that love might be lost. The jealous person feels that he or she might be replaced by someone else in the eyes of their partner. Jealousy involves massive doubt and uncertainty about being loved and wanted – feelings that lead to anxiety. Mild forms of jealousy are common, and do not initially threaten a relationship. But they can cause discomfort and unhappiness, which is reason to try to do something about them. Frankness and discussion between partners can often help get jealousy into perspective.
Sometimes, though, attempts to cope in a positive way, by dealing with the feelings behind jealousy, may be thwarted by the fact that the couple simply do not know what these feelings are. If loving understanding cannot uncover them, then it is time to seek out professional assistance, in the form of counselling.