Jealousy: What Is It and What Does It Tell in a Relationship?
It is easy to understand why jealousy gets a bad rap or evokes negative connotations. One of the main reasons is how people react when they get jealous. Some behave aggressively, while others get bitter and find themselves dealing with anxiety, insecurity, and instability.
It commonly occurs in romantic relationships, with a belief or fear that your partner may be unfaithful or likes someone else.
What Does Jealousy Mean?
Jealousy refers to the fear of losing someone or something (like a relationship) that you deeply care about. In many romantic relationships, jealousy can translate to worrying about our partner finding someone else who is more desirable than us, followed by fear or dread that we might lose them or they will leave and reject us.
Jealousy is a natural human emotion and we all experience it from time to time. A little bit of it is fine in a healthy relationship, particularly if it’s handled in a thoughtful way.
Jealousy, however, can become a problem when it is too strong and starts to influence relationships. People who struggle with chronic or uncontrolled jealousy can benefit from therapy to understand what’s causing it.
Take note: While the words jealousy and envy are used interchangeably, they are not the same. Jealousy is a feeling related to the things you have or consider to be yours, like a person in a romantic relationship.
Envy, meanwhile, is associated with a desire for someone else’s things. Jealousy is a three-person situation, while envy is a two-person situation.
Why Do We Get Jealous?
According to studies, jealousy correlates with low self-esteem. It typically comes from insecurity, which refers to the feeling of being inadequate or not good enough.
We may feel worried that our partner may leave us because of our imperfections or that they will find someone who is more interesting or attractive than us.
There are also cases where jealousy can also occur due to a lack of boundaries or poor communication. It can also be rooted in what your partner did in the past, like infidelity or a breach of trust.
It is important to determine the root cause of the problem to move past jealousy and its associated behaviors.
Is Jealousy Healthy in a Relationship?
As we mentioned above, a little bit of it is fine and does not cause any harm. But is jealousy healthy in a relationship?
Yes, mild jealousy is considered healthy, providing some sort of reiteration that you deeply care about your partner and don’t want to lose them.
Feeling jealous can also be beneficial when it clears up and cements the meaning of your relationship.
Signs of healthy jealousy include:
- Recognizing and acknowledging it – It is normal to feel jealousy in a relationship, so it is best not to fight it or let it go unresolved. You need to admit that you got jealous and let your partner know why you feel this way.
- Open communication – This involves discussing your emotions honestly or explaining to your partner why you feel jealous or a bit insecure. By letting them know what’s going on, you can help your partner address the problem and explore solutions.
- Knowing or understanding the reasons behind it – Although this is not a straightforward process, you can start by attempting to understand why feelings of jealousy occur suddenly. Journaling, as well as going to therapy or relationship counseling, can help.
- Responding properly or taking responsibility – This means addressing your emotions and looking for ways to straighten them out. It involves open communication with your partner and negotiating boundaries.
The Positive Aspects of Jealousy
The right amount of jealousy demonstrates a commitment to the relationship and protects connections that matter to you.
Here is what jealousy can do for your relationship:
Inspire to be a better partner
Being too comfortable can sometimes cause you to slack off or take things for granted. A little jealousy can act as a reminder to be the partner that you ought to be or put more effort into showing how much your significant other means to you.
For example, you can do so by cooking their favorite meal, surprising them with a dinner date, or writing a love letter.
A little bit of jealousy in a relationship can help improve your bond when you talk about it, instead of bottling it up.
Don’t engage in passive-aggressive behaviors like giving your partner the silent treatment or saying things like, “Sorry, I don’t look as hot as that guy/girl you’re flirting with.”
Tell them nicely that you got a little jealous, explain why you feel this way, and clarify your expectations.
Renew the spark
Do you feel jealous at the thought of another person snagging or cozying up with your partner?
It could be a sign that the physical attraction is very much alive and within reach. It could help you refocus on the attributes that made you fall in love with them, in the first place.
You may also see your partner in a new light (more attractive) when another person flirts with them or gives them attention.
Motivate to pursue goals
Jealousy in relationships can sometimes stem from a lack of self-confidence or an aspect of yourself you’re not happy about. You can use that as a motivation to make positive changes.
If you, for instance, are feeling a bit self-conscious about your body because of the extra weight, put in the work to lose those pounds and get the body you want. You and your partner will surely feel happy about this positive change.
Be Wary About the Bad Kind of Jealousy
Jealousy can become unhealthy when it turns into an obsession and possessiveness. This can pave the way for a toxic relationship, especially if a partner becomes constantly needy or angry even when the other partner hasn’t done anything wrong.
Jealousy can also be unhealthy when someone:
- Makes assumptions or jumps into unwarranted conclusions
- Initiates fights/arguments that could ruin relationships
- Acts impulsively based on mere suspicion
- Breaks down their partner’s self-esteem by making threats and accusations
- Physically or emotionally abuses the other partner
Some people confuse toxic and jealous behavior with love, while in fact, these are two different things. It is best to recognize the warning signs that can veer into unhealthy territory in the future.
Here are the signs of unhealthy jealousy:
- Wanting to be with your partner all the time
- Monitoring their activities and seeking constant contact
- Being emotionally intense, like rushing the pace of the relationship
- Controlling behaviors (e.g., not letting your partner do things on their own, making rules about who they can spend time with)
- Paranoia and suspicions, or obsessing over jealous thoughts
- Anxiety, depression, and self-harming thoughts
How Does Counseling or Therapy Help With Jealousy?
If jealousy seems to be interfering with your daily life, counseling or therapy can help. This is especially true for extreme jealousy that also contributes to the development of mental health conditions like generalized anxiety and depression.
A licensed therapist can help you figure out and address the cause of your emotions.
Here is how therapy or relationship counseling can help partners overcome extreme jealousy:
- Process or understand painful emotions better
- Improve communication skills
- Identify and address unhelpful thinking styles that contribute to jealousy
- Prioritize self-care to feel more independent, confident, and self-assured
- Reframe damaging or negative thoughts
- Learn emotional regulation skills
- Learn helpful tactics, such as mindfulness, for dealing with sudden feelings of jealousy
Although sometimes jealousy can be healthy and even beneficial for relationships, it can also cause serious problems. Honest and open communication can be very helpful when dealing with jealousy in a relationship.
The same is also true for sharing your fears and insecurities and viewing the situation from an outsider’s perspective.
You might want to consider therapy and relationship counseling to understand where jealousy is coming from so that you can move forward and cultivate a healthy relationship.
Although in-person therapy may not be a convenient solution for couples with conflicting work schedules, online therapy platforms like Calmerry enable you to talk to a licensed therapist from virtually anywhere, share your worries, and get the necessary emotional support in a flexible way.