Jealousy is one of those emotions we desperately want to explain in simple terms. One school of thought tells you that jealousy is a proof of love; the other, diametrically opposed, tells you that it has nothing to do with love and everything to do with the jealous person’s insecurities. They are both wrong: Jealousy is a complex emotion that has many forms.
1. It can be positive or negative.
Depending on the effect it has on the relationship, it can be positive or negative. It is hard to love and not feel at least a little bit of jealousy; when I go on a plane, I know that my probability of crashing is around one in a million, but I still feel a little worried when we hit turbulence. Likewise, even the more secure person will feel some jealousy from time to time. A positive jealousy will benefit the relationship: It will lead the jealous partner to become more passionate and more doting. Negative jealousy, on the other hand, is harmful and possibly lethal for the relationship: Typically, the jealous partner will exhibit an excessive reaction and hurt the other partner, and may even go so far as using the emotion and whatever triggered it as a pretext to end the relationship.
2. It is harmful in large doses.
Jealousy is a little bit like medicine: It can be beneficial in small doses, but it has some side effects and can be downright harmful in larger doses. Jealousy is usually positive when it does not disrupt the partners’ lives: A slight jealousy by your partner shows you that he/she cares, makes him/her more attentive to your needs and demonstrates some emotion. Increase the amount, however, and it will become destructive: You will see it as an attempt to control you, to limit your freedom, to destroy your friendships and even sabotage your success at work. And you will react accordingly, maybe harming your relationship irredeemably. Many people like to provoke their partner’s jealousy to “spice up” their relationship; that can be a double-edged sword.
3. Your jealousy can be triggered by your own actions.
We typically think of jealousy as stemming from our partner being pursued by someone else or having a crush on someone else. While this is often the case, our own jealousy can also be triggered by the attention we receive from another potential partner. Maria is a successful fashion designer and her job puts her in constant contact with young and successful actors and executives; she often accepts their invitations to lunch or drinks. After a particularly titillating event, Maria will usually feel guilty and be particularly nice to her long-term boyfriend George, showing all the usual signs of jealousy. That’s absolutely normal: You are jealous when your relationship is threatened and sometimes you are the party through whom the threat is taking place. Sometimes your anxieties about the relationship, due to your own success, can be transferred as acts of jealousy toward your innocent partner. Imagine, for example, an attractive friend who calls you constantly: You want to rebuff him/her, but you don’t want to be rude, especially that he/she never propositions you directly. You begin to build up frustration and insecurity, because you feel you can’t control the situation; that’s jealousy, and it can get even worse if you transfer in your mind the blame to your partner because you feel he/she could have shielded you by being more present or could also have similar issues he/she is not telling you about, etc.
4. Negative jealousy is often a way to get out of the relationship.
More often than not, relationships don’t last forever. Sometimes, one of the parties in a relationship begins to feel tired, or has misgivings about where the relationship is going, or feels inadequate due to the other partner’s success, or even is attracted to someone else. But all of this is occurring subconsciously, so he/she would never willingly admit to it clearly. In this case, excessive jealousy is one of the ways one might use, subconsciously, to become unbearable and provoke a break in the relationship.
5. Negative jealousy can be a way to destroy oneself.
There are many ways to commit self-destruction: The most extreme is suicide, but addiction, indecent behavior, and self-sabotage at work or at school are also part of the gamut. Usually, it is someone who can’t cope anymore with the life he has, so he will abandon or send his loved ones a dramatic plea for help. When jealousy is used as a self-destroying instrument, it is not just the relationship that the jealous person seeks to abandon, but often the by-products of the relationship such as children, common friends, a job, etc.
If you are prone to or faced with excessive jealousy, you should take it seriously, try to understand its causes, and discuss it as a couple to surmount it. When understood and harnessed, emotions are your friends; they can show you problems you were not aware of and push you toward a better life. Jealousy is no exception.