January 28, 2014

Jealousy: What’s Normal vs. Obsessive in a Relationship.

Out of all the emotions that we humans experience, jealousy is arguably the one that gets the worst rap.

How many times have we heard a person declare—usually in a fit of anger or irritation—“I’m not a jealous person!”

I know I have done it more times than I care to remember.

The truth is, I am jealous. We all are.

In fact, most cultural psychologists believe that jealousy isn’t just normal, it’s innate. It’s not necessarily bad and may even serve a purpose in human evolution: as one scientist put it, “it seeks to prevent loss.”

Ask anyone in a serious, long-term relationship, and they will probably confirm that the “J” word has come up at least once.

However, much like anything else, jealousy can be taken to an extreme and develop into controlling, manipulative behavior that ultimately can put a strain on even the best relationships and lead to their demise.

In determining what is normal vs. what is not, it’s important to know that there are actually two kinds of jealousy: that which is an actual threat to a relationship and that which is delusional.

A good example of the former would be if your partner is constantly in contact with an ex whom he or she refers to as “their soul mate” or “the one that got away.” They may say they’re just good friends, but you are never invited to come along to any of their outings, and your partner confesses that they actually confide more into that person than you. Those are valid reasons to be jealous.

On the other hand, if your partner casually mentions they find a work mate attractive and you react by blowing a gasket and accusing your partner of sleeping with them, that could be a sign of delusional jealousy.

Delusional jealousy is often the worst because it causes one to perceive anyone and anything as a potential threat. In extreme cases, a person suffering from this sort of jealousy may go so far as to cut their partner off from their friends and families and demand to know where they are every second of the day.

Frankly, this is no way for anyone to live. Unless we live in a cave somewhere in the wilderness, we are going to be in contact with others. A healthy relationship involves trust and respect. Rather than keeping someone close to us, all this sort of behavior does is push them away.

If you find yourself acting this way, it may be helpful to figure out exactly what the fear is. Did you have a previous partner who cheated on you? Are there deeper abandonment issues at work here? In many case, these sorts of things need to be worked out with a therapist.

However, one thing that I caution that many of the experts don’t mention are mind games some people play to trigger a jealous reaction and then deny doing such things in the first place.

A good example is years ago, I was involved with a man who was mutual acquaintances with a woman I absolutely loathed (for what I deemed many legitimate reasons). I noticed toward the end of our relationship, he would frequently mention her in glowing terms and subtly and not-so-subtly compare the two of us, usually with me coming out as the not-so-favorable one.

As expected, it triggered me and led to furious arguments.

After a while, it was clear to me that this really had nothing to do with how he felt about her, but was all about getting under my skin, although he vehemently denied it. Sadly, based on others’ experiences, this is hardly an unusual situation. In cases like this, the underlying problem isn’t the jealousy, but the emotional abuse which is taking place. If that’s happening, then run—do not walk—from that relationship. An abusive relationship of any sort is bad—period.

In closing, rather than deny or try to banish the existence of jealousy from our lives, we are better off acknowledging it and trying to get to the root of it. In some cases, our jealousy may actually serve us and make us face up to things in our relationships that we may not want to admit are there but ultimately need to do so.

Lastly, the next time you are called jealous, don’t take it as an automatic insult or some failing inside you. At some point, we are all jealous, and it doesn’t make us weak or bad. Rather, it makes us human.


3 Ways to Stop Jealousy.

3 Tips: How to Stop Jealousy’s Twin, Envy, Once & For All.

How to Deal Mindfully with Jealousy.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wendy Zheng/Pixoto

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