Not *all* jealousy in a relationship is bad — here’s how to make the distinction
When it comes to jealousy in a relationship, there are usually two key factors involved: doubt and insecurity, and jealousy tends to be inextricably linked to one or the other…or, sometimes, both. It’s often hard to tell which comes first and which causes the green-eyed monster to rear its ugly head Even though it gets a negative rep for obvious reasons, is all jealousy bad for your relationship? Honestly, maybe not.
In a new article for Psychology Today, Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, a licensed counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University, explores whether jealousy is truly a toxic force in your romantic partnerships, and you might be surprised about her findings. Degges-White argues that there’s actually nothing wrong with a little jealousy, though she clearly explains how jealous feelings can go from totally cool to totally toxic — and how to avoid crossing that line.
She says that though jealousy “has the potential to be a complex and extremely painful emotion; it can reflect our own sense of inner insecurity and insufficient sense of self-worth,” that it can actually be a helpful barometer of your feelings.
In a weird way, jealousy can be used as a “red flag” to “encourage you to do a little self-exploration.” That is, if you can acknowledge it before it becomes toxic to your relationship.
Degges-White says, "Simply put, jealousy is motivated by fear. When fear is driving your behaviors, it is essential to tune into the cognitive components that accompany the fear. When jealousy kicks into gear, try to figure out what it is that you are fearful of losing...a relationship? A status? A sense of control? It can be one of a million different things, depending on who you are and what you value. Unpacking that fear is the key to figuring out where your insecurities reside – which is necessary in determining how best to overcome them."
But jealousy can quickly trickle into dangerous territory if you find yourself engaging in controlling behaviors, like checking your partner’s phone without their knowledge or wanting to know what they’re up to at all times. If you find yourself feeling increasingly paranoid about your partner’s whereabouts or the possibility that they’re doing something shady behind your back, you’ve got to communicate your feelings clearly…without being accusatory.
She adds, “If you are jealous of the time that a partner invests in other activities or spends with friends or family, consider whether or not the relationship is having difficulties in other areas. If your partner has begun to seem less available than in the past, check in with your partner and share your concerns… If you’re jealous of time that your partner spends with [their] friends that you admittedly don’t enjoy being around, talk to your partner about potential solutions.”
It’s true that jealousy can very quickly erode a relationship if it’s not handled in a healthy way, so it’s best to tackle it head-on, before you or your partner begins engaging in disrespectful or controlling ways.
So is any amount of jealousy OK in a partnership? Say, for example, you’re out in public and you catch someone flirting with your S.O. As long as they’re not crossing any boundaries, Degges-White thinks this kind of jealousy can act as an “aphrodisiac.” Yes, really!
She says, “It can make you realize how lucky you are to be with the one you have when you see that others might be interested in a relationship with that person themselves.”
And vice versa, if your partner sees you being pursued by someone else, it can make you feel sexier in turn, just by feeling like you’re a hot commodity. Ah, biology.
Still, Degge-White clarifies that just as a teeny bit of jealousy can be weirdly sweet, it can very quickly turn sour. She says, “When jealousy borders – or crosses into – the need for control and a breakdown of trust, it’s time to directly address the issue and consider the direction your relationship may need to take.”
If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a healthy amount of jealousy or if it’s downright ruining your bond, you can always check in with a trusted professional, like a therapist or counselor. “Seeking professional help is sometimes the best way to step outside of your own perspective and gain a more objective view of a relationship,” says Degge-White. There’s truly no shame in asking for help if you think you need it, so don’t be afraid to explore your options to keep your relationship a healthy, thriving one.