Admitting jealousy has been taboo in Western civilization for centuries. Presumably, culture has associated jealousy with weakness and sin; after all, envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Why are we as a society so scared that we can’t even admit to ourselves that we are jealous at times? Esther Perel, a therapist and author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, developed the notion from her research that “This is a culture that does not tolerate the (jealousy) emotion.”
This may be unfortunate in some ways. Jealousy can be like any other emotion we experience—while risky, it can serve a unique and positive purpose within certain parameters. Jealousy can bring about awareness – awareness of a present phenomenon and gives us the sense that it is changing. It forces us to confront certain feelings and push us to act on them. Why are we so afraid of jealousy? Jealousy is in one aspect merely a warning bell to let you know you may be losing someone very important to you. Feeling jealousy often forces you to refocus your energy toward a relationship that needs to be nurtured.
Jealousy is actually one way to improve your romantic relationships, says Erica Slotter, a professor of psychology at Villanova University. Dr. Slotter explains, “Jealousy is usually defined as the emotional reaction to a threat to one’s relationship from a real or imagined romantic rival. It differs from envy in that it always involves a third party.” Jealousy can cause you to act on this threat – to express your feelings more, to fight for someone you feel you may be losing.
Jealousy and envy are not synonymous; while similar, jealousy involves a perpetual fear that someone may no longer see you as more important than someone else. This may be very difficult for those who feel insecure. Jealousy may be a feeling that is so charged and intense that may actually be painful for some. Jealousy can cause lower self-esteem and induce destructive thoughts that prevent some from opening up to others.
For many people, jealousy implies a power imbalance, causing tension. Jealousy usually doesn’t come alone – it may be accompanied by anxiety and depression. “In its most extreme form, jealousy can be exceedingly damaging— it’s the leading driver of homicide of romantic partners, particularly of wives, girlfriends, and exes,” says David Buss, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Of course, if you feel jealous too frequently and if it interferes with your ability to live your daily life, seeking the help of a mental health professional can help you understand and process your emotions that have spiraled out of control.
Perhaps a little jealousy is a good thing wrapped in some risky emotions. It can help us re-value our partner a bit more if we know there are partner-poachers on the prowl. Jealousy keeps us from becoming too comfortable; perhaps there are changes we need to make to keep our partner interested. “When there is a threat and people become jealous, that jealousy motivates them to engage in behaviors that interfere with the partner going somewhere else,” says Edward Lemay, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland.
Don’t be necessarily afraid of a little jealousy; it might be a warning sign that indicates a problem in your relationship. If managed properly in an otherwise healthy relationship, it can become part of the regular courting process. Some women learn how to stimulate jealousy in a healthy manner, while some men—particularly Alpha men—learn how to utilize that jealousy to drive them to succeed, provide, and seek to please their partner.
Stimulated and utilized in moderation, jealousy can be a healthy emotion.