Feeling jealous is a natural reaction when a person begins to feel as if their current state of well-being is being threatened. This is especially true if the threat is perceived to come from another person. The primary effects of jealousy in relationships are emotional and experienced by the individual while secondary effects are generated by how that individual reacts to their emotions. These secondary effects of jealousy in relationships are the ones that cause damage.
The Harmful Effects of Jealousy in Relationships
Jealousy is not necessarily a harmful emotion to feel and everyone experiences it at some point or another. It’s a primitive response to a perceived threat to your emotional and physical well-being. The loss can be a fear or anxiety, an actual and present loss, or something part of the past. How we react to these threats, which at times might not even be real at all, is what causes the harm to our relationships.
Types Of Jealousies
Reactive jealousy is described as how a person responds if their partner engages in intimate behaviors with another person. It is thought to be the only positive form jealousy can take because it is acting on a legitimate perceived threat, like seeing your partner kiss another person, and not on an inferred or imagined one. Reactive jealousy’s main goal is usually to secure the investment and better the quality of the relationship by identifying and dealing with external threats.
Possessive and anxious jealousy arise from suspicions that may have no evidence supporting them. Possessive jealousy, or preventative jealousy, occurs when a person goes to considerable lengths to prevent the object of their jealousy from having undesired contact with a third party. Anxious jealousy involves obsessions and suspicions about a person’s potential behavior. Possessive and anxious jealousies likely serve a need within the individual experiencing the emotions and not the needs of the relationship itself.
Expressing cognitive jealousy is, in essence, self-reporting relationship uncertainty. In this aspect, communicating feelings of jealousy can act to benefit the relationship itself and strengthen the bond between partners. This is distinctly different from demonstrations of emotional jealousy which are centered on the individual and not related to the relationship itself. Rather than bringing partners together, expressions of emotional jealousy can push them apart.
In Romantic Relationships
Jealous behavior is most evident in romantic relationships because of the amount of investment involved. People who are more emotionally dependent on their partners tend to express more jealousy. This is because those who are highly committed are more dependent on the relationship. Threats to the relationship might be misperceived and can result in higher levels of reactive jealousy for an insecure individual than for an individual with lower dependence and investment in a similar situation.
Without a level of investment, a person has nothing to lose if their partner exits the relationship. Over time, investment in the relationship increases and commitment to one’s romantic partner increases as well. Those who have invested more in their relationships will become more aware of potential threats to their investment.
Not Only In Romance
Though it’s most often associated with sexual relationships, jealousy isn’t just reserved for romance. It can manifest in relationships between siblings, friends, and social rivals. A potential threat to social standing, emotional well-being, or physical well-being are all valid reasons that may incite jealousy.
If you are in a position of social power and think someone is jeopardizing your standing, jealousy can be evoked by this perceived threat. Sibling rivalry is often a result of jealous behavior when siblings vie for parental attention or what they consider to be “better” resources. Jealousy can also appear in friendships where one person feels that they are losing the attention of their friend to another.
What Causes Jealousy in Relationships?
Many of the things that can spark jealousy vary from situation to situation. However, jealousy almost always stems from a feeling that something of value might potentially be lost to another person. There are important factors that increase the likelihood of jealousy— for example, if a person outside the relationship challenges an aspect of the self-worth or threatens the relationship's rewards. In a romantic partnership, a rival threatens a relationship only when he or she excels on dimensions that are highly important for an individual within the relationship. In essence, a rival is only a rival if they tap into an insecurity.
While it’s true that some jealousy in relationships is justifiable, often it comes from a place of personal insecurity. When a person is insecure about themselves, it’s easy to fear personal rejection. If you’re afraid your partner might find something about you that they don’t like or find someone else they like better, you might find yourself becoming jealous more easily. Insecurity runs on a spectrum and it’s completely normal for a person to feel insecure about something every once in a while. However, if you have high amounts of insecurity and if you do not address this with your partner, these insecurities will only fester and grow.
A rival only threatens a relationship when he or she excels on an aspect that is highly important for one or both of the partners within the relationship. For example, a highly attractive person will feel more threatened by a highly attractive rival as compared to a highly intelligent rival. The rival’s attractiveness is more threatening to those who view attractiveness as being an important quality on which their relationship is based. Some rivals may not warrant a jealous reaction because they do not threaten an integral part of one’s self-esteem or the relationship itself.
Infidelity, or a threat of infidelity, can cause extreme jealousy in monogamous romantic relationships. If insecurity or low self-image makes a person think badly of themselves, they will often begin to wonder what their significant other sees in them. You may begin to question why your partner would want to stay with you and fear that they will inevitably meet someone "better". The fear that your partner will wake up one day and realize there is someone better out there can lead to irrational and undue suspicion and jealousy.
Defined as the tendency to maintain a relationship and feel psychologically attached to it, commitment plays a big role in creating different degrees of jealousy in relationships. Jealousy plays an integral role in relationship quality and maintenance and is affected by the uncertainty produced at different levels of investment and commitment in a relationship.
Early in a relationship, when there is low investment and high uncertainty, the expression of jealousy serves to protect the relationship. As the relationship progresses, commitment increases and uncertainty decreases. Once the relationship meets moderate levels of commitment, expressions of jealousy become more possessive in nature and have more harmful effects.
Increased commitment requires more jealous responses to protect the higher level of investment. Commitment is stronger when a relationship is satisfying. Feeling that there is a lack of commitment can spark jealousy in the aspect that one partner might begin to fear losing the other. In instances such as these, the security of the relationship is not present and can lead to jealous behavior.
Though jealousy is classified as an emotion, there can be physical consequences if it is left unchecked. Crying, increased heart-rate, sweating, and shaking all examples of immediate physical symptoms that jealousy can cause in relationships.
The strain that undue jealousy puts on a relationship can cause a lot of stress for both partners. Chronic stress has been known to cause a lot of health issues. The long-term effects of chronic jealousy can cause symptoms associated with stress and anxiety such as weight loss and trouble sleeping.
Additionally, jealousy can lead to abusive relationships if one partner attempts to stop the other's activity using verbal or physical aggression. In individuals prone to violence, jealousy can have some disastrous physical effects. Many abusive relationships can be either caused or fueled by a jealous partner who handles their jealousy in hurtful and destructive ways. If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship such as this, it’s best to remember you deserve better and be sure to seek avenues for help.
Decline of Relationship
Expressing jealousy can have a positive effect because jealousy essentially serves to protect the relationship. But although jealousy has some positive connotations, extreme jealousy can indicate a lack of trust between partners in the relationship. Long-lasting relationships need to be built on trust and when jealousy becomes a persistent pattern, it erodes that essential foundation needed to build a successful and rewarding relationship.
The closer you and your partner become, the more either of you have to lose by breaking up. If you feel like you might be about to lose your partner, it can cause you to hold tighter to the relationship and act more irrationally than you otherwise would have. Jealousy can lead the non-jealous partner to feel mistrusted and controlled, reducing their happiness in the relationship and causing further problems.
If insecurity is at the root of what’s causing the jealousy, it can lead you to even more insecurity. For example, if you’re insecure in your appearance, fearing that your partner may find someone better looking and leave you, this insecurity can cause mass amounts of jealousy whenever you spot your partner interacting with others. This jealousy can make your partner feel mistrusted or even unhappy in the relationship and could eventually push them to leave. If they meet someone else who makes them happy, it could appear that they did leave you for someone else, though not for physical reasons but for their own happiness. This could make you become even more insecure and even go so far as to affect your future relationships.
Sadness, anger, depression, hopelessness, and feelings of unworthiness are just some of the emotions that can result from jealousy. Other effects include a decrease in one’s perceived self-worth, emotional instability, feelings of bitterness, the breaking of relationships, prolonged depression, and extreme anxiety. If your relationship ends due to a jealous partner, it can even bring along feelings of heartbreak that can be tough to recover from.
Is Jealousy Ever Positive?
Jealousy in relationships may serve as a form of partner-retention where the partner who sparks the jealous reaction in the other views the reaction in a relatively positive way. The absence of jealousy in this case would indicate a lack of investment in their potential partner. When expressed for reasons such as maintaining the collective investment, jealousy serves to protect the relationship.
Reactive jealousy differs from anxious jealousy because it is a response to a credible threat. If a partner displays or engages in intimate or sexual behavior with someone else, the other partner might display signs of reactive jealousy. Behaviors such as flirting, dancing, and kissing would provoke a negative reaction for an individual in an exclusive relationship with the person engaging in those behaviors. Instead, expressing reactive jealousy shows that one partner has invested in the relationship and the display of jealousy serves to increase the quality of the partnership.
Feelings of jealousy are unavoidable and are something everyone experiences at some point or another. If jealousy is based on an unsubstantiated or strictly imagined threat, the jealous behaviors cannot stop any concrete threats to the relationship, meaning there is no possible good that can come from the expression. Jealous responses based only on imaginary threats become delusional and therefore problematic to the relationship. When jealousy cannot benefit the relationship, all it ends up doing is causing harm.
So how do you combat jealousy in relationships? Well, the most effective way of dealing with jealous feelings is to keep an open line of communication with your partner. Opening up and talking about what’s bothering you can help lay those feelings to rest and strengthen your bond as a pair. This is true for any relationship, whether it be professional, friendly, or romantic. If you experience jealousy in relationships, it’s important to examine the emotional response you have and react with a clear head. Emotions are temporary, actions last a lifetime.