Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. It strikes people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations, and is most typically aroused when a person perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party. The threat may be real or imagined.
Not limited to romantic relationships, jealousy can also arise among siblings competing for parental attention, among co-workers, or in friendships. Jealousy is distinguished from envy in that jealousy always involves a third party seen as a rival for affection or attention. Envy occurs between only two people and is best summed up as, “I want what you have.”
Although jealousy is a painful emotional experience, evolutionary psychologists regard it not as an emotion to be suppressed but as one to heed—as a signal, or a wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and that steps need to be taken to regain the affection of one’s mate or friend. As a result, jealousy is seen as a necessary emotion, because it preserves social bonds. It motivates people to engage in behaviors that maintain important relationships.
How to Deal with Jealousy?
Valuable though it can be, jealousy also has the potential to fuel damaging behavior. It can compel someone to obsessively monitor another’s communication, relationships, and whereabouts; attempt to lower their self-confidence; or even behave violently.
Even though it may feel taboo, simply acknowledging jealousy’s presence can both help ward it off in the future and strengthen a relationship in the present. Exploring the emotions that underpin jealousy can inspire self-reflection that may help to develop internal coping skills.
Being honest with the other party about the feelings can spur productive conversations about what the relationship might be missing and how to repair the bond. When jealousy is overwhelming, it may also be helpful to talk to someone outside the relationship—if necessary, a therapist—to explore and deal with underlying issues, such as those with trust or intimacy.