Why Jealousy Serves No One - Least of All You
Why do we so commonly experience jealousy in our relationships?
Some studies point to our evolutionary background as an explanation. Namely, we may have historically used jealousy in an effort to ward off potential competition and secure our sexual partners and family units for purposes of procreation and survival.
Additionally, at times and in small doses, jealousy can fan the flames of passion in a relationship that’s gone dormant, serving to reignite lust and reinvigorate the partnership.
Perhaps because of this latter phenomenon, some people feel that jealousy is an acceptable thing in relationships. For instance, have you ever heard (or made) comments such as:
“Babe, I’m just jealous because I care so deeply about you.”
“If you really love me like you say you do, why do you never get jealous? It doesn’t feel like you care.”
“His girlfriend is super jealous, so we can’t be friends anymore.”
-I have. And let’s just get this out of the way right now: jealousy is not a sign a love. It’s a sign of insecurity, fear, and the desire to possess our partners.
But even when we know the truth about jealousy, our knowledge doesn’t necessarily render us immune from falling victim to the emotion.
Most of us have grappled with jealousy at one point or another in a current or past relationship. Maybe, like me, you struggled when your partner accidentally called you by the wrong name, checked out another person in front of you, flirted with others, or generally engaged in behaviors that would’ve been perfectly fine if they were single, but that felt disrespectful given that they were in a long-term, committed, and monogamous relationship with you.
And with the proliferation of social media, it seems like there’s even more to plague us than ever before when it comes to jealousy. To list several examples, have you ever heard or thought something along the lines of:
“Why does she always seem to be messaging with her ex?”
“Why did my boyfriend have to ‘like’ that sexy photo of my friend in her sports bra?”
“Why doesn’t my partner act like we’re a couple on Facebook or ever post photos of us together on Instagram?”
Many of the micro-events that trigger these pangs of jealousy and insecurity within us are, from the objective observer’s standpoint, pretty innocuous and harmless in nature. Yet, particularly when we allow our imaginations to run wild, these periodic incidents can torture us and lead us to conflict with our partners.
Indeed, jealousy brings out the absolute worst in us. It triggers all of our fears and insecurities and sometimes threatens to reopen old wounds from past experiences that we’ve had with infidelity.
Ironically, however, perhaps the worst part of jealousy is that it rarely has the effect that we’d like it to have. In fact, oftentimes it has the exact opposite effect.
Generally speaking, when we experience feelings of jealousy, we feel needy. We want love, attention, or affection from our partner. We want to bring them closer to us.
However, as frustrating as it can be to discover, showing or expressing jealousy to our significant other usually pushes them away.
As humans, by nature, we’re attracted to people who project an image of confidence and security. Similarly, we are often subconsciously repulsed or turned off by people who appear insecure.
Thus, in the context of a relationship, not only can jealous behavior become annoying to our partner over time and spurn conflict, but it also reveals our insecurity to our mate, thereby putting us in a lesser position with respect to them.
By showing the object of your desire that you are insecure, you’re inadvertently confessing that you’re scared that you are somehow inadequate or insufficient as a partner. And even if your significant other doesn’t believe that story at first, over time and with repetition and reinforcement, it will begin to resonate with them.
By contrast, if you show your partner that you are confident and secure - that you believe their attraction to and interest in you is steadfast - you will bolster that belief through your actions and perpetuate that belief in them. As a couple, the two of you will fight less and have a healthier, happier relationship.
When we experience jealousy, we feel a desperate sort of need to possess our partner. We crave security, certainty, and control in our relationship with them.
But by being emotionally reactive and approaching things from a scarcity mindset, in reality, we often perpetuate the problem - sometimes even turning our fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here are just a couple of examples of ways in which this can manifest and play out:
Example 1 -
Sometimes when experiencing feelings of jealousy, we try to imagine the worst possible scenario in an effort to prepare or inoculate ourselves to the pain of it, the theory being that maybe it will hurt us less when our greatest fears are confirmed.
Jealousy hijacks our mind, rendering us unable to be measured or rational. It makes us defensive. We seek to protect ourselves, anticipating our own victimhood.
It slaps blinders on us, so we’re only able to see confirming evidence of our fears, while ignoring or explaining away any disconfirming evidence. We search for this confirming evidence because we don’t want to feel like we’re being paranoid or acting crazy. We want to quiet the uncomfortable dissonance that we feel within us.
On the one hand, of course, we don’t want to have our fears confirmed. But on the other, we desperately want to stop feeling like idiots - no one likes to play the part of the fool.
And, at some point, being right becomes more important to us than the certainty and security of our relationship. Jealousy wins out, and our partnership becomes the casualty.
Example 2 -
In other instances, jealousy may cause us to stop focusing on ourselves altogether and instead fixate on our partners.
We may begin taking a hard look at our significant other’s every action and tune-in with greater focus than we ever thought possible - analyzing their choice of words, searching for any sign that they’re hiding something, and concentrating hard to catch them in a lie if they slip.
And our behavior often makes our mate feel heavily scrutinized and criticized. Instead of focusing on our own self-improvement, personal development, or ways in which we could become a better partner in our relationship, we place the floodlight on them.
Not surprisingly, this approach does not tend to produce positive results.
In both of the above scenarios, we feel that we’re losing or have lost our partner, and our jealous actions feed, fuel, and positively reinforce that belief.
At the end of the day, my point is simply this: jealousy will not serve you.
It will torture you and cause you suffering, or - if you act on your jealousy - it will cause your relationship to suffer. Either way, it is perilously damaging in its effects.
And the only clear alternative is to let go.
You can’t force your partner to love you, no matter how much you love them and no matter how well you treat them. All you can do is create and foster the best environment possible for their affection to flourish. (And, as a hint, that environment often cannot support or withstand jealousy).
When you struggle with jealousy, it’s frequently an indicator of trust issues and/or a deep-seated desire for certainty and control. But love can’t thrive under those circumstances.
So make room for trust. Make room for love.
Because the only way to free yourself from the burden that jealousy places on both you and your relationship is to loosen the reins - to just let go and enjoy the ride.