Can Any Good Come From Jealousy?

Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Is jealousy a sign of love? Does it induce commitment? Does it teach people to not take their relationship for granted? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re in good company, because various researchers and marriage counselors have come to the same conclusions.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that feeling jealous – or attempting to make your mate jealous – is a desirable feeling. In fact, psychologist Ayala Pines argues in the book Romantic Jealousy (Routledge Publishing) that there are some profoundly negative effects of jealousy. They include causing physical and emotional distress to you or to someone you care about; straining a relationship; driving a partner away; restricting a partner’s freedom; distorting your partner’s emotions (and your own); wasting time that could be spent more enjoyably – and the possibility that you could trigger such intense emotions that your relationship could turn violent. So jealousy is not something I tend to recommend to my patients.

All the same, some good can indeed come out of jealousy. Pines documents several positive effects of jealousy, which are:

  • Jealousy makes people examine their relationship. Romantic jealousy, with all the emotional and physical turmoil it generates, provides people with an opportunity to examine such questions as: “What does this experience tell me about myself, my partner and our relationship? Is this the kind or relationship I want for myself? What can I do to change things?” Most people would probably never do such self-examination if they were not in the midst of emotional turmoil.
  • Jealousy teaches people to not take each other for granted. All too often, when we feel reassured of our partner’s love and commitment, we start to take that love for granted. We make demands we would have never made during the courtship stage and we would not make of others. Our partner becomes the person in our lives who is “supposed” to understand our work pressures, our all-absorbing involvement with our children, our friends and our interests. In effect, we permit ourselves to give these other involvements a higher priority than we do the relationship. The threat of a third person stops this over involvement with other things or people and brings the focus back to the couple.
  • Jealousy is a sign of love. If a person is on the receiving end of a partner’s jealousy – and sees that jealousy as a sign of love – that stance tends to free up the couple to get through the issue more quickly and constructively.
  • Jealousy is an instrument for inducing commitment. A jealousy crisis, which makes the person aware of a competitor for his partner and the chance of losing the relationship, becomes the trigger that often induces commitment. Since men may more often fear commitment than women, this may explain why women are more likely to induce jealousy than are men.
  • Jealousy intensifies emotions and adds passion to sex. Jealousy makes one’s partner look more desirable. Just as children find the toy they have neglected to be more interesting when someone else shows an interest in it, an adult’s fear of losing what they have come to take for granted makes them realize just how desirable it is. All of a sudden they notice the wonderful qualities that made them fall in love in the first place. Thus, jealousy can bring excitement to a listless relationship, because in the midst of a jealousy crisis, people are no longer bored. Similarly, jealousy can also make a couple more passionate and sexually excited about each other. Passionate sex depends on emotional arousal, and jealousy, as we well know, can be extremely arousing emotionally.
  • Jealousy protects love.  A jealousy crisis can serve as a reminder to both partners of how important they are to each other, Thus jealousy can restore the relationship to being the No.1 priority.

I am not proposing that you seek out jealousy in your relationship, only that there are some redeeming aspects to it if you happen to go through it.

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