Jealousy can be a normal and appropriate emotion. Humans naturally mate, and they naturally guard their partnership through the mechanism of jealousy.
Jealousy develops as we sense that our partner is no longer as closely connected to us as we’d like. It may signal that something else—or someone else—has come between us and is loosening our bonds.
Jealousy is useful if it occurs in a bonded relationship that calls forth behavior that brings the couple closer together, says Frank Pittman in the book Private Lies (W.W. Norton, 1990). For example, the two of you go to a party and you notice that your mate is nowhere to be seen. Appropriate and healthy behavior would be to seek out your partner and make the kind of contact that reaffirms the relationship. Couples do that many times a day. They notice distance and reach out to breach it.
However, if the jealous partner raises hell with the other for having stepped into another room, or for talking with a third person, that would not bring the couple closer together. Such jealousy would push the couple further apart.
If jealousy is expressed as anger and attempts to punish, it will produce distance rather than closeness.
Relationships in which jealousy is most intense may be those with the highest level of po he marriage. An insecure husband, for instance, may be terrified as his wife finds jobs, activities and relationships that make her more confident and less dependent. Such a threatened man may force his wife to drop out of school, to quit jobs and even to give up friendships.
Overall, though, it would be misleading to assume that jealousy is an expression of low selfesteem, says Pittman. People who are investing themselves in a partnership are going to feel protective of that relationship, and are going to experience jealousy when distance enters the relationship.
Jealousy can, of course, be in error. The jealous spouse may sense an attraction to someone else, but may exaggerate the degree of the attraction. Sometimes the attraction is accurately there but has never been acted upon. Sometimes the jealous person may be reacting quite accurately to a partner’s distance, even though the cause of the distance may be something other than a rival.
However, the accused would be wise in examining whether the jealous spouse may be on target. The question “Are you having an affair with….?” is not a simple yes or no question, writes Pittman. What is actually being sought is an exploration of the partner’s state of mind. The couple, for instance, can seek a more accurate explanation for the distance between them.
The most important thing about jealousy is that it is easily softened by closeness and honesty, and inevitably aggravated by distance. If jealousy is met with closeness, the jealous reaction will usually lessen.