Jealousy is generally hailed as a negative reaction, an obstacle which most relationships face from the beginning (when the interest between two people is at its peak) and often still resurfaces years later (as long as there’s a strong attraction). So, what is jealousy at its core? According to Erica Slotter, a professor of psychology at Villanova University, “jealousy is the emotional reaction to a threat to one’s relationship from a real, or imagined, romantic rival.” It is very important to note that if jealousy is not controlled, it can trigger a cocktail of unfavorable emotions, such as rage, insecurity, self-doubt, paranoia, and (in the worst cases) extreme vigilance and aggressive behavior (Psychology Today, December 2016). Still, once it’s understood and handled properly, jealousy can be used as a very important tool in preserving and strengthening modern relationships.
One might ask, “if jealousy is related to an array of negative behaviors and consequences, how can it be beneficial?” To understand this, we have to go back and see the fundamental purpose of this emotion, and that is “to preserve a potential mate,” says David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “Jealousy is a signal… that your partner is higher in value, and you are threatened or fearful that he/she could leave… which may make you to step up your game to make your partner more interested in you” (Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex, David Buss). This phenomenon is what regularly causes couples to maintain their appearance by attending the gym, grooming, and otherwise staying healthy (aka young-looking). In some, jealousy can even spur them to improve their career goals. But take caution: if these improvements are not regulated, they could become an obsession, creating an irrational sense of competition and, thereby, actually hurting the relationship.
Evolutionary psychologists believe that jealousy originally developed with a defense-mechanism purpose, helping to send signals to people to “beware” that a specific person is already taken and not available; in short, it set boundaries in order to preserve an active relationship. As experts in the subject Edward Lemay and Angela Neal (from the University of South Carolina) pointed out in their studies, actions such as “putting your arms around your partner at a party, or befriending a partner’s cute coworker, and flirting slightly with no malicious intentions… may trigger the mate-retention behavior.” We are all guilty of holding hands and other displays of affection in public, but we rarely wonder where these involuntary actions come from, and while we may think it’s just another expression of love or devotion, in reality, most of the time it is an involuntary jealousy impulse rearing its head to say “hey! Step back, he/she is not available, keep moving!”
According to Angela Neal, a little jealousy can benefit relationships, especially old or long-term ones. “Too much can potentially have bad implications. But in some respects, jealousy is a positive thing; if your relationship is without jealousy, that might be an indicator that your partner doesn’t care about you very much. Jealousy, in many cases, rings the bells when something is missing in a relationship. An involuntary perception of a rippling body at the gym, or attention given to an extremely -smart coworker or classmate, may cause the other partner to improve in such areas.” (“Neal and Lemay Study,” Psychology Today, Dec. 2016). However, we should always be wary of those who would use jealousy as a tool to manipulate situations to their advantages. Other than that, a little harmless jealousy here and there may improve the quality of any relationship.
Surprisingly, studies show that many individuals, after experiencing jealousy, may discover skills within themselves that they never cared to develop. A man who is constantly in the office may, all of the sudden, begin engaging into athletic activities; those lacking in romanticism may start getting in touch with their inner, more sentimental feelings to revive their love life. In short, it can cause a partner or any person to take to heart the saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em (but learn the game first!).” Last but not least, if you feel like your emotions are getting out of control, you can tame the green-eyed beast by having both partners engage in a sincere discussion about it. Honestly address the reasons behind the feelings, and lay out a solution to fulfill specific needs (Psychology Today, Dec. 2016 ). While jealousy has traditionally been cast in an adverse light, new knowledge and our own awareness can transform it into a healthy, learning experience. When both partners are willing and open, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished!
Miguel A. Elias.
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