It's a common misconception that jealousy is a sign of love.
I recently saw the following quote on Twitter, from a source whose username at least suggested the author was associated with psychology: “The people who are really in love get jealous over stupid things.” I was surprised to see this misconception so deeply ingrained that even seemingly psychologically savvy people believe it.
Jealousy can be a major relationship problem—a survey of marital therapists reported that romantic jealousy was a serious problem for a third of their clients.1 I hope to dispel the myth that jealousy is a sign of love. But if it's not, then what really motivates jealous responses? Research has linked several traits to greater jealousy:
All of these factors that relate to jealousy are about the insecurities of the jealous people, not about the love they have for their partner.14
So if your partner is exhibiting unwarranted jealousy, what should you do?
You should realize that your partner’s jealousy isn’t about you; it’s about them. Respond to expressions of jealousy by reassuring your partner of your love. Research has shown that those who respond to partners’ jealousy by reassuring them of their interest and attraction tend to have more stable relationships.15
What should you do if you’re jealous?
How should you deal with jealousy if you’re the one snooping through your partner’s email? Several actions can help you cope:
Sometimes jealousy is justified: If your partner has had an affair and has betrayed your trust, for example, that is a serious issue. If you are jealous because you’re involved with someone who doesn’t seek monogamy, while you do, then your jealous feelings may be a good reason to leave the relationship and seek someone whose relationship goals are more compatible with yours. But when you get jealous over “stupid things," you’re not showing love; you’re revealing your own insecurities.
“There is more self-love than love in jealousy”—Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Albright College, who studies relationships and cyberpsychology. Follow her on Twitter for updates about social psychology, relationships, and online behavior.