It’s no fun to be made jealous, but some seem to feel that this negative emotion is the glue that can keep a couple together.
Psychologists use the term “jealousy induction” to refer to the tendency to make a partner jealous. According to Ashland University psychologist Brent Mattingly and his team (2012), some 84% of participants in one study reported that they had made their partners jealous at least once during the course of their relationship.
Does this number surprise you? Think about yourself and all the people you’ve been involved with on a serious basis. If you’ve ever flirted with someone else around them, talked about an old flame, or even invented a romantic partner, you've demonstrated jealousy-inducing behavior.
Now that 84% doesn’t seem so high, does it?
Mattingly points out, however, that the research on this topic is surprisingly thin, and studies that have been conducted did not involve putting number values next to jealousy-inducing tactics. So the research team that he headed decided to launch a more thorough investigation, first devising an intriguing jealousy-inducing behavior scale that attempts to capture the variety and frequency of the ways we torment our partners. They also looked for links to other individual characteristics that might make people more likely to use jealousy as a relationship tactic.
In Mattingly et al.’s study, approximately 180 participants ranging from 18 to 44 years (with the average being 19) answered questions about their current romantic relationships, the longest of which had lasted for 12 years.
How you would rate the items on the team's jealousy induction scale? Rate each item on a 7-point scale in which 1= strongly disagree and 7= strongly agree.
After completing the scale, you should have a good sense of your standings on a scale of overall tendency to engage in jealousy induction, within the potential range of 18 to 126 points. What’s more interesting than the actual score, though, are what a high score might indicate about your motives to induce jealousy—and other aspects of your relationship behaviors.
For example, people who engage in jealousy induction tend to do so for the following reasons, in descending order of importance:
So, if you’re frequently attempting to induce jealousy, you’re clearly trying to influence your relationship in ways that may not be conducive to its health.
Based on the study's findings, manipulating your partner through jealousy also suggests that you’re high on other poor diagnostic indicators for relationship health, particularly attachment security. Researchers now know that people with the insecure attachment styles of anxiety and avoidance are most likely to encounter relationship problems. Either they become overly preoccupied with losing their partners or they defensively avoid getting close so that they won’t be hurt when things go sour.
Using jealousy to maintain a partner’s love in the Mattingly et al study was also negatively linked to overall relationship satisfaction. People scoring high on jealousy motive questions were less satisfied, more likely to think about leaving the relationship behind, less in love, more likely to view love as a game, and more obsessively focused on their partners.
Interestingly, there were no significant differences in gender on the survey: Men and women are equally likely, and for similar reasons, to make their partners miserable through jealousy induction.
As tempting as it may be, then, to try to solve some of your relationship problems by throwing a little jealousy into the mix, the Mattingly et al study shows that it will not promote your health as a couple. People who use jealousy as a tactic have personalities that can make them difficult to be with, and when they do so in order to control partners, they act in ways that detract from the love they might otherwise feel.
The upshot? The next time you’re tempted to use one of these 18 manipulative strategies—don’t. Instead, figure out what you’re really trying accomplish and then find a way to have one of those “difficult conversations” with your partner about the topic. The closer you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel about bringing up your own insecurities and anxieties. Once you take a step toward more honest communication, your fulfillment as a couple will become that much stronger and more enduring.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Mattingly, B. A., Whitson, D., & Mattingly, M. B. (2012). Development of the Romantic Jealousy-Induction Scale and the Motives for Inducing Romantic Jealousy Scale. Current Psychology: A Journal For Diverse Perspectives On Diverse Psychological Issues, 31(3), 263-281. doi:10.1007/s12144-012-9144-3