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Jealousy

Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from suspicion to rage to fear to humiliation. It strikes people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations, and is most typically aroused when a person perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party. The threat may be real or imagined.

Why We Feel Jealous

Jealousy is often thought of in the context of romantic relationships: a boyfriend who forbids his girlfriend from talking to other men, for instance, or a person who can’t stand to see her old flame post pictures with a new partner on Facebook. But the feeling can occur in almost every type of human relationship—from siblings competing for parental attention to coworkers trying to impress a respected boss.

Although jealousy is a painful emotional experience, evolutionary psychologists regard it not as an emotion to be suppressed but as one to heed—as a signal or a wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and that steps need to be taken to regain the affection of a mate or friend. As a result, jealousy is seen as a necessary emotion, because it preserves social bonds and motivates people to engage in behaviors that maintain important relationships.

Why am I so jealous?

Research has identified many root causes of extreme jealousy, including low self-esteem, high neuroticism, and feeling possessive of others, particularly romantic partners. Fear of abandonment is also a key motivator.

Are men more jealous than women?

Men and women both feel jealousy. Some evidence suggests that in the context of romantic relationships, men feel greater jealousy about sexual infidelity (real or perceived), while women tend to feel more jealous about emotional infidelity.

How to Deal with Jealousy

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Valuable though it can be, jealousy also has the potential to fuel damaging behavior. It can compel someone to obsessively monitor another's communication, relationships, and whereabouts; attempt to lower their self-confidence; or even behave violently.

Even though it may feel taboo, simply acknowledging jealousy's presence can both help ward it off in the future and strengthen a relationship in the present. Exploring the emotions that underpin jealousy can inspire self-reflection that may help to develop internal coping skills. Being honest with the other party about jealous feelings can spur productive conversations about what the relationship might be missing and how to repair the bond.

Is there a “cure” for jealousy?

There is no instant cure for jealousy. But accepting that jealousy is normal, challenging negative thoughts, and practicing mindfulness may all help reduce its pull. When jealousy is overwhelming, talking to a therapist can help enormously.

How do I stop feeling jealous about my partner’s past relationships?

Many people feel “retrospective jealousy,” or jealousy about a partner’s past. Recognizing that such feelings are normal can help, as can making an effort to focus on the present. Interrogating a partner about past lovers or seeking constant reassurance will likely only increase feelings of jealousy.

Envy, Compersion, and Other Related Feelings

Jealousy and envy are similar feelings, but they’re not the same. Jealousy always involves a third party seen as a rival for affection or attention. Envy occurs between only two people and is best summed up as, "I want what you have." For example, someone may feel envious of another’s wealth, status, or appearance.

Compersion is another feeling loosely related to romantic or sexual jealousy. Compersion occurs when, rather than feeling distressed that a partner is emotionally or sexually involved with someone else, the individual feels happy for them. Compersion is most often discussed in the context of polyamory and other consensually non-monogamous relationships.

What should I do if I feel envious of my partner?

Be honest about your feelings and work to directly address any underlying issues (such as inequality within the relationship or personal feelings of inadequacy). It may help for the envious partner to pursue concrete avenues—such as a career change or a new workout routine—to boost self-efficacy and self-esteem.

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