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How Jealousy Can Jeopardize Your Romantic Relationship

Jealousy is linked with power, control, and even domestic violence.

Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Source: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

“Where were you?” your partner asks when you answer the phone. You notice that you already have three missed calls, several minutes apart. Unless you had failed to show up for an important engagement or had a reservation to be on a plane that disappeared from the radar, this is a bright red flag.

Of course, it might turn out to be nothing to worry about. Perhaps you are merely dating someone who is overly concerned about you. Yet if you are experiencing a consistent, steady stream of check-up calls, it's time to add context to content. Consider both the tenor and tone of the questioning, for example. Inquiries about your whereabouts and the company you keep that sound and feel like an interrogation are not consistent with a healthy relationship.

Yet some partners misperceive the intention and the significance of such questioning, as well as the controlling behaviors that often accompany such attempts at supervision. “Oh, he just worries about me,” you might hear a friend explain after listening to her end of what sounded like an uncomfortable exchange involving questions about why she was out so late. “He is just showing that he cares” is another possible misinterpretation of such domineering behavior.

Romanticizing Jealousy, Power, and Control

Research reveals that jealousy is linked to harmful behaviors in relationships. A study by Leanna Papp et al. entitled “The Dark Side of Heterosexual Romance: Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs Relates to Intimate Partner Violence” (2017) found that romantic beliefs were related to the romanticization of controlling behaviors, which were linked to intimate partner violence.[i]

The authors began by recognizing that many people view jealousy in a positive light, as a sign of love and commitment. They note that media portrayals of love often include jealousy, violence, and control, and speculate that such depictions of “violent romance” might cause some women to confuse love and intimacy with controlling behaviors.

Citing prior research examining harmful relational scripts, they note that some young women believe that when a man tells a woman how to dress or how to behave, it means he cares about her, and that terminology such as “protector” and “ownership” convey dedication and intimacy. The study included 275 heterosexual women, with an average age of 30. Results found that having romantic beliefs — which included endorsing romanticism, placing a high value on romantic relationships, and viewing jealousy as a positive trait — was linked with the view that controlling mate-retention behaviors were romantic, a view that was in turn linked with the experience of physical and psychological abuse.

Although the authors note that romantic beliefs alone were not predictive of violence within relationships, they were linked to viewing controlling behaviors as romantic — which was related to relationship violence.

Papp et al. also found that placing a high value on romantic relationships was linked with romanticizing mate-retention behaviors. They note that women who view themselves as incomplete without a man might see any sign of commitment as positive, even if such commitment is demonstrated through controlling behavior.

Jealousy as a Relational Risk Factor

Romanticizing jealousy was also linked with romanticizing mate-retention behaviors, and indirectly linked with reports of physical and psychological abuse. The researchers note that jealousy-related violence is more likely to be tolerated, or viewed as a sign of love, than violence without a jealousy component. Significantly, they note that although previous research has linked jealousy to intimate partner violence, their study is the first to reveal “pro-jealousy attitudes” as a risk factor.

They speculate that associating jealousy with romance might cause people to seek out jealous partners — and exhibit jealousy themselves.

Weathering the Storm of Suspicion

Healthy relationships require both effort and attention. Spotting problems sooner rather than later allows couples to address issues of concern and move forward. If you wait too long to identify harmful behavior, you run the risk of losing objectivity, as you trade in your reading glasses for rose-colored glasses, and red flags become obscured.

Despite the temptation to rationalize a partner's behavior as you weather the storm of suspicion, eventually jealousy will jeopardize your relationship. Instead, the two of you can face and tackle the issues as a team, whether they involve insecurity, paranoia, or emotional wounds inflicted during past relationships. Because jealousy is a risk factor indicating trouble down the road, flagging the issue early will allow you and your partner to work together in pursuit of a healthy, trusting partnership.


[i] Leanna J. Papp, Miriam Liss, Mindy J. Erchull, Hester Godfrey, and Lauren Waaland-Kreutzer, “The Dark Side of Heterosexual Romance: Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs Relates to Intimate Partner Violence,” Sex Roles 76 (2017): 99-109.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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