Jealousy: what it is and how to deal with it

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Among the human feelings related to relationships, jealousy is often the most difficult to admit and manage. Because recognizing it often means admitting one’s own insecurity and because when you deal with it, you need to fight the sense of instability that the current situation causes us. Nevertheless, acting in the right way is very important, because jealousy can introduce complications that make the relationship even more difficult. It’s therefore appropriate to understand what it is, why it comes up how we can deal with it.

What is jealousy in psychology

Jealousy is a set of feelings of insecurity, fear and concern related to a threat within a relationship with another person. It can apply to sentimental relationships, friendships, work and family relationships (for example with brothers) and it’s different from envy because jealousy is always triggered by the presence (real or imagined) of a rival who threatens our position inside that relationship.

As such, jealousy should be considered a defense mechanism that urges us to take action and protect the relationship in which we are involved. We will focus here on the most common form of jealousy, the one linked to romantic relationships: it’s a very common feeling, easy to find in everyday life. And it even has an easily traceable origin in our evolutionary path as animals: the goal is to ensure the solidity and effectiveness of the relationship from which the children are born, in order to guarantee the survival of the species.

If we feel jealousy, it means that we particularly care about our position in that relationship. Likewise, if our partner is jealous, it means that the relationship is important to him. But beware: the typical cliché that says that “if he is jealous, he certainly loves us” is not always true: protecting one’s role in the relationship can also have selfish reasons or can respond to a need of practical control over a given relationship. Considering jealousy an easy and inevitable consequence of love is wrong.

On the contrary, the first cause of jealousy is the insecurity of those who suffer it, which usually comes from a lack of trust, towards themselves and towards the other. If on the one hand it is therefore understandable to feel jealousy while being in a relationship, on the other the first question that we need to ask ourselves is whether we really trust the loyalty of our partner. The formula is quite simple: if we were sure of ourselves and our partner, jealousy would have no reason to exist.

Within sentimental relationships, two types of jealousy take place: emotional jealousy, due to the concern that our partner is sentimentally involved with another person, and sexual jealousy, so the fear that our partner has sex with a rival. Statistically it’s proven that sexual jealousy is stronger in men while emotional jealousy is stronger in women. The reason can be easily explained: from an evolutionary point of view, for a man the possibility that the woman has sex with someone else implies the risk that her children are not ours and that we were raising someone else’s children, wasting energies that should be spent in raising our children; for a woman, on the other hand, the existence of a sentimental relationship between her man and another woman puts at risk the presence and care that man gives to the family and the children, which evolutionarily is the true reason why the woman has a stable relationship with a man.

How to manage jealousy

Like any strong feeling, jealousy can be difficult to manage. This is why it is very useful to keep these practical tips in mind:

  • Calm down and not act on emotions: jealousy can be destructive and create hard, non-constructive conflicts. It is therefore appropriate not to act immediately. At the same time, it is important to accept the existence of this sensation as something natural and try to scale it down in terms that are easier to externalize. It will not be a problem that we will be able to solve on our own, talking to the partner will be a necessary step, therefore it is better if we accept the presence of jealousy in our life. Even if it inevitably means admitting that there is something beyond our control. In love, this is completely natural.
  • Talk about it with our partner: if it comes down to acceptable levels, sharing our jealousy with our partner is a positive action. In this way we will openly show something that makes us suffer, that represents our weakness, and we will ask our partner for help to overcome it. In a healthy relationship, the common intention of preserving the solidity of the relationship should be beyond doubt, therefore discussing it helps to find the solution or eliminate the cause of jealousy. Let’s not forget to remind our partner that we care about him and that this is a sensation beyond our control. We ask him / her for help on how to overcome it.
  • Work on trust: if we are jealous, there is inevitably a lack of esteem for our role in the relationship and for that of our partner. It is therefore a good opportunity to make a point, to understand if there is something inside ourselves that makes us feel insecure and if something in the relationship with the other person makes us feel bad. In most cases, healthy communication can solve the problem. In thw worst cases, it is helpful to talk to a third person, such as a couple therapist or a life coach.
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