jealousyWhile most partners want someone to care if they run away with the neighbor, using jealousy to evoke a sign of love from a partner, or feeling jealous of your partner’s interest in something or someone other than you—takes its toll.

Often confused with envy which is the emotion you feel when you want something someone else has (car, wife, job) jealousy is the apprehension or fear of someone or something being taken away from you.

  • She is much happier speaking with her friends on the phone than speaking with me.
  • You dress up for the people at work but you certainly don’t dress up for me.
  • You will plan a weekend to fish, but you can’t seem to find a weekend for us.

Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, describes jealousy as a combination of possessiveness and suspicion. She reports that studies of men and women find that neither is more jealous than the other, but that they react to jealousy differently. Whereas women will feel it, overtly showing indifference (often with verbal digs) but hold on to a relationship, men will leave a relationship to save face or become reactive. Male jealousy is a leading cause of spousal homicide cross-culturally.

Clearly, despite the anthropological consideration of jealousy as necessary for early man’s survival, or its equation with love in medieval poetry, in the day-to-day life of couples, jealousy threatens connection and reduces happiness. “A nationwide survey of marriage counselors indicates that jealousy is a problem in one third of all couples coming for marital therapy.”

Recognizing The Threat of Jealousy

Because some of what we do is not always conscious and we are often unaware of the impact of our feelings, words and behavior on our partner, it is worth checking out the role of jealousy in your relationships.

Five Checkpoints:

Unrealistic Fears

  • How realistic is your fear about being replaced, dismissed or overlooked by your spouse for another? Are you upset or jealous if you partner speaks positively about another person—be it a family member, neighbor, or colleague? Do you believe that your partner could so easily forget or fall out of love with you?
  • In her book Mating in Captivity, Ester Perel suggests that too often the focus is on the object of our love rather than our own capacity to love. Are you secure in your capacity to love your partner in a way that satisfies and adds to a secure relationship?
  • Most often capacity to love comes from the early attachment relationships. Is the insecurity, inconsistency or abandonment of the past getting confused with the present? Maybe you choose this person because they will not abandon you.

Low Self-Esteem

  • Low self-esteem plays a role in destructive jealousy.
  • Some partners feel so outclassed by everyone else, they assume that their partner will certainly want to replace them by someone else who looks better, cooks better, provides better etc. If their jealousy prompts continual interrogations, accusations or criticisms—they may prove their worst fear.
  • Other partners with low self-esteem buoy their sense of self by seeking the attention and affirmation of anyone and everyone else. Unaware or unwilling to notice the impact on their partner, they flirt with anyone who will give them attention. They often set up rejection, criticism or retaliatory flirting by their partner. The result is a further hit to their low self-esteem.

Collateral Damage of Betrayal

  • Jealously is understandable in the aftermath of a partner’s betrayal. Infidelity is an assault on self, judgment of reality, trust and connection. Even when a couple re-connects with apology, ownership and rebuilding, there can be a lingering sense of jealousy of anyone with whom the partner is involved.
  • When jealousy becomes a permanent reaction, however, justified by crime and punishment of the affair, no trust or new connection can take root.

The partner who can only feel safe if he/she goes on every business trip with their partner—emotionally keeps jealousy and fear central to the relationship.

Destructive Possessiveness

  • When jealousy becomes obsessive vigilance and abusive possessiveness that keeps a partner feeling judged, blamed and criticized for not loving or caring only about the partner, it is both destructive and dangerous to mental and physical health.
  • If a partner has no freedom to choose to be with you—you don’t have a partner.
  • There is nothing romantic about stalking or relationships built on fear of loss of your partner or threatened loss of yourself.
  • Professional help would benefit both partners.

Positive Affirmations

  • An invaluable antidote to jealousy, driven by fear of losing the partner or the love and attention of the partner, is the presence of outside interests and affirming connections for both partners.
  • When your partner is not your sole source of affirmation–when you know you are successful in other venues, with colleagues, friends, family, teammates, the nature of your relationship changes. You need less emotional sustenance from your partner and you bring more of the best of you into the connection.

When you and your partner know from the affirming nature of your relationship that no matter who talks with you, works with you, or laughs with you—neither of you is replaceable—there is no room for jealousy.




    Last reviewed: 22 May 2013

APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2013). Is Jealousy Threatening Your Relationship? Five Checkpoints. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2015, from


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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