Jealousy in Relationships: What the Experts Have to Say

Being in a romantic relationship is awesome. You get to go on fun dates to the Netflix center in your bed, make out a lot (with tongue!), sleep next to a person who thinks you’re at least a little bit cool, and have a guaranteed someone who kind of pretends to listen to you when you go on long rants about how shitty work was because you had to actually work for once. However, anyone who has ever had a significant other knows that all the treats that a relationship has to offer come with some drawbacks. One of the most common, and perhaps most difficult, struggles couples have to face is jealousy. Luckily, Lindsey Beck, a psychology professor at Emerson, shared some educational insight with Your Mag about what to do when it comes to the little green monster.

Q: Why do people get jealous?

A: People can get jealous for a variety of reasons. They could be nervous about either emotional or physical infidelity in their partner, which could be based on either a real or a perceived threat. Jealousy comes in a variety of forms, ranging from worry about cheating to feeling that your partner is spending too much time with their friends and family.

Q: Is jealousy in friendships different from jealousy in romantic relationships?

A: This type of jealousy is less studied, and jealousy is not equivalent to envy, which is more likely to occur in friendships. For example, you could be envious over your friend’s accomplishments.

Q: Does jealousy change with age?

A: Jealousy varies person to person. Generally, people become more conscientious with age, and narcissism and neuroticism usually lessens with age, which could indicate a more relaxed, less jealous relationship. I don’t have a concrete answer, but based on studies in eroticism changing with age, I would say yes.

Q: Are people pre-determined to be more jealous, or is it more of a nurture thing?

A: Social psychologists would say both nature and nurture are a factor in how jealous a person is. Yes, a person would be born with a certain predisposition to jealousy, but nurture definitely affects how jealous a person generally is. As you can imagine, if you have been cheated on in the past, it might make you feel insecure in future relationships, increasing your jealous tendencies.

Q: Are there ways to prevent jealousy? Combat it?

A: There is a method to combat jealousy called integrative communication. It consists of addressing your concerns to your partner in a calm, direct way. However, a little jealousy can actually be a good thing. It shows that you feel there is value to your relationship.

In regards to preventing jealousy… Amy Noise, a psychology researcher from Toronto, found that Facebook significantly increases jealousy in couples. Facebook is the perfect microcosm for jealousy because the more you “stalk” your partner, the more you notice exes and attractive people, and it is easy to feel threatened and question your partner about why she/ he is friends with certain people. There is also a lot of ambiguity in social media-- seeing a “like” or a comment doesn’t show the whole picture, so it is easy to make assumptions and let insecurity take over. So, especially if you are the type of person who already tends towards jealousy, it is best to avoid poring over everything your partner does online.

Q: Would you ever say jealousy is helpful?

A: 75% of people in relationships say that they try to make the other person jealous on purpose, at least occasionally, as a tool to test how much the other person cares. There is some validity to this-- someone who demonstrates no reaction to potential threats may not care as much as they should.

Q: How should people talk about their own feelings of jealousy?

A: Like mentioned above, integrative communication is the best approach to dealing with jealousy. Integrative communication is calm, direct, and constructive. It is important to be sensitive to your partner’s health though-- avoid being harsh or overly judgemental. You can be constructive in small doses, and talking about jealousy often strengthens your relationship. In a weird way, jealousy in small amounts is actually what keeps people together. It motivates you to show more affection, and makes it harder to take your partner for granted.