Studies show that both men and women experience jealous feelings, especially when threatened with the loss of an intimate relationship. But at least some jealousy may be actually beneficial, experts say, if handled with honesty and self confidence.
Of all the problems people face, jealousy is the most difficult for both men and women because it makes them the most vulnerable. All of us want to be intimate and to feel we belong to someone in a special way. Even as adults, we have that same deep fear of rejection that we felt as children.
As we mature, we learn to cope and survive without being totally dependent on another person’s love. But developing the ability to stand on our own two feet is a lifelong process, and when a close and loving relationship is threatened, our very foundations may feel shaken as well.
Women behave differently from men when jealous
They are usually more indirect and self-destructive. Faced with the loss of love, even the most independent and self-assured woman may suffer from depression and the sense of being a victim.
Studies show that women are more likely than men to be emotionally devastated, to confide in friends about the pain, to cry, to feel that life has stopped. More often than men, women also become physically ill, unable to eat or to work, withdrawn and despondent.
A jealous woman rarely gets angry. Instead, she is inclined to feel guilty and embarrassed about her feelings and try to ignore them. She may nag, make critical remarks, or cling and become possessive, using any of these as a substitute for anger.
A jealous man, on the other hand, is more apt to get furious, to say exactly what he feels, and then to get more involved with outside interests such as business or sports. A man will be more assertive in other ways as well: He may demand that his partner toe the line, or he may become more aggressive in bed.
Psychologists warn that no single set of jealous reactions applies to all people, male or female. Responses vary, depending on how “masculine” or “feminine” we feel ourselves to be. For example, a man who is gentle and sensitive, may well react to jealousy the way women do, with tears or depression or guilt.
Rather than feeling guilty about being jealous, it is better to accept the fact that it is normal under certain circumstances, even animals and babies experience the feeling. Studies demonstrate that among the universal situations that almost invariably cause jealousy, these three are most common:
Physical and Emotional Infidelity
After discovering her husband had a lover, one woman confided: “I’m jealous, not so much because of the sex, but because of the shared intimacy between them. I’m hurt that some other woman sees him with his clothes off.”
It is natural to be sexually attracted to more than one person, yet it is always difficult to handle the fact of infidelity, because in love, sexual and emotional needs often go together. If your partner is looking elsewhere for sex, the fear exists that he will also look elsewhere for the emotional bonds you once shared.
Why is adultery so threatening? It takes a lot of maturity to understand that infidelity alone is not a threat to a close and loving relationship.
When the man who was loving and attentive becomes aloof and remote when the woman is less responsive, when the person you love simply does not seem to care as much any more – then the threat of loss begins, and the pain can be overwhelming.
This is an important cause of jealousy in both sexes. For women, however, such pride is often tied to the fear of being discarded for a newer, sleeker model. In our society, where youth and certain styles of feminine beauty are promoted like toothpaste, these fears have a sound basis.
People often feel jealous for irrational psychological reasons. A woman whose father died when she was three years old says: “If my husband is late from work, I can get so wrapped up in my own fantasies that by the time he walks in the door I am mad at him already. I know it’s unfair, but I feel so easily threatened by the thought he will leave me.”
We all can learn to handle jealousy in more positive ways:
1. First, learn to recognize it
Then think about whether there might be some foundation for your jealousy, or whether you are using it as an excuse – you may be angry about something else and searching for a way to get even. Or you may be acting out old childhood fears.
2. Admit that some jealousy can be healthy
A little jealousy now and then is not necessarily bad. If you love a person, you are bound to feel it from time to time.
At times, it is important to fight for the other person rather than to withdraw or feel depressed or punish him in a non-verbal way. You can also fight by being more loving and caring, by making yourself more attractive and desirable.
3. Be willing to talk about it
The healthiest response to jealousy is to deal with it together. To listen to each other openly, honestly, without defenses. To come to an agreement so each one knows where the other stands.
You can benefit a lot from this intense, direct interaction, even though it causes a lot of pain while you are going through it. But at least you know what you are dealing with, even if it is frightening. You’re not punishing each other and driving each other away.
Jealousy must be attended to. It is an early warning system, a signal that there is danger to the primary relationship, and this danger has to be dealt with if the relationship is going to survive.
4. Avoid being defensive or manipulative
If the jealousy you feel seems chronic or severe many experts recommend professional help. Defensiveness and manipulation make it very difficult to listen, to negotiate, and to reach an agreement so the relationship can continue.
If people have not developed good patterns of communication, then it is difficult to handle any conflict, because one person’s threat of loss is so deep and the other’s desire for freedom so strong that you end up with resentment and despair.
5. Value yourself
It is also important to know that the more secure you feel about yourself, the less likely you are to fall prey to destructive jealousy. If you believe your emotional survival depends on someone else, then you must learn how to be strong and independent.