Time and time again I have heard people say, “I’m not a jealous person” with the implication being that they are more evolved than those of us who experience jealousy’s pangs. It is true that some people are less affected by jealousy and even experience the feeling of compersion — joy in feeling another person's joy — when they see their partner flirting with or enjoying the company of another person. Then there are those who are quick to act on their jealousy, sometimes causing irreparable harm to their relationships. The latter is perhaps why jealousy appears to be such a powerful and scary emotion to navigate.
Jealousy is often seen as a negative and even immature emotion. It’s called the “green-eyed monster” — and we don’t have positive feelings towards people who exhibit such behavior. Watch any reality TV show, and you will quickly learn that calling someone “jealous” is one of the biggest insults you can lob.
However, jealousy is not a useless emotion that should be ignored.
In fact, there are folks who believe jealousy is quite useful. People who engage in polyamory and non-monogamy have (through necessity) had to unpack jealousy and learn to use it constructively in their relationships. Through first-hand experience, people who have to navigate multiple relationships simultaneously have learned that jealousy can be helpful for identifying what is lacking either in their feelings of self-worth or their relationships.
Poly folks aren’t the only ones who can benefit from looking at jealousy as a tool — those of us in monogamous relationships can benefit as well. I also believe examining the source of our jealousy can lead to better relationships with friends and family.
If you have felt jealous in a relationship, you may identify with some if not all of the following situations:
- Experiencing your partner express interest in another person. This doesn’t have to be a sexual interest; it can be expressed as admiration for someone’s intellect, accomplishments, or character.
- Noting that your partner is spending more time with others or feeling that the time they spend with you is lessened or compromised due to their obligations.
- Seeing your partner "like" the social media of people you may or may not know.
The abruptness of jealousy is what makes it feel so uncomfortable to deal with and why most people try to diminish the feeling immediately. However, by dealing with these feelings, we can turn destructive jealousy into constructive jealousy.
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In Kitty Chambliss’s Jealousy Survival Guide, she distinguishes between constructive and destructive jealousy. Constructive jealousy encourages you to check in with yourself and your relationship, identify a need, and work through what that need is with your partner. Destructive jealousy results in one person feeling jealous and acting out from a place of fear in ways that are hurtful to the people they love. This could include verbal or physical violence and manipulation.
The good news is that we have a choice about how we respond to jealousy; it isn’t just a primal experience we have no control over.
One way to reduce the impact of jealousy on your life is to use it as a guide. This means first recognizing that it’s jealousy that you’re actually feeling. Then it’s important to think about why you might be feeling jealous. Sometimes jealousy is founded on real events, like your partner ditching you to hang out with a new “friend” whom they know has a crush on them. That is real and should be addressed using your relationship agreements as a framework for the discussion if this behavior is outside of your agreements.
Other times, jealousy has more to do with an unmet need you have than what your partner is doing. For example, in the instance where your partner is spending more time with others than with you, think about what you may be needing. Is it more quality time? Is it more check-ins throughout the week to make you feel like you are in their thoughts? Is it that you haven’t had a date night with them in months and you’re craving intimacy?
All of these are completely natural feelings to have, and your feelings of jealousy can guide you toward the words you need to express to your partner. This response to jealousy can be incredibly constructive and just might guide you to not only what you are craving but also a deeper connection to your partner.