25% of men and 13.8% of women between the ages of 15 and 29, according to data from the 2019 Fad Reina Sofía Center on Adolescence and Youth, believe that jealousy is proof of love. This idea can lead to selfish, repressive and even violent behavior within couple relationships, as the sociologist Carmen Ruiz Repullo collects in her research The myths of romantic love: YOU’RE JEALOUS!!! (University of Seville, 2016). To dismantle this extreme, the more accurate vision arises that jealousy is a sign of distrust, control and possession. Thus, this emotion goes from heaven to hell, from angel to devil, from good to bad. But on many occasions it happens that, between white and black, there are grays. And in jealousy there are also nuances.
According to the 40dB survey for EL PAÍS on the perception of love, published last June, 54.2% of the people surveyed affirm that they never feel jealous in their relationship. A percentage that can be remarkably high considering that these suspicions, which appear in different situations and contexts (family, work, friendship, partner, etc.), are a natural emotion, both in humans and in some animals. That is, it is normal to feel jealous, just as it is to feel shame, guilt, pride or pleasure.
Jealousy is an emotional response to a sense of loss of attention from someone you care about. They may have a real basis (also called reactive jealousy) or not (suspicious jealousy). For example, they can appear when there is a new friend who spends more time. As they can also do when the couple gives I like or comment on someone’s photo on social media.
What behaviors may or may not cause jealousy varies greatly from person to person and across cultures, due to the wide diversity of human beliefs about what constitutes a relationship, what constitutes a threat to that relationship, and what should be done to protect it from a threat.
There is talk of normal jealousy and pathological jealousy to distinguish between those that can be considered valid and those that are not. The latter, which can be reactive or suspicious, are those that are accompanied by insecurity, hostility, self-pity, excessive anguish, cause intense discomfort in the person themselves and can lead the person who suffers from them to perform compulsive behaviors to verify suspicions against their relationship or control behaviors towards the other person. Gregorio Marañón rightly defined them as “an accurate instrument that destroys inner freedom and eliminates all possible happiness in the company”.
Get something useful out of jealousy
It is obvious that this emotion in its pathological manifestation is not romantic nor does it contribute anything positive. If you want to build a healthy relationship, you have to get rid of it (with a good job, you can manage to lower its intensity). But when it manifests as a natural, emotional reaction, perhaps it can do some good.
There are emotions like anger, sadness, envy or disgust that, although they make us feel bad, are useful. The movie Reverse from Pixar explains it very simply and clearly with that blue sadness that, in the end, is key to resolving the situation. Sometimes it is about turning around the interpretation given to a certain emotion. Envy can cause anger or hatred towards another person for wanting what they have or it can also serve to analyze oneself and think: “What do I envy? Well, I’m going for it.” And, from there, define challenges and objectives. By changing the interpretation, the resulting behavior can be changed.
Similarly, natural jealousy (which is often reactive) can have a useful insight: helping you spot what to watch out for in a relationship. If they feel jealous because the quality time they spend together has decreased, it is a question of looking for that time of shared enjoyment. If they feel that it seems that the couple pays more attention to other people’s physique, it may be to show that more attention is needed on that point. Or if it is detected that they are due to a lack of trust, it will be necessary to see why and how this key aspect can be improved in any relationship.
Faced with a certain situation that is perceived as a threat, jealousy can appear as an expression of insecurity or fear. From there they can trigger behaviors of control or self-pity. Or they can be used to analyze what causes that insecurity or what causes fear, they can help strengthen the relationship and improve the person who experiences them. How you react to emotion is the key.
It is not always easy to get a positive point of view from jealousy. The intensity, the situation, the personality or the type of relationship will affect it. Emotions make us human and our rational brain sometimes dwarfs them. But by understanding them and wanting to change, you will be closer to being able to control and turn that green-eyed monster, as Shakespeare defined jealousy, into something useful and non-corrosive.