Wednesday, May 18, 2011


One of the things that makes “jealousy” such a loaded word is that it’s really a concoction of various other emotions, the exact recipe for which depends on the individual. As Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men, phrases it, jealousy “is the fear or worry that someone with whom you have an emotional relationship may be experiencing an attraction toward another person... it generates a host of emotions, such as sadness and inadequacy, or rage and desire for retribution. The sadness comes from the fear of losing the object of your love, and the rage comes from a desire to have it back.” 

Fear, worry, sadness, inadequacy, rage — as stark as those emotions sound, you may be surprised to learn that a little jealousy is perfectly healthy (and even normal) in a relationship. No jealousy at all — or huge, seething buckets of it — are a good indication that something has gone amiss. So how do you know if you’re feeling the “right” amount of jealousy, and how do you express it without driving your significant other crazy? Here are some tips. 

1. Be honest with yourself. According to Dr. Ish Major, author of Little White Whys: A No Nonsense Guide to the Lies Men Tell in Relationships and Why, some men feel so secure in themselves and in the fidelity of their partners that they experience no jealous feelings whatsoever. Aside from these lucky guys, Major says, most men who refuse to admit to jealousy fall into one of two camps: either “they aren’t paying attention and have no clue that they should feel jealous,” or “they simply don’t care... this type of guy would be more than happy if someone (other than himself) would come and sweep a partner off of her feet and right out of his life.”

Clearly, it’s better to acknowledge (at least to yourself, and perhaps to trusted friends or relatives) the little bit of jealousy you do feel, rather than letting it fester for weeks or months only to explode at a melodramatic moment. Sometimes, just sitting down and writing in a journal will help you to objectively assess your feelings; perusing a hastily scribbled entry, like “Mamie should have been home from the grocery store 20 minutes ago! I KNOW she’s been flirting with the floor manager!” will hopefully make you feel ridiculous enough that you’ll do something more productive than obsessing over your significant other.

2. Express your feelings appropriately. Sometimes, as with that grocery store fantasy, jealousy-provoking scenarios are best left unshared with your partner. If you do decide to unload, Dr. Haltzman says, you should keep in mind that “expressing jealousy is a double-edged sword. It says ‘I care about you enough to be jealous,’ but it also says ‘I don’t trust you.’ I think it’s more important to talk about the experiences that lead to jealousy rather the jealousy itself. So instead of saying ‘I’m really jealous of the time you’re spending with Tommy,’ you might say, ‘I have to admit, I’m a little jealous that you and Tommy went to the movies and then went out afterward.’”

Granted, very few people can discuss their jealous feelings so rationally and calmly. Says Dr. Major, “It’s rarely helpful to express full-fledged anger over an issue that has made you jealous. You can never control a person to determine who flirts with whom and what their respective responses are; just make sure you’re doing everything you should as a mate, because you’re the only one you can fully control in this equation.” What are the signs that you’ve taken your jealous feelings too far? One clue, Dr. Major quips, is that “you notice children and strangers looking on in horror and snapping pictures of you with their phones.”

3. If you’re not feeling it, don’t be afraid to fake it. “Some, if not most, women are absolutely flattered when their partners get jealous,” says Dr. Major. “Think Marilyn Monroe. Think Scarlett O’Hara. For women, a partner’s jealousy serves a multitude of purposes, not the least of which is letting them know they still ‘have it’ and somebody wants it. It also lets them know you’re paying attention and you care.” Not surprisingly, Dr. Major adds, “I am a strong advocate of feigned jealousy. I have used it personally and at times I’ve advised friends and patients to do the same.”

Dr. Haltzman points out, of course, that feigning jealousy (and expressing it) can have unforeseen consequences. “Some women worry that if a guy isn’t jealous, he might not care enough about her. Early in the courtship, she might use jealousy to get the man to pay more attention. If he seems disinterested, she’ll go off and talk to someone else and becomes a more ‘valuable’ partner because other people are attracted to her.” The trouble, Dr. Haltzman concludes, is that “if a woman is used to seeing jealousy as proof of attraction, she may worry when the jealousy disappears” — leading to a vicious cycle of jealousy and jealousy-provoking behavior. What’s the lesson in all of this? Tread carefully when feeling or expressing jealousy, but a little bit can be a good thing! 

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