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Where Does Jealousy Come From?

Jealous is natural, but it can also hurt a relationship. Learn where it comes from.

When you look up the word “jealousy,” you don’t get a clear-cut answer. If anything, you get a definition that is full of complexities, because there are so many things in the world of which people can be jealous. But where jealousy can be a real problem is in a relationship. At first, it can seem charming that your partner might get a little jealous because you’re getting attention from someone else, but if it’s not monitored, it can be a slippery slope.

So where does jealousy come from?

“From an evolutionary perspective, jealousy is natural and adaptive in that it helps alert people when they need to do something to retain their mate,” clinical psychologist and sex therapist, Dr. Marianne Brandon told us. “Sometimes jealousy is totally warranted, because the jealous person is being neglected. Sometimes people also feel jealous because of low self-esteem.”

But, as Dr. Brandon explains, jealousy doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. Sometimes, a little light and playful jealousy can boot confidence in relationships. It can evoke the feeling that your partner wants you and cares about you, and that feels good. It’s important to feel desired in a relationship, especially over time when couples sometimes take each for granted.

“There is interesting research that women who are pregnant or on birth control pills are more jealous than women not on the pill or not pregnant,” says Dr. Brandon. “From an evolutionary perspective this would be because the pregnant woman is feeling vulnerable and needing more assurance of partner’s protection for her and baby.” There’s a need to get assurance from their partner that they are most important, so it can make them act in more jealous ways than women who are not affected by hormonal changes.

But no matter who’s jealous in a relationship, men and women deal with it differently. “Men engage in more controlling, direct mate-guarding behavior like spending more time with person, managing where they go and who they are with, while women tend to pick on the object of their partner’s attention by berating the woman.”

In the end, the best way to handle jealousy is to try to determine whether or not it’s warranted. And, most importantly, is this something that can be remedied? Being in a relationship in which one partner, or both, are consistently jealous without a rational reason, is unhealthy. It’s also proof that noting you can do will be good enough for them; you can’t beat your head against the wall, trying to convince your partner there’s nothing to worry about, when they’ll never see otherwise.

“Always a good first step is to talk about it,” says Dr. Brandon, “So you have a good understanding of what your partner’s concern is.” Communication is always the most important factor in a relationship, and hopefully an open dialogue can put any unnecessary suspicions and jealousy to bed. If there’s no reason for your partner or you to be jealous, then there’s no point in wasting energy on it. Energy should be spent on fun stuff instead.

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