Is Jealousy Healthy in a Relationship?

Does jealousy have a place in romantic relationships?
on June 07, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Jealousy is often viewed as the evil green monster of insecurity and mistrust, which preys on vulnerable relationships. But relationships are rarely so black and white. So the question remains, can jealousy ever be healthy in a relationship? 

No matter how secure you are in your relationship, everyone can probably admit to feeling a little jealous from time to time. In healthy doses, this can manifest as being protective over your partner, which isn’t always a bad thing. 

However, it's often the fear of being cast as the jealous villain that prevents us from voicing our genuine concerns or feelings in a relationship. 

While unhealthy jealousy can cause chaos in relationships, this complex emotion shouldn’t be written out of your love story so quickly — if dealt with correctly, it might have a redemption arc after all. 

What is romantic jealousy? 

Romantic jealousy is the emotional experience of feeling threatened or anxious in a relationship due to a perceived or real threat from a rival or potential rival. 

This feeling often arises when a person believes that their partner may be physically or emotionally involved with someone else. However, it's usually the fear of losing someone that causes more extreme bouts of jealousy. 

Mild jealousy tends to plague even the most stable of relationships, with the best-behaved and emotionally engaged romantic partners. 

Signs of Jealousy in a Relationship

Constantly checking in on a partner's activities, such as their phone, social media accounts, or their location.
Becoming suspicious or paranoid about a partner's interactions with others, whether co-workers or friends.
Feeling threatened by past relationships — even if there is no existing relationship with their ex-partner.
Intense feelings of inadequacy or the thought that you aren't good enough for your partner in the face of competition.
Possessive behaviors that could become controlling.
Starting confrontations and accusing your partner of misbehaving — despite a lack of evidence.

Is it normal to be jealous in relationships? 

Yes, jealousy is commonly experienced at some point during most relationships. 

As a human emotion, jealousy is often villainized in a relationship — corrupting a healthy union with negative thoughts and trust issues.

Even though jealousy is often seen as a negative emotion, jealous feelings are normal even in healthy relationships. 

Studies show that experiencing jealousy is a natural reaction when a close relationship comes under threat from someone outside the relationship dynamic. From this perspective, jealousy isn’t seen as a negative but as a justified emotional response to a situation. 

If you choose to view jealousy in this way, it's perhaps more important to evaluate what your partner is doing to make you jealous in the first place. When you look into your partner’s behavior from this perspective, it's easier to see whether your jealousy was justified. 

Jealousy is a complex emotion that shouldn’t be disregarded or belittled. While it can be beneficial in small doses, it shouldn’t come to define your relationship. 

Is jealousy a sign of insecurity? 

Studies link jealousy with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and most commonly as a sign of an insecure relationship. 

However, it's crucial to consider that insecurities in a relationship don’t appear out of thin air. You know what they say… where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. 

“Much of the time it can be a sign of insecurity, but it’s also essential to look at the partner’s behavior and see if they are constantly doing things that undermine the security of the relationship,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.

Since jealousy is an emotional response, your partner should take it seriously. For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may be prone to more jealous or insecure behaviors. 

Ideally, your partner shouldn’t be playing on your insecurities but should validate your feelings by providing a reassuring response. 

“Are they resistant to reassuring their partner or are they even looking at the behaviors that are triggering the jealousy?” asks Seeger DeGeare. 

If your significant other is constantly belittling your emotions, or writing you off as a crazy jealous partner, this could take a toll on your mental health. 

What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy jealousy in a relationship? 

Whether we like it or not, jealousy has a place in most romantic relationships. 

Not all jealousy is bad. In fact, in the right doses, jealousy can positively affect a relationship — making it stronger as a result. 

“For some individuals, feeling a sense of jealousy can be beneficial to their relationships if it motivates them to stay connected and build a stronger bond with their partner,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

While a little jealousy can be helpful, excessive jealousy can contaminate even the healthiest of relationships. Engaging in this unhealthy behavior, or becoming consumed by jealousy, can make you lose your loved one — even if that’s what you feared in the first place. 

“However, if jealousy becomes excessive and interferes with the ability to deepen intimacy and enjoy the relationship, it's considered unhealthy.” 

Signs of healthy jealousy 

Some experts argue that the function of jealousy can be positive for the relationship's survival. 

Studies highlight that even though jealousy has a destructive side, it may have some positive effects — such as motivating behaviors that protect the relationship or as a mode of encouragement in other aspects of life.  

Is it healthy to be jealous of your partner? 

“A healthy form of jealousy acknowledges that both partners in a relationship are independent individuals who pursue activities beyond their shared bond,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

This kind of jealousy is natural within all relationships, whether romantic or not, and can sometimes give you the push to pursue new activities or achieve your goals. 

“Jealousy is commonly associated with flirtatious or sexual interactions, but it can also emerge when one partner achieves success in their career, physical fitness, a unique skill, or parenting,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“When this type of jealousy inspires the other partner to emulate their successful behaviors, it can benefit the entire relationship. This isn’t because one partner is changing themselves for the other, but because they are proud of their improved behavior.”

Signs of unhealthy jealousy 

“Unhealthy jealousy leads to disconnection and resentment in the relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Unhealthy jealousy is commonly linked with the love style of mania, which is characterized by uncertainty about the partner’s behavior and extreme emotional reactions. 

This is the classic jealousy trope that is commonly portrayed within pop culture, showcased by irrational outbursts or accusatory behavior. These unfounded accusations are usually red flags in a relationship, with the instigators cast aside as crazy or toxic. 

Research defines this kind of bad or unhealthy jealousy as a potentially destructive emotion in intimate relationships. Overthinking in this way can only serve to make things worse and can harm your mental health, as well as your relationship. 

“This is because it's taking up more space than anything else and it's causing more mistrust than trust,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

What is the best way to deal with jealousy in a relationship? 

Everyone may experience jealousy at some point in their relationship but how do you handle it? Due to the extremity of the emotion, it’s important to act in the right way in order not to offend or hurt your significant other. 

No one wants to be made out to be crazy or jealous — especially if they feel that their concerns about a third person or outside figure are true. Be mindful of how your partner feels and try to reassure your partner rather than simply dismissing the claims. 

Instead of getting caught up in confrontation, take a deep breath and try to get to the root cause of the jealousy. Approaching the issue directly, and honestly and healthily,  could prevent it from wreaking further havoc on your relationship — stamping out the jealous feelings at the source. 

According to Seeger DeGeare, there are some healthy ways to check in with your partner if you’re dealing with jealousy in a relationship.

What is triggering the feeling of jealousy for you?
Has this been consistent with your relationship history?
Does this connect to any significant events in your life?
How would you like to navigate this in our relationship?
Is jealousy serving a purpose? Is it working for you in some way?

Although many couples can find resolution and reassurance through communication, this isn’t always the case.

“Be honest with yourself if the jealousy is feeling exhausting and all-consuming for either one of you,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

If you feel that unhealthy jealousy has taken hold of your relationship, despite your attempts at reassurance, it could be time to evaluate your situation before it becomes toxic. 

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