Relational Dynamics of Jealousy

When we’re talking about relationships, it’s problematic interaction that’s mostly at the root of issues, not problematic individuals. Even if, say, the problem is only experienced by one person, it’s still helpful to ask: “So, how do partners contribute to the problem?”

Jealousy has a function in a relationship. If you want to get rid of jealousy in your life, then consider how you and your partner embrace jealousy in your relationship. The following are 7 dysfunctional relationship dynamics known to cause and/or maintain jealousy between couples:

You partner is deliberately triggering your jealousy. Unfortunately, Cosmo-style relationship advice has flooded media, and many of them don’t follow sound relationship principles. One particularly tenuous tip is on how women should make their men jealous to keep them interested. Women are asked to drop the name of an ex from time to time, to keep their man guessing where they go at night. Sometimes to even purposively flirt with someone else! The point is to never make their partner feel secure about their affections — men are hunters, they like the chase! 

But remember: if purposely triggering jealousy only drives a wedge between you and your partner, it’s not worth it. It merely sends this message: If you really love me, you must react to my manipulation. 

Your partner is using jealousy to steamroll your self-esteem.  Power play in a relationship can be subtle — or it can be blatant and downright ugly.  One way some women keep men in line is to taunt them about past lovers (e.g. bragging that their last man is a better provider, more exciting in bed or has a better sense of humor.) Others make their man feel insignificant — and hence grateful! — for having caught such a desirable woman. 

The sad thing is, some men fall for power plays. If this is happening in your relationship, create rules banning taunting or outright hurtful speech. There are ways of negotiating control in a relationship without having egos squashed to the ground.

You’re using jealousy to get what you want. Do you have a hidden agenda? Jealousy can be (consciously or unconsciously) abused to get your partner to acquiesce to anything. Want to keep your partner from considering the lucrative job offer out of state? Start a jealous rant. Want her to not purchase the revealing dress? Insist that she intends to wear it for someone else. Want the girlfriend to stay the whole day with you? Throw a jealous tantrum about the many men she sees every day. If the tactic works, it becomes addictive.  But do you really want to hostage your partner’s ability to decide things for herself? 

Your jealousy is a sign of co-dependence. The ideal relationship is one that is interdependent; this means that partners can stand on their own two feet — and yet chooses to stay together. An “I-can’t-live-without-you, please-stay-with-me-forever” relationship is not healthy. Individuals need to grow, so that they always come to a relationship with something new to contribute, something that will keep the spice going. But if you’re using jealousy to make sure that you stick to one another like glue, then maybe you have some growing up to do first.

You’re using jealousy for confession-hunting. In an ideal world, what’s in the past stays in the past. But in the murky waters of human emotion, people will not be at peace until they have answers — or their pound of flesh. Jealousy in a relationship may play the role of persecutor, a means to go into witch hunt mode. You knew he was cheating 5 years ago, but you couldn’t prove it! Hence you’re hyper vigilant for new signs to justify your initial suspicions. The result: you and your partner become trapped in a cycle of evidence-hunting you both can’t really move on from.  

Your jealousy is a cry for help. Maybe your relationship has been over for months; you two are just technically going through the motions. You and your partner don’t talk, you have a full time affair on the side, and you’ve thrown everything at each other except the kitchen sink. Yet you go into this game of jealousy to pretend that all is well, or just to have something to fight about. Or if one of you still wants the relationship to survive, the jealousy is a cry for help in fixing a relationship — no different from the rebellion of an overprotected teenager. Odd? Yes. Helpful? Only if you both can read the signs.

Lastly, jealousy is your way of communicating to your partner how insecure you feel. In an ideal world, partners can directly tell each other what they’re feeling. But in the real world, things are more complicated. Sometimes you’d rather not express your insecurities, for fear of being laughed at or rejected. But still insecurity must be communicated. If you have a secretive partner or a partner who tends to keep you at an emotional distance, jealousy can be your way of communicating how anxious you feel about the status of your relationship.