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Am I in a Jealous Relationship?

Jealousy is a common problem in relationships. Romantic relationships can certainly cause jealousy, but so can family members, friends and co-workers. According to Gordon Clanton, a professor of sociology at California State University, jealousy is a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship.

Without jealousy, there may be little protection or ownership of the relationship. Too much jealousy, however, can lead to unhealthy patterns of attachment.

There are several different types of jealousy. Romantic jealousy is probably the most frequently experienced. A threat to the intimacy of a relationship can occur in various different situations, and when jealousy becomes a major problem work life, social life, and even family life can be impacted. 

If one partner is unfaithful to the other, oftentimes it does not matter whether the affair was emotional or sexual. Both betrayals are devastating and may provoke a sense of inadequacy in the partner who did not have an affair.

Jealousy among friends can also bring up feelings of insecurity. Most of the time these situations occur in teenage years when strong friendships are just beginning to form. If a child’s best friend decides to starting spending more time with a new friend, the child can feel threatened and undervalued.

The work environment can also lead to competition and jealousy. For example, if two men with the same work experience perform similarly at their tasks and one gets a raise because he or she is more aggressive, the one who did not actively pursue the promotion may feel resentful.

Jealousy commonly stems from:

  • Competition. This could be between two people who are actively trying to win the affection of a loved one or it could be a completely perceived competition. Whether the threat is real or not, the idea that someone is competing against another for the common goal, is enough to spark jealousy.
  • Feeling inferior. Insecurity, self doubt, and low self-esteem can lead to feeling inadequate. If someone feels they cannot ‘measure up’ on a constant basis, they may feel that everyone is a threat and/or possibly competing for the same thing.
  • Comparisons. Comparing what one has to another is usually a futile exercise considering there are many invisible factors that go into owning what each person has. With websites and television shows that encourage people to compare themselves on a daily basis, the rates of jealousy may be increasing.
  • Entitlement. When someone believes they deserve something and then fail to receive what they feel they have earned, they may become bitter to anyone else who has what they want. The idea that life is fair or that it could be, is common precursor to jealous behavior.
  • Projection. Sometimes when someone is particularly jealous of another person, they may subconsciously believe that their behavior is the same as their partner’s behavior.  If they would find it difficult to abstain from cheating with an attractive person, they may think their partner would act the same way.

Jealousy is not all bad. Jealousy can help define the boundaries of a relationship. It can let someone know if there are problems in their relationship that should be worked through together. The amount of jealousy in a relationship should not ever feel controlling.

Here are several signs that jealousy has become irrational:

  • Constant fighting over things that may seem petty. Criticisms about clothing or being asked to show receipts after going out are high indicators that trust has eroded.
  • The frequent mentioning of others that are known to bring out jealousy.
  • An oversensitivity to hearing advice. Perceived criticism may be an obstacle.
  • Any sort of belittling of an accomplishment made, is counterproductive to a healthy and happy relationship.

The psychologist and philosopher, William James, believed emotions arise out of the physical actions we take in response to our life. While most of us know that changing behavior comes from some sort of emotional process, the process can be reversed. By changing a behavior pattern regardless of a psychic change or emotional state, the influence of the behavior can actually cause a positive emotional state.

If you are struggling with jealousy, changing your behavior may influence your happiness to a greater degree than expecting your partner to change. To start behaving in a way that is healthy for positive change, try:

  • Understanding your body. The physical reactions to jealousy may prompt you to understand your future reaction. Is your stomach in knots? Are you sweating? These may be signs to walk away from the situation.
  • Write a log of when these feelings arise to see if common patterns arise.
  • Understand that your insecurities are not your partners.
  • Take it one step at a time. Talking to yourself in a negative tone only perpetuates insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. Changing behavior won’t happen over night. Practice is the best way to establish a routine of thinking.
Am I in a Jealous Relationship?

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.

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APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). Am I in a Jealous Relationship?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 18 Feb 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.