Have you ever felt the sting of jealousy creep its way into your relationship? Perhaps it was triggered by a lingering glance from a stranger, or maybe a late-night text from an old flame. Jealousy, like a dark shadow, has a sneaky way of casting doubt and insecurity over even the securest of bonds.
While it is commonly accepted as a natural human emotion, research reveals that not all jealousy is created equally. According to a pioneering study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, jealousy emerges in three distinct forms. These three facets of jealousy impact our thoughts, behaviors and emotions in different ways, and in turn, our relationships.
However, according to the authors, one of these types of jealousy is intertwined with love. Unlike its two counterparts, it is a reaction that signals not toxicity, but passion. Through this research, individuals can easily discern whether their jealousy serves as a testament to affection or toxicity.
1. Cognitive Jealousy
To uncover whether an individual’s jealousy is harmful or healthy, the authors developed the Multidimensional Jealousy Scale. The tool comprises three interesting thought experiments that test one’s limits within intimate relationships.
To use the scale, you are prompted to think of a person with whom you have a strong romantic relationship. For the first experiment, consider how often you have the following thoughts about your partner on a scale from “never” to “all the time”:
- I suspect that my partner is secretly seeing someone else.
- I am worried that someone else may be chasing after my partner.
- I suspect that my partner may be attracted to someone else.
- I suspect that my partner may be physically intimate with someone else behind my back.
- I think that someone else may be romantically interested in my partner.
- I am worried that someone else is trying to seduce my partner.
- I think that my partner is secretly developing an intimate relationship with someone else.
- I suspect that my partner is crazy about someone else.
If you mostly answered affirmatively to these statements, you likely experience cognitive jealousy. This type of jealousy can be likened to a persistent whisper at the back of one’s mind, casting doubt and uncertainty over views on one’s relationship. Stemming from insecurities and imagined scenarios, this kind of jealousy can lead individuals down a rabbit hole of suspicion and mistrust.
Rather than promoting communication and understanding, cognitive jealousy might breed secrecy and defensiveness. In turn, this may hinder the growth of intimacy and connection between partners. Since it results in a tendency to second guess partners’ intentions, as well as scrutinize their every interaction, cognitive jealousy may create a lingering sense of unease and tension in a relationship.
2. Behavioral Jealousy
For the second experiment, consider how often you engage in the following behaviors on a scale from “Never” to “All The Time”:
- I look through my partner’s drawers, handbag or pockets.
- I call my partner unexpectedly, just to see if they are there.
- I question my partner about previous or present romantic relationships.
- I say something nasty about someone if my partner shows an interest in that person.
- I question my partner about their telephone calls.
- I question my partner about their whereabouts.
- I join in whenever I see my partner talking to someone else.
- I pay my partner a surprise visit just to see who is with them.
If you find yourself often engaging in the actions listed above, you might experience behavioral jealousy. This form of jealousy raises a few red flags, as it entails certain levels of possessiveness and control. Although arising from the natural fear of losing one’s partner, it manifests through toxic behaviors: constant checking, surveillance and even controlling actions.
Instead of offering a sense of security, behavioral jealousy may stifle individual freedom and autonomy within a relationship. Partners may feel suffocated by constant intrusion into their personal space, leading to potential resentment and conflict. In extreme cases, behavioral jealousy can escalate into emotional abuse, or worse–causing lasting harm to both individuals and the relationship as a whole.
3. Emotional Jealousy
For the final experiment, consider how you would feel in reaction to the following situations on a scale from “very pleased” to “very upset”:
- Your partner comments to you on how great looking a particular person is.
- Your partner shows a great deal of interest or excitement in talking to someone else.
- Your partner smiles in a very friendly manner at someone else.
- Someone else is trying to get close to your partner all the time.
- Your partner is flirting with someone else.
- Someone else is dating your partner.
- Your partner hugs and kisses someone else.
- Your partner works very closely with someone else (in school or office).
If you found yourself feeling upset by some of the statements above, you might experience emotional jealousy. This form of jealousy, when experienced in moderation, serves as a gentle reminder of the depth of one’s feelings and the value placed on the relationship. In contrast to the prior two forms, emotional jealousy springs from a place of love and care, reflecting the natural human instinct to protect what is cherished.
In small doses, this form of jealousy can strengthen the bond between partners by promoting open conversations and reaffirmations of commitment. When handled with empathy and understanding, emotional jealousy can give rise to deeper intimacy, enabling partners to work together towards greater security and trust in their relationship.
While jealousy in relationships is common, its excessive presence—especially when leading to constant skepticism or possessiveness—is never healthy. However, in small doses, and expressed in endearment instead of insecurity, jealousy can open a door to conversations about boundaries, commitment and mutual respect. Ultimately, it’s the ability to recognize the difference between healthy expressions of care and destructive manifestations of jealousy that paves the way for healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Want to know exactly how harmful or healthy your jealousy is? Fill out this jealousy scale and receive your results: Emotional Jealousy Scale.