Does this scenario sound familiar? Your partner is hanging out a lot with one of their co-workers. They're basically each other's "work spouses." While you know it's perfectly innocent, you can't help but feel a little jealous. And while jealousy might be a normal feeling to have from time to time, it doesn't feel great. You might not even understand why you're feeling what you're feeling, especially if you think you share a close and trusting connection with your partner. So, what gives? Is jealousy healthy in a relationship, or is it a sign you could have bigger problems?
"Jealousy is a very complex emotion that can be rooted in insecurity, low self-esteem, feelings of abandonment, and often feelings of inadequacy," says Minaa B., a therapist and spokesperson for eharmony. "It can manifest as wanting something other people have, and could also elicit feelings of resentment in certain relationships."
According to Minaa, variables like your personality and attachment style can influence why and how you form these feelings of jealousy.
"For example, if you are codependent and lack interdependence, you may have expectations for your partner to make you feel whole, adequate, and enough. When there is a threat from another person, you may begin to feel jealous of the relationships your partner has outside of you," she says. "You could start feeling jealous if your partner is scheduling time to hang out with [their] friends and not you, or you may even feel jealous if you notice your partner liking photos of a person they could potentially be attracted to."
Whatever it might be, the thing that is making you feel jealous, explains Minaa, is being interpreted as something that is a threat to your relationships, and it causes people to act in ways that are not healthy."
If you're struggling to understand jealousy and how it affects your relationship, read on for more insights about the green eyed-monster.
Is jealousy healthy in a relationship?
Although jealousy is a complex emotion that gets a bad rap, Minaa says feeling the emotion isn't the problem; it's your actions and behaviors that are.
"A positive reaction to jealousy is when it helps you become self-attuned. You should look within to understand your feelings more deeply, and also to understand what is in the way of you getting the thing that you envy and are jealous of."
For example, a person might feel jealous when hearing about their friend starting a new relationship. This might propel the person to take a better initiative at dating so they may sign up for a dating app.
"On the other hand, a negative reaction would be to not regulate those emotions and instead project them onto the person they are jealous of," says Minaa. "In this same example, they may start talking down to their friend about their relationship or try to do things to break up their friend's relationship."
The goal here, according to Minaa, is to ensure our behaviors are not causing harm and, instead, are allowing us to be better versions of ourselves.
Is jealousy always a deal breaker?
"If a person does a poor job at managing their jealousy, it can definitely be a deal-breaker," says Minaa. "We are all responsible for our emotions as individuals, so even in a relationship, it is not your partner's job to fix your feelings for you. Too often, some people expect their partners to do the emotional healing work on their behalf and try to control their partner's behaviors."
An example of this is thinking, "If only my partner would just invite me to every social gathering they go to so I wouldn't feel jealous." Instead, the healthy thing to do would be to examine your anxiety and understand why it frightens you not to do everything with your partner. Explains Minaa, "Maybe you feel like you don't get enough alone time together, so your partner may need to compromise and offer flexibility in meeting your needs."
But if you can't have that honesty and awareness with yourself, your jealousy might plague — and possibly end — your connection.
Should you embrace jealousy in your relationship?
So, how can you embrace jealousy in your relationship and make it work for the betterment of your relationship? Minaa says it's only possible when a person chooses to explore the root of their feelings, invites their partner into that experience, and engages in something actionable to help combat that feeling.
"For example, you might start to feel jealous of your partner when you watch them grow and succeed in their career, while you feel stuck and stagnant in yours," she explains. "Expressing this can deepen the connection and provide validation to the person experiencing the jealousy that their partner's growth and success is not a threat to the relationship, nor does it mean that opportunities are not available to them as well."
Ultimately, Minaa says the goal is to harness the feeling to make positive change. "This can look like supporting your partner through their grief for not being where they want to be, as well as providing them with support to help them achieve their goals."