How jealousy can wreck even the strongest relationships, why it’s in our genes, and when to walk away rather than put up with it

A relationship expert explains why jealousy is a curse, how to avoid the fear and anger it causes, and why you can’t beat it

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 10:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 10:45am

Jealousy is a silent killer that can threaten or destroy even the strongest relationships. The emotions it triggers, including anxiety, fear, anger, pain, and insecurity, are often indicators of underlying problems in your love life.

A friend of mine was on the bitter receiving end of jealousy. His long-term girlfriend would often throw a fit when he talked to, smiled at or acted courteously towards another woman; he certainly couldn’t be friendly to his ex-spouse. Her jealousy peaked when she ordered him not to interact with any woman while she was around. To stay sane, he had to end their relationship.

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In her book The Anatomy of Love, Dr Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and human behaviourist, says there is a genetic reason for jealousy. For males, it’s a way to protect their mate from other males, and therefore have a better chance of passing on their DNA. Females get jealous to fend off potential rivals so they (and their progeny) can have more resources and thus a higher chance of survival.

Jealousy may have a role in mating strategies, but we still can’t ignore the adverse effect it has on relationships, says Ariadna Peretz, founder of matchmaking agency Maitre D’ate. “I think it affects a relationship negatively and it can ruin it when we forget that jealousy is caused [by] our own fear, and not necessarily caused by the actions of the person we love.”

Peretz highlights a scary statistic cited in Fisher’s book: “In records collected in 66 cultures, anthropologists William Jankowiak and Diane Hardgrave found that 88 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women have turned to physical violence when they felt betrayed; indeed, male jealousy is a leading cause of spousal homicide in the United States today.”

Is jealousy a reaction of love? “It is definitely not a sign of love,” Peretz says. “Please don’t let anyone convince that it’s a sign of love. I think it’s a sign of insecurity and fear of rejection.

“Some people say jealousy is a sign of high self-esteem (e.g. ‘I’m not going to let you treat me this way’) but if that were the case, why not just break up? You cannot change a person, and if they are acting in a way that is not compatible with your values and needs, you need to walk away.”

She says jealousy is sometimes a cover for unfaithfulness. “I have seen people act very jealously with their partners, to the point of gaslighting (making someone doubt their own sanity), because they were accusing their significant other of being unfaithful when it was actually them who were being unfaithful.”

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She adds: “Being jealous can also be a form of self-protection. By being jealous and breaking up, I can then blame you for the failed relationship without taking responsibility, and it also lets me break up with you before you have a chance to leave me.”

We are human so we all get jealous sometimes. And maybe it can be interpreted as a way to show a partner that they are desired, cared for, and therefore need to be protected. You may wonder if maybe sometimes just a bit of jealousy can be healthy in a relationship. And if so, what is a normal and healthy dose?

“I don’t think it is healthy but perhaps if you are aware that you are jealous, you can give yourself time to understand why you are jealous,” Peretz says.

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We know there is no such thing as a perfect relationship, and we are bound to develop a certain degree of jealousy at some point when we stay with someone for an extended period, especially when love and trust are not strong enough.

In small doses, jealousy might be considered insignificant, but, uncontrolled, it can be toxic, destructive, or even deadly when it is the trigger for domestic violence.

We must recognise that we don’t own a relationship or anyone with whom we share a bond. If we don’t trust our partner, we ought to move on. As scary as it sounds, we just need to remind ourselves that the end of a relationship is not the end of your life, as devastating as it may be. Bluntly put, if it was meant to be, then it was meant to be.

So be smart and overcome jealousy in your relationship – don’t be overcome by it.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post