The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When it comes to jealousy, not all forms are created equal. In fact, there are definitely extremes. And while sometimes a little jealousy can make a relationship stronger, too much can lead to its imminent implosion.

The experience of minor jealousy here and there is usually not something to fret about. A fleeting bout of anxiety or fear that someone may attract your partner is normal and not necessarily an issue. This is especially true when you realize your fears aren’t reality-based and the feeling doesn’t linger.

Good Jealousy

So what exactly is “good” jealousy? While it might seem like an oxymoron, there is such a thing as a healthy dose of jealousy. Even in the best relationships we can start to take our partner for granted at times. On those occasions, when you suddenly feel a pang of jealousy, say while noticing a gorgeous singleton chatting up your significant other, that emotion can serve as a potent reminder of the things that initially attracted you to your partner. If someone else is finding him interesting, you might realize that you’re still interested in him too (even more than you were aware). In those cases, a little twinge of jealousy can serve to briefly reinspire the relationship.

Jealousy can also serve as an indicator of love and interest. How so? Well, oftentimes people may not even realize they have romantic feelings (or realize how deep their feelings run) until they get a jealousy pang. And that little twinge serves as a wakeup call that they are more invested than they thought. In that case, jealousy is also positive because it ups the stakes in a relationship that may have needed a kick to move it to the next level.

The above scenarios illustrate how a little jealousy isn’t deleterious and could possibly even add something to a relationship. Thus, should you or your partner experience minor, everyday jealousies, it’s best to recognize them for what they are, even laugh at them, accept them, and then release them. Unless trust issues are also involved, chances are you can just let them go and move on (and even take them as a sign that things are still on track with your relationship).

The risk with “good” jealousy, however, is that things can easily change from it triggering a mild jolt of anxiety that can even be exciting or enjoyable to the more extreme forms of jealousy, anger, and fear. At the extreme, jealousy can become seriously debilitating and destructive to a relationship.

For this reason, jealousy is not something that should be toyed with. Some people play on their partner’s fears and anxieties by engaging in little acts of seeming disinterest to make them jealous, such as smiling suggestively at a passing stranger on the street and commenting on her physique. Bad idea. Organic jealousy can be tolerated in a relationship because it serves as a reminder of emotional investment. Intentional acts of jealousy — invoking behavior, however, serve only to ultimately break down a relationship.

Bad Jealousy

When jealousy runs in the other direction, it will start to chip away at a relationship. Instead of adding intrigue or spice, it adds doubt, which is incredibly powerful. A doubt-filled mind is a fertile breeding ground for other relationship-wrecking thoughts and may lead to relationship sabotage (i.e., if a partner becomes possessive, demanding, or controlling out of fear stemming from jealousy, it will generally lead to the very loss of love they were afraid of in the first place).

How can one recognize the bad before it gets really ugly? Consider this: Any situation where jealousy leads to irrational, overprotective, or demanding behavior would probably qualify. A relationship fraught with jealous undertones might also look a bit competitive or fractured to the outside observer. Think about it: A member of a happy couple isn’t usually flirting with others to make his partner take notice nor will he make a scene anytime his significant other so much as looks at another person. A couple without jealousy issues are comfortable giving each other a long leash in social situations because each person knows that his partner will find her way back to his side eventually

Bad jealousy sometimes shows up as dominant behavior. It may also come out in repeated accusations, which is not healthy for any relationship. Bringing up something your partner did — like ogling a stranger — is okay once, especially if he wasn’t aware that his behavior bothered you or made you feel insecure. In fact, voicing that jealous reaction may even make him feel good knowing you care enough about him to seek reassurance of his love.

The danger in repetition of such a behavior, however, is that it may become draining emotionally, or your reactions may intensify. For example, instead of asking questions about what your partner has been doing in an ordinary, interested way, you may start grilling for every detail of any encounter he has, which really makes you look nuts. Even worse? You might try threatening or confronting the person you believe, correctly or incorrectly, is your rival.

This would definitely be “bad” jealousy because instead of strengthening your position with your significant other, it makes you look needy and insecure and there is nothing attractive about that to anyone. See how tipping the scale too far can lead to relationship ruin?

Ugly Jealousy

On the extreme end of the spectrum is the “ugly” kind of jealousy and you can probably figure out what kind of situation that entails. Think jilted lover gone berserk or cheated-on wife who takes her husband for everything he’s got. When it comes to relationships and sex, “ugly” jealousy probably gets the most intense. That is likely because sex is already a heightened experience; when jealousy enters the mix, the results can be devastating for a relationship.

A contemporary, fictionalized example of such a situation was in the movie Unfaithful. In this film, Constance, played by Diane Lane, is a woman in a solid but rather boring marriage who on a chance encounter meets a mysterious Frenchman. Eventually they are off on a torrid and passionate affair. Soon her husband, Edward, played by Richard Gere, starts to get suspicious that something might be going on. He has her followed and when photos of her and her dashing amour confirm his worries, he decides to confront the man.

At this point, however, the power of contained jealousy comes to light and he ends up murdering the man. Regardless of the outcome, you knew his life and his relationship would never be reparable.

While this is on the extreme side of the jealousy continuum, the point we’re illustrating here is that jealousy is a powerful emotion that should not be underestimated. Learning to deal with it in a positive manner may be the healthiest thing you could possibly do for your relationship. Otherwise, the resulting fallout could be ugly.

The above is an excerpt from the book Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Help Your Relationship . . . Without Leaving Your Bedroom by Joel Block, Ph.D. & Kimberly Dawn Neuman. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Joel Block, Ph.D. & Kimberly Dawn Neuman, authors of Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Help Your Relationship . . . Without Leaving Your Bedroom

Joel Block, Ph.D., is an award-winning psychologist, practicing couple and sex therapy in New York and offering couple-relationship seminars throughout the United States. Dr. Block has appeared on the Today show, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning. He lives in New York. Visit Joel Block, Ph.D. at

Kimberly Dawn Neumann, is a Broadway performer and highly credited dating/sex/relationship writer. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Marie Claire, Maxim, and more. She lives in New York City.

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