Why are you in a relationship in the first place, and what keeps you there? Seriously? Relationships have peculiar dynamics, which are as rich and varied as each passing day. We ultimately want to be with someone because on some level, it completes a part of our soul. That’s the romantic notion. But once you’re several years down the road of a long-term partnership, what keeps you there? You would say love and loyalty. And you’d be right on the mark. But there is a subtext to love that doesn’t always receive its fair hearing. Jealousy, for all its negative connotations, could be the thing that’s holding together the fabric of your relationship.
Evolutionary Psychologists have long theorised that jealousy is one of the fundamental mate retention strategies we employ. And on it’s hard to deny its importance. Jealousy can be taken one of two ways. Either as a heightened sense of affirmation of commitment – loving jealousy. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, as a manifestation of your insecurities and that you aren’t worthy of your partner’s love – possessive jealousy. The fear of abandonment.
In a certain sense, jealousy represents the scales that balance the commitment you feel towards your partner. It can be a healthy emotion in the right doses. But tip too far into one polarity, and it spells either the loss of freedom or the loss of passion. For the spark to stay alive, there has to be some amount possessiveness. Not in the way that you limit or objectify your partner as a thing that only you have access to. But more in a sense that you value companionship and would be lost without them.
Jealousy entails territorialism. We still aren’t that far removed from our ancestors who lived as hunter-gatherers. Mating used to be seen as the preserve of only the strong. And that disposition still lives on within us through our ancestral DNA memories. Protecting our family unit is as much as alive in us as the migratory patterns are in the birds that fly south every winter. It’s an intrinsic part of our being to seek out and protect what we have. Of course, there is love that drives the primacy. But that doesn’t obscure the fact that it’s there.
When competition for our mates came along in days of old, we fought for their love. You can still see it today in clubs where over-exuberant males have ‘danced’ too close to someone else’s partner. Boundaries are drawn. Sometimes overly firm boundaries. And here is where the discussion takes on a further shade of grey. How much boundary setting is too much? Where does respect end and aggression begin? I obviously don’t condone fighting. But if there is no protection of partner when there is clear interest from another party, what does that communicate about your commitment? As we’ve discussed. It’s fine line between authentic love and unhealthy attachment.
Jealousy has ruined many relationships. It can be a petty and destructive emotion. There’s no doubt. It can be weaponised and used against someone in the form of emotional abuse and even blackmail in some extreme instances. But still, there is no getting away from its role in a happy well-functioning relationship. It can be a sexy, vivacious emotion when it’s expressed passionately as a reaffirming of love. But you need to be on good terms with yourself to make it work. Recognising your jealousy as a sign of love is a hard concept to reconcile. It’s such an oppressive feeling. But when you do, it’s a release like no other. It brings an acceptance and letting go fear, which from there, allows you to lay the foundations for a peaceful, harmonious relationship.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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