Expert advice

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey: Sexologist

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey has been a sexologist — sexuality educator, sex therapist and sex researcher — since 1990. She is also the author a number of successful books.

Jealousy in relationships

Friday, September 22, 2006
One of the ways you can better understand how jealousy affects your relationship is to talk with your partner about these gender differences and have a discussion about whether you agree...

My boyfriend and I are both jealous people, but over completely different things. He's always suspicious and jealous that I might cheat on him. I admit I get jealous too, but mostly of the amount of time he spends with his work colleagues, who are both male and female. He tells me I'm being ridiculous and I tell him he's being paranoid. Are we doomed or are we normal? How common is jealousy in relationships?

Most people experience some form of jealousy in a relationship. It can range from destructive rage to an uncomfortable feeling that can stifle the development of a relationship and the pleasure you feel when you're together.

The different types of jealousy you and your partner feel are not uncommon. The concern is more about how much jealousy plays a role in how you relate. Jealousy eventually can be very destructive to a relationship so it's important to prevent it from heading out of control, especially since you both have a tendency to become jealous.

Sometimes jealousy in one partner can spark a further retaliative jealous reaction in the other and two jealous partners, such as yourselves, are prime candidates for creating this kind of downward spiral until jealousy triggering jealousy or the need for attention through jealousy becomes the main form of communication in an unhealthy pattern, but one you're familiar with, so repeat over and over, even though it makes you unhappy.

Does this mean your relationship is doomed? Of course not. But it does mean you need to be aware of motivations for your behaviour and how jealousy may present itself between you in your relationship, if you want to change it.

Men and women usually feel jealous in different ways, according to research. Women are more likely to acknowledge jealous feelings and men are more likely to deny them. Women are more likely to become upset over the emotional involvement of her partner with another, whereas men are more likely to focus in on the sexual aspect(s) of the relationship or any sexual tension and attention his partner has with another (or is perceived to have). The research shows these gender differences are cross-cultural, not just Australian tendencies. Women also more often blame themselves when a conflict over jealousy arises, while men typically put their jealous feelings on to a third party or their partner's behaviour. Interestingly, women have been shown to be more inclined to deliberately provoke jealousy than men. This is often in a reverse attempt to bolster feelings of self-worth by gaining attention (good or otherwise) directed squarely at them from their partner.

One of the ways you can better understand how jealousy affects your relationship is to talk with your partner about these gender differences and have a discussion about whether you agree with these generalisations and what kinds of jealousies you see between you.

Jealousy certainly creates attention in a relationship but often of the wrong, unhealthy, kind. A little bit of jealousy can be managed in a healthy relationship, but if you and your partner are both the jealous type, be aware of how big a role it plays in your relationship and make sure you base your connection on a solid stable core — and not one easily eroded by the green-eyed monster. It certainly is possible to overcome jealousy in a relationship, but you both have to be dedicated and open about how it manifests in your relationship. Good luck.

For further information: if jealousy is destroying or negatively impacting your relationship, learn more by reading The Green-Eyed Marriage: Surviving Jealous Relationships, by therapist Robert Barker.

For more information and to find about Gabrielle's latest book, Spicy Sex please see Dr Gabrielle's website.

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