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Does Jealousy Prove Love?

“A little jealousy proves she loves me, doesn’t it?”  “I love it when he gets really jealous.  It makes him act so dominant and sexy!”  “I guess she really loves me because she went over and beat up my ex when she found out my ex and I were talking again.”  And now a famous quote, “If I’m the one who killed her ….after she started seeing that other guy ….doesn’t that prove I really loved her?”  After all, jealousy proves love, doesn’t it?  Those are real life quotes representing the spectrum of how a large number of people think about love and jealousy in the modern world.  Those quotes also show how large parts of our culture teach or subconsciously program people to mis-understand the relationship between love and jealousy.

In my counseling practice I work with a lot of people who have problems with jealousy.  Frequently they are very serious problems.  Sometimes I hear things like, “Dr. Cookerly, I’m jealous so doesn’t that prove I really love”… so-and-so.  My answer is usually something like, “I’m sorry to say that in my understanding jealousy doesn’t prove love.  It proves  insecurity”.  In essence jealousy is replacement fear.  When you’re jealous you are afraid of being replaced by another person in the heart, mind and life of someone you find important.  When you are jealous you’re usually in a state of not trusting your own attraction power, your all-over sense of self worth, your adequacy, your lovability and maybe your ability to do love.

Usually working on your own healthy self-love is a big part of curing the jealousy problem. Those good at healthy self love don’t seem to experience much jealousy.  They also do a better job of generally doing love well.  Of course another part of curing the jealousy problem may involve doing a better job of showing, receiving and relating with love.  Let’s look into all this a little deeper.
In some circles it’s almost gospel to hear if you act ‘crazy jealous’ it proves you really have big-time love for somebody.  I’m not the first counselor who has heard messages like, “I guess I will marry him.  After all sometimes he get so jealous he slaps me around so I know it’s real love.”  People who think like that often end up in a battered spouse program, or worse.

All the tragic outcomes of people believing ‘jealousy is evidence of love’ lead me to call this idea one of our most destructive false teachings about love.  This falsity has been around a long time.  Way back in the 1100s the French Courts of Love decided jealousy did prove love.  This resulted in duels and death and continues to this day as a lethal myth.  In some sub-cultural groups death by jealousy still goes on.  In today’s world every day somebody somewhere kills somebody else because they’re jealous.  Then sometimes they kill themselves.  Sadly jealousy has cost a lot of people their lives and sabotaged many others from achieving happy successful lives .  Therefore, I like to suggest it is never wise to take jealousy lightly.  Even in small doses jealousy is worrisome because it may grow and eventually destroy a person or an otherwise potentially good love relationship.

Jealousy is based in fear, not in love.  A little bit of jealousy can indicate a little sense of threat or fear is occurring.  A lot of jealousy means there is a lot of fear.  With great fear often comes big and horrible mistakes.  Jealousy also means that in a relationship something or someone of some importance is in danger of being lost, or at least that is the underling perception.   However, it may have little or nothing to do with a loss of healthy real love.  More likely the fear concerns a loss of pride, ego, life role position, infantile dependency, status, security or some other non-real love factor.

Frequently jealousy works sort of like this:  If I fear I can’t hold on to you because my qualities are not sufficiently attractive or lovable I may get jealous.  With jealousy often comes possessiveness, suspicion, anger, controlling acts and a lot of other negative behaviors.  Powerful domination or deceitful manipulations are attempts to force you to be with me, instead of attracting you by becoming more improved, becoming love focused and acting with love.  With jealousy I fear someone better than me will take you away from me, and so I must keep you from them and keep them away from you.

If I fear losing you to someone else and my jealousy is not overwhelming I can attempt to manipulate you with guilt, play for sympathy as a victim, or try to get you to save me or fix me, none of which has anything to do with healthy real love.  The fear basis of jealousy also often gets the one who is jealous to see threat and betrayal where none exists.  Interrogation, spying, privacy invasion and paranoid ways are typical of a jealous person.  None of that represents the behaviors of healthy real love.

So, you may ask, “What’s the cure?”
As we develop our healthy self-love we get in touch with our sense of self worth more and more.  With this a person tends to see themselves as more lovable and love ‘able’.  After that happens one usually begins to trust their own attraction power more.  With that development tendencies toward jealousy are likely to reduce markedly.  Sometimes these tendencies are replaced by simple insecurity without the symptoms of jealousy.  Pure insecurity frequently is far less self destructive and less blinded to the facts than jealousy is.

Also simple insecurity far more commonly results in a person attempting to become more secure by rational and workable methods than is true with jealousy.  Look at this example.  Andy is with Betty at the dance.  Betty gets asked to dance by Charles who is much better looking, richer and a far better dancer than Andy.  Andy starts feeling inferior to Charles, becomes insecure and gets jealous (the usual three step process of jealousy).  When Betty returns from the dance floor he criticizes her for dancing too close to Charles, suspiciously questions her about secretly wanting to have sex with Charles, and they fight.  Betty breaks off the relationship with Andy and then goes over to Charles and asks him to take her home since “Andy is such a jealous jerk”.

Now let’s suppose this scenario happened after Andy had worked at becoming more mature and healthfully self loving.  When Betty gets back from the dance floor Andy bravely admits, “I’m feeling insecure and I sure would like it if you would give me some reassurance that you love me and want me, and anything else that says you like me”.  Betty replies, “Of course, Honey, I really respect you for having the courage to admit you’re insecure, and I’m so thankful you are not doing any of those dumb, jealous, trying to control me with dominance things.  It really makes you so much  more attractive to me!  It was only a dance and you’re the one I love”.  Well, of course, this is an oversimplification but hopefully it demonstrates how things might and often do work without jealousy.

The re-establishment of a sense of security via being wanted and loved is what both the insecure and the jealous person are after.  The person who has the self-confidence to simply ask for that reassurance and receive it when it comes their way has the best chance of getting it.  The tortured, often convoluted path of the jealous person is frequently self-defeating.

Be careful not to confuse jealousy with envy.  Jealousy is when you don’t want someone else to have what you want or what you might want.  Envy is when you want something like what someone else has.  Envy can lead us to achieve improvements, acquire additions, etc. while jealousy usually leads only to trouble.

In a round about way jealousy eventually is it’s own cure.  With enough jealousy you will drive off the person you are trying to keep.  With that loss either you will quit trying, deteriorate and be destroyed, or you will grow yourself into better emotional shape and get over being so jealous.  In any case the jealousy will be decommissioned.  An unhealthy danger is if someone keeps giving in to your jealousy and rewards it by staying with you.  Most often rewarded jealousy continues and increases.  The more you give in to jealousy the more the jealous person uses jealousy to control you. 

Also they work less on improving themselves because controlling you with jealousy is working.  Being compliant and surrendering cooperatively to a jealous lover’s every whim can make a relationship last longer but usually the jealousy grows like a cancer until it destroys you both.
Mostly in the modern world jealousy doesn’t work to keep somebody around.  In most modern world relationships only love will do that.  In less developed parts of the world jealousy may still work somewhat because in those places it’s harder to get away from a jealous, controlling, possessive spouse, lover, etc.  Wherever people are sufficiently free to safely get away from a jealous possessive lover, parent, family, friend, etc. they tend to do so.  Thus, jealousy tends to loose sway wherever freedom, gender equality, and democracy are becoming the social norm.

”Dr. Cookerly, isn’t jealousy natural?”  “Jealousy is hard wired into our brains, isn’t it?”  Once in a while I’m asked those kind of questions.  Sometimes I suspect the person asking may have a vested interest in the answer.  So, I like to first ask, “What do you hope my answer will be?”  Later I may answer something like this.  A number of social and evolutional psychologists, along with some anthropologists, think jealousy once may have worked well enough and long enough to perhaps now be ingrained in our brain responses.  However, there is some evidence to suggest the severely jealous are losing at love at such a rate that it may some day devolve out of existence in the human race. 

There are cultures in the world where jealousy is much less virulent, rare or almost non-existent.  Language groups lacking the possessive case exhibit very little jealousy.  This also is true for groups where sharing is more valued than possession acquirement.  Also there are cultures in which the things people are jealous about are quite different from what we in the modern Western world tend to get jealous about.  For instance polygamy, or polyandry, or what we call ‘sleeping around’ may be perfectly acceptable but someone else having better dreams can spark intense jealousy.

Cultural anthropologists with growing evidence argue for a rather interesting understanding.  According to their increasing evidence-based view men and women were considered quite equal for 200,000 years or so, and gender equal sexual sharing was probably the standard during all that time.  It wasn’t until the last 5% of Homo sapiens’ existence when agriculture was invented and ownership of women, land, and cattle occurred that jealousy was thought to have grown to importance and commonality.  That means jealousy may have had a chance to get hard wired into our brains only for the last 8,000 to 10,000 years.  The brain scientist don’t think that’s enough time for jealousy to be much of a genetic trait, if it is at all.  Thus, jealousy may not be a natural or neurologically ‘hard wired’ condition at all.  Is that the answer you were hoping for?  A scientific excuse for jealousy might be a hoped for answer by some.  It just doesn’t seem to be supported by sufficient reliable evidence.

If you have strong or ongoing problems with either being jealousy or being the target of jealousy let me strongly suggests you seek out a good counselor or therapist who can coach you into better, more healthy self-love, and a safer more productive way of going about love relationships.

If you are one of those who think that a little jealousy is a good thing my suggestion is be very careful about that.  If you know someone involved in a relationship filled with jealousy problems please consider suggesting they seek professional assistance quickly, and know you might be saving their life by doing so.  All too often strong jealousy turns deadly.  If you have a teenager or young adult dating a highly jealous person consider going quickly into family therapy because you may be facing the dynamics of jealousy mixed with immaturity which is often a highly dangerous combination.

I have dealt with many mildly, jealousy infected couple relationships and they turned out fine with help without much trouble.  I also have dealt with just enough of the more serious kind to urge great caution.  So, I like to answer the question posed at the beginning of this segment, “No, jealousy does not prove love, it proves insecurity and that can sometimes be quite dangerous”.  So, love healthfully and be careful of ‘The Green Eyed Monster’.

As always – grow in love.

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

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