Is Relationship Jealousy Damaging Your Mental Health?

Couple standing by lake with man's back turned

A little bit of jealousy is healthy for a relationship. If you didn’t care at all about your partner leaving you for someone else, this would generally be considered a bad sign for your relationship. In fact, in evolutionary psychology, there is a phenomenon known as “mate guarding,” which is when an animal guards their mate more closely around potential rivals.

Humans do the same thing when they become more aware or vigilant about their partner’s behavior around other attractive people. And people often respond positively to minor signs of jealousy in their partners. They assume that it means that their partners value them, consider them attractive to others, and don’t want to lose them.

How Jealousy Becomes a Relationship Issue

Small amounts of jealousy are normal, and even healthy, but problems begin when jealousy becomes more intense and less controlled.

The Jealousy Recipient

The recipient of the jealousy may feel controlled, constricted, and resentful. They feel like they can’t go anywhere or do anything without their partner becoming upset and jealous. The smallest and most innocent interactions are analyzed, and the person feels accused and violated. They start to chafe against the restrictions that their partner places on them, and may feel embarrassed telling friends or family about how jealous their partner is.

The recipient of the jealousy is typically made to feel insecure by this behavior and may feel that they must be doing something “wrong” in order to be provoking their partner’s jealousy.

The Jealous Partner

On the other hand, the jealous partner may also suffer.

The jealous partner feels constantly tormented by the idea that their partner is betraying them, or that other people are about to snatch away their partner. Often, this partner is highly insecure, and does not feel confident that they deserve love. They think that there is some amount of “committed” behavior that their partner could exhibit that would “prove” their love, but this is generally an impossible task. Their insecurity is so great that no amount of reassurance can make them feel secure and calm.

It’s possible this partner was abandoned or neglected in childhood by a parent, whether physically or emotionally, and the jealousy is part of a pattern within all of their intimate relationships (sometimes including friendships).

The Jealousy Dynamic

There are some relationships where both partners are equally jealous, but not as many. Mostly, couples who struggle with this issue consist of one partner who is jealous and accusatory, and the other who is more passive and tries to placate the other. Fights are constant in these relationships, only pausing when the object of the jealousy decides to cut themselves off from external interests and friends in order to calm the partner down.

Signs You Should Seek Relationship Therapy

Some key warning signs that you and your partner need to seek couples counseling for help with jealousy are:

  • One partner feels that their freedom is significantly curtailed because of the other partner’s jealousy
  • One partner feels desperate and out of control at the prospect of being cheated on, to the point that they engage in surveillance of the partner’s phone or computer, or other spying behaviors
  • The couple fights frequently about one partner’s behavior or whereabouts
  • Partners begin to accuse each other of lying or cheating on a regular basis
  • The partner who is the recipient of the jealousy feels hopeless, or even as though they should be cheating, if they’re going to be treated like a cheater

How Can I Fix Jealousy in my Relationship?

If this article describes your relationship, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist. As I mentioned, insecurity is a key trait of both partners in a jealous relationship.

Both partners likely saw unstable marriages when growing up, and now have no idea what a trusting relationship between adults looks like. Couple’s counseling and/or individual therapy for both partners can be very useful in helping partners understand what a healthy relationship is, and how to change their dynamic such that they no longer have to fight and suffer all the time.

Published by

Dr. Samantha Rodman

Clinical Psychologist