What is Jealousy?

Jealousy is nasty yet normal human emotion that everyone will encounter at one point or another. As it occurs within one’s relationships (romantic, platonic and/or familial), jealousy is an emotion that is usually aroused when an individual perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party. Whether this threat is real or imagined varies on the situation. But… why do we feel jealousy? What is the point of such an unpleasant, invasive emotion? From a psychological standpoint, how does it affect us and our relationships? Finally, how do we overcome it?

Let’s break it down

To begin, jealousy often gets confused with envy, and while the feelings these emotions produce can feel similar, they are caused by different triggers. As Katharine Chan writes, envy is a desire for something another person has, while jealousy is a feeling tied to fear of losing something that you already have. In the context of relationships, particularly romantic ones, it is common to feel jealousy when your partner mentions an ex or an attractive work colleague, however it is important to recognise where this jealousy is stemming from and how to keep it from spiralling into something bigger.


There are many root causes of extreme jealousy, including low self-esteem, feeling possessive of others, and fear of abandonment. That being said, jealousy can sometimes occur when the other person hasn’t necessarily done anything worth being jealous over, however, if you struggle with low self-esteem, it may cause you to overthink and fall into a negative pattern of self-loathing and projecting onto your partner.

It is important to note that there are cases when jealousy is completely justified: when there has been a betrayal of trust (cheating, dishonesty, disrespect, etc), or when a miscommunication relating to what two people are wanting out a relationship occurs. In these cases, jealousy might be a good indicator that it is time to leave the relationship and seek someone whose relationship goals and values are more compatible with yours.

Possessiveness vs Love

It’s a common misconception that feeling possessive of a partner or friend is a reflection of love, however psychologists believe that jealousy is most often fuelled by insecurity – not love. If there is an underlying fear of inadequacy in one’s relationship, then that individual will tend to seek out behaviours from their partner affirming their feelings – for example: liking Instagram pictures of the opposite sex, not replying instantly while they are out with friends, or remaining friendly with somebody that they once went on a date with, etc. To somebody who has high self-esteem and a sense of security in themselves/their relationship, these behaviours would typically not conjure a feeling of jealousy, but it would within somebody who is insecure in themselves or their relationship.

So, how do we overcome jealousy in our relationships – romantic or not?

  1. Communicate openly with your partner about what triggers your jealousy and what changes may make you feel less upset. Negotiate boundaries that feel acceptable to both parties.
  2. Work on yourself. Work on building your confidence in yourself and your relationship. Practise mindfulness and speak to a counsellor if need be.
  3. Avoid situations that are likely to arouse false suspicions. Stop snooping on your partner’s social media or going through their phone as researchers have found that those who snoop create a vicious cycle for themselves of increased monitoring and jealousy.

To conclude, jealousy is a natural reaction that occurs when an individual encounters a perceived threat aimed at a relationship that they value. There is no ‘cure’ for jealousy, however there are steps one can take to recognise if the feelings that come up when triggered are worth pursuing or are a reflection of one’s own insecurities. Jealousy is justified when trust has been betrayed, however if you find yourself getting jealous over ‘stupid things’, you’re not showing love; you’re revealing your own insecurities. Learning to heal your wounds and grow in confidence is the first step to overcoming these triggers and growing as an individual.

How a relationship coach can help

If you feel like jealousy is negatively impacting your relationship, then we’re here to help. With our relationship experts and coaches, we can deliver sessions with you and your partner, either together or separately, to explore what’s going on and help find solutions that work for you. Reach out today if you’re interested in hearing more.