What Is Jealousy?

what is jealousy

What is  Jealousy? Jealousy is an eternally thorny topic. When we ask ourselves, ‘what is jealousy,’ can we really find the answer? This question, often the feelings overtake analysis and rationality.

“I suspect my partner is cheating on me, but I can’t be sure.”

  • Perhaps you’ve just discovered their affair and your head’s reeling. You don’t know how to think or what to ask.
  • Perhaps you have been unfaithful, yet you still feel jealous.  Jealousy isn’t a feeling that makes sense. So it’s hard to rationalise.
  • Perhaps you’ve considered couples counselling before and think you may benefit from it now. Read on, and see if this helps you make your mind up. Contact me if you have any further questions.
  • Perhaps you got together on the back of an affair together, end up feeling jealous of their partner’s motives later in the relationship. The reasoning often goes, if they cheated before, they can cheat again.
  • Perhaps you’re attracted to someone else and your partner is getting jealous.  You don’t want to stray and it’s helpful to take your partner’s concerns seriously.
  • Perhaps your mother or father was jealous and acted out their insecurities in their relationship. You were often party to their jealous rages and accusations. This can make you more sensitive to betrayal in your current relationship. This can even be without any objective evidence, it’s a hunch that all’s not well.

What are the elements of jealousy?

Jealousy can be hard to define. This is because it elicits such strong feelings.

  • Fear that your partner is pulling away or secretly chatting online to someone else
  • A feeling that your partner is cheating on you and frequent accusations of their infidelity
  • Rationalising checking your partner’s activities as you suspect an affair
  • Rage over the potential loss of reputation that your partner straying may bring
  • Telling your partner you can’t trust them, whether or not this is true
  • Overwhelming sadness and despair at how you may cope without themInsomnia, illness, lack of appetite, decreased libido and anxiety at the thought of infidelity.

Take a moment. Think about something that made you jealous. What comes up for you? Fear, loss, paranoia and depression are common responses.

Greenberg’s article on Love, Admiration or Safety gives insights into our secret yearnings. These can be reflected in the patterns of our jealous behaviour.


 Long-term Therapy Goals

Ultimately the goal is to restore trust and let go of controlling, blaming, vengeful behaviour. This includes unfounded accusations of infidelity and any spiteful remarks arising from jealous feelings.

How Do We Re-establish Trust in Relationship Counselling?

There are several stages to this, and you can expect it to take some time.


  • Clarify Infidelity

    Firstly, we need to understand what’s going on. Does the jealousy arise from a fling or from a suspicion of a fling? This can be a very thorny issue, so where feelings are running high, I may suggest individual sessions for each partner. This allows them to fully describe the affairs they have had. They can also look at their jealous feelings and behaviour and how they affect them.


  • Forgiveness:

    Do they even want to forgive each other? If not, we move directly to deciding if they want to remain in the relationship. What do they mean by forgiving? This isn’t like the movies; forgiveness isn’t a one-off event. It’s a process of expressing misgivings about forgiving. We will also be challenging long-held beliefs such as forgiveness being a sign of weakness. What happens if they don’t forgive each other? Can they have a satisfying relationship?


  • Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

    In the words of the song, this is make-or-break time. Put simply, I invite couples to reflect on why they were got together and, on the strengths, and weakness of their relationship. Discussing the struggles and challenges they have overcome also strengthens motivation to stay together.  How does an affair fit into their story?


  • Understanding Jealousy:

    This is a complex stage, where I invite couples to explore their rational and irrational behaviours around jealousy. They then share the effect which jealousy has on them. The ground rule is that this is done in a clear and considerate way. This may not always be possible, and if not, then it is not going to be safe or therapeutic to share.


  • Anxiety Management:

    If you’re the partner who experiences most jealousy, you may already feel burdened by the distress, anger and frustration that you hold. Being offered anxiety management strategies may not be the first item on your to-do list, but they can be helpful in separating reality from assumptions.


  • What factors contribute to the jealousy?

    Does one partner spend long hours with an attractive colleague or flirt with others online? Perhaps the other lived with the consequences of an affair in their birth family. Or they have been cheated on in the past. All of this will heighten sensitivities and will be useful to explicate.


  • Rewriting the Rules:

    There’s a practical book on this, Rewriting the rules. In this, the author encourages parties to talk about their assumptions about novelty, monogamy, romance, sex, work and so on. This is made transparent differences in family norms and can lead to a useful discussion on the future choices in the relationship.




References: This is post is based on the Couples Psychotherapy Treatment Planner






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