If we look at it through the lens of evolutionary purpose, jealousy has played as much a central role as love. All of us must have felt possessed by this green monster at some point in our lives. Whether you find your girlfriend complimenting her male best friend on how he transformed into a hunk, or you spot your husband (or boyfriend) scrolling down the profile of one of the girls from your gang and see the gleam in his eyes – you surely feel that pang of rage and sometimes fear, and begin to wonder if things are at stake.
Rooted in evolution
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Jealousy, very much like all other primitive emotions (joy, sadness, love, liking and disliking) developed as a response to ecological challenges faced by our ancestors. In a way it helped to curb infidelity between partners/parents so that their children were taken care of and their reproductive success was guaranteed. But then with the evolution of society, culture and political identity, this emotion too changed its form into the likes of more complex emotions like humility or nostalgia. And just like men and women feel all emotions differently, jealousy too is no exception.
We have to understand the nature of contribution that each parent makes towards reproduction – which is different. Therefore the kind of jealousy that men feel is more sexual in its nature.
Several researches and surveys claim that men would be more upset with their wives or girlfriends sleeping with someone and having no emotional attachment to those people, than the opposite.
Whereas for women, romantic jealousy is way more intricate and can be loosely tagged under emotional jealousy. Say, for a woman it is way more difficult to deal with emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity, not that the latter isn’t a disaster at all. But the idea of infidelity is more psychological for a woman than a man.
The gender gap
Though genetics may not have an actual role to play, there’s an evolutionary significance to which why men and women process infidelity differently. For a man it is difficult to provide for children if they are genetically distant, far worse if he is unsure if the children are his at all. Therefore, he has to ensure that the progeny is a product of his reproductive success. That makes him more prone to sexual jealousy.
For a woman, she knows that she has to bear the child herself; her contribution to the process of childbirth is more ensuring of the fact that no matter what, the child is hers. However, if the father isn’t there to provide for the child and is emotionally unavailable, she has to worry about the resources for the successful rearing of the child. Therefore the kind of jealousy she may feel is more to do with emotional attachment and availability.
Jealousy, therefore, is a healthy response to ensure loyalty and check the infiltration of external elements to preserve and maintain a healthy relationship.
However, as we progress over time, the ideas of institutionalised cohabitation and love are also changing. In our time and age, we have more and more people settling for options like open relationships, polygamy and living-in. The divorce rates are higher and single parenting is way more acceptable and sometimes cooler. Therefore the ideas of jealousy are also changing with time.
Let it out
Of course it still appears as an inherited instinct that allows a man or a woman to question their loyalty towards each other, and in certain situations can become the seed for disaster.
Related reading: How jealousy killed the love which no conspiracy or distance could
However, it is important to understand that like any other negative emotion that has the capacity to pull down a relationship under stress, we must voice our jealousy too.
For long, we have considered jealousy as a secret emotion, unlike anger or sadness that we do express. But one of the ways by which couples can mitigate and channel their personal jealousy, is by telling the other person how they feel.
For the problem with jealousy is, it grows. It grows into nothing but insecurity and doubt and that may turn into an obsessive/compulsive behaviour later, which in any case will cause devastation to your relationship. One must talk about it the moment one feels. Another positive after effect of talking is, it shows you how rational you are when you are feeling that jealousy: is it at all reason based, evidence based? Or is it that you feel possessed that moment when you let the green monster conquer your mind? In all cases, it’s a valid reality check. So, talk today if you haven’t done so far!