Why is My Partner So Jealous?
Is jealousy a modern romantic emotion? Or is it the sound of a genetic alarm from our past?
If you have ever experienced the emotions from the “green-eyed monster,” you know the powerful and painful feelings jealousy can evoke. Crimes of passion are estimated by researchers as the third most common motive for murder, and the number one cause of spousal homicide. Many people with no history of violence have murdered their beloved in a jealous frenzy, and claim the act was out of a broken heart. How can such a powerful and destructive emotion be experienced by a modern and civilized society? Is jealousy a part of our evolutionary DNA?
Evolutionary scientists believe jealousy developed as a survival technique in our ancient ancestors from living with scarce resources. Each gender performed different roles that contributed to survival. Jealousy alerted them to respond with fear to the potential end of an intimate and beneficial relationship. Most likely, humans pair-bonded during the extremely hard times of the ice age, and discovered two parents increased the chance of the children’s survival.
It is also believed our ancient ancestors where polygamous. There is no evidence to support that ancient males ever controlled females in harems, as primates do. Living in social groups, we moved in and out of relationships with others, possibly being in monogamous relationships for periods of famine, extreme weather, or the purpose of raising children. Since babies are so helpless at birth, the possibility of losing a mate to another was a major threat, and the display of jealousy may have influenced a pair to stay bonded.
Humans are not the only ones influenced by jealousy. Animals in pair-bonds respond with rage to interlopers moving in on their mates. A bird may chase off another male showing interest in his mate, and then turn on her with anger and violence. Chimps practice an aggressive display of mate-guarding that can turn into a brutal fight.
Envy is a desire for something that someone else possesses. Although envy can be motivating and expressed as admiration, it can also be described as resentment. Some men and women may react with negativity to the greater fortune of others, more expensive cars, or a bigger and newer house. Status is defined by material gain, and anyone with more than you is held in higher esteem. People with more money, success, or attractiveness are perceived to be more valuable. Although some have murdered for envy’s sake, the act is usually more calculated and premeditated, and doesn’t compare with the spontaneous rage of jealousy.
Jealousy: Differences in Men and Women
Within couples, men and women experience jealousy equally when their mates show interest in the attention of more attractive, successful, or exciting people— but for distinctly different reasons.
Men become jealous when they suspect sexual competition. They experience an intrinsic fear of investing time and resources into the raising of someone else’s offspring. Men are more likely to leave and refuse to forgive an adulterous relationship. No matter how physically painful, they would rather suffer the separation and loss then risk the possibility of supporting another man’s genes.
Jealousy in women is activated by emotional betrayal. Fear of their mate devoting time and resources to another, and possibly to her children, threatens survival. Women are more likely to reconcile a relationship if their mate has been unfaithful. Perhaps because women are always aware that there children belong to them, and their children’s welfare is the ultimate goal.
Of course, jealousy and romantic love are complicated by diverse emotions, and at the extreme, can destroy a relationship. Self-centered people, who treat their relationships as possessions, cannot tolerate the loss of their partner. Egotists who believe they are entitled to their relationship, no matter what the circumstances, may engage in a violent rage when threatened by rejection. Certain people with personality disorders cannot tolerate abandonment at any cost, and may react with volatile emotions to a break up.
The sum of our Ancient Past
It’s obvious that we have evolved from ancestral beings that captivated the attention of a partner long enough to successfully raise children. These qualities developed over thousands of years that allowed our species to survive. Complicated by our emotions, the uncomfortable feelings of jealousy still alert us to a potential disaster in a world of free will and desire. We continue to be propelled by the stirrings of our beginnings.