Is It Ever Healthy To Have Jealousy In A Relationship?

No one wants to be accused of being jealous. Jealousy is often considered an ugly trait in a person and an adjective you just don't want to be attached to, well, anything if you can avoid it. But as much as the word jealousy might give us the cringe, it's actually not that bad. In fact, when it comes to relationships, it can be a good thing. It even has an evolutionary purpose.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the answer to the evolutionary logic behind the feelings of jealousy and envy is "to motivate you into action either by independently trying harder (envy) or by coveting and stealing what the other has (jealousy). This is why jealousy has an aggressive component, but envy is more positive sometimes even being tinged with admiration."

And, as archaic as this is going to sound, jealousy was the motivation behind "mate guarding" among prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies. It was in the male's best interest to guard his mate as a means to guarantee that any offspring that was had were his. Granted, we've evolved as both a society and our interpretation of jealousy since then, but the feeling still persists. So, is it ever healthy to have jealousy in a relationship? Sometimes. The answer isn't so black and white.

When jealousy is healthy

Jealousy is a very human emotion. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that children as young as six months of age experience jealousy. Naturally, these findings suggest that jealousy isn't a learned behavior but an inherent one. It's just how you wield that jealousy, especially in adulthood with romantic relationships, that matters.

"A little bit of jealousy in a healthy relationship is fine," biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., and author of "Why We Love," tells CNN. "It's going to wake you up. When you're reminded that your mate is attractive and that you're lucky, it can stimulate you to be nicer [and] friendlier."

Jealousy doesn't just wake up one partner, stimulating and motivating their behavior, but it makes the other partner feel desirable. When we feel like we have something to lose or someone doesn't want to lose us, it's an assurance that the emotions and time invested in the relationship are worth it. Feeling this way about each other leads to partners working harder to keep their relationship intact. 

When jealousy is toxic

But, getting back to that supposed ugliness that is jealousy, according to the American Psychological Association, jealousy is a "negative emotion in which an individual resents a third party for appearing to take away ... the affections of a loved one ... Romantic relationships are the prototypic source of jealousy, but any significant relationship (with parents, friends, etc.) is capable of producing it." Oof. The APA isn't messing around with that definition. However, this does shed light on the negativity of jealousy and just how destructive and toxic it can be in a relationship.

"Jealousy can turn into abusive behaviors," relationship counselor Ammanda Major tells Cosmopolitan. "Take someone feeling jealous and then preventing you from seeing family and friends, or feeling jealous if you go and have a coffee with a work colleague. Those sorts of behaviors can become extreme and lead to abusive situations."

It's when jealousy gets emotionally, mentally, and/or physically abusive that it stops being okay, even in small doses, in a relationship. Gauging if the jealousy in your relationship is healthy or unhealthy is only something you can decide. If your partner's jealousy stops you from living your life or makes you fearful, then that's unhealthy and something you either need to talk to them about or get a couples therapist involved. If it's harmless and contributes to keeping the spark in your relationship alive, then it's healthy. It comes down to what you're comfortable with and your boundaries. Because of this, unless it's abusive, no one can look at your relationship from the outside and decide how jealousy affects you.