What is jealousy trying to do for us?

Most of us don't really question the purpose of jealousy, unless it seems to exceed the societal norms and it occurs as "excessively jealous." We even think a person without jealousy is foolish or doesn't think well of themselves: What woman hasn't said to another, "You're better than to let him do that to you."

Ye Olde DNA

To understand jealousy, let's go back 20,000 years, when men and women lived in small tribes, often less than 100 people. Survival was difficult, especially to get into the age of reproduction. 

If we did get to the age of reproduction, in order for our selfish genes to have the best chance of being passed along to another generation, they needed to instill certain instinctual fears into both men and women...the fears that we call jealousy.

Men are more jealous about sex. Women are more jealous about love.

Both men and women can be jealous, although the flavor of their jealousy is likely to be different. A man is more liable to be jealous of his woman having sex with another man than he is to be jealous of his woman loving another man, but not having sex with him.

In contrast, a woman is more likely jealous of her man loving another woman than she is of him having sex with another woman, but not loving her.

Men are more jealous about sex. Women are more jealous about love.

Why are man more jealous about sex?

Going back to our Paleolithic couple, if the man's woman had sex with another man, he could end up raising a child that wasn't his, displacing his own DNA, and in most cases, he would never know it. A woman can always be sure a child is hers. A man, before modern DNA tests, could never be sure that a child was his. If his woman had sex with another man it was more dangerous to the perpetuation of the first man's DNA than if she only loved that other man. This is why men are more jealous about sex than about love.

Why are women more jealous about love?

During those Paleolithic times, it was especially problematic for a woman to have and successfully raise a child, even with the help of a man who supported her and protected her. If her man happened to have sex with another woman, it didn't necessarily threaten his support of her and their child together. On the other hand, if he loved another woman, he would likely use some of his limited resources, limited unless he was Genghis Khan, to support that other woman and her child, reducing or removing his support for the first woman and her child. If the first woman's man loved another woman it was more dangerous to the perpetuation of the her DNA than if he only had sex with that woman. This is why women are more jealous about love than about sex. 

Our DNA knew what it was doing when it made us jealous. It helped ensure its perpetuation into the next generation, whether through the man's genes or the woman's genes.

This was all "fine and good" 20,000 years ago.

Special note about polygyny

Polygyny, a man having more than one wife, is practiced by almost a third of the world today. Although I am not much of an expert on the issues of jealousy among wives of the same man in such cultures, it must be manageable to a degree, because the women would not normally marry a man unless he was rich enough to easily support more than one wife. In countries that allow polygyny, some women may be presented with the choice of marrying a poorer man, and she would be his only wife, or choosing a much richer man, who could provide better support for her and their kids together, even though there were other wives. In these cases, the DNA-stimulated jealousy of the woman is likely reduced because she knows there's enough money and support to go around.

Fast forward to today: in the other two-thirds of the world, monogamy is the "norm," usually supported by "one wife, one husband" government policies

But what about today?

Our DNA has not changed much since Paleolithic times. Our world, however, is dramatically different. How much sense does jealousy make in today's world?

DNA attachment: it's got us by the balls

Before we tackle the issue of jealousy, let's explore something related, but deeper: our attachment to our own DNA. Some people, in some cultures more than others, seem to have little attachment to their DNA. They are just as willing to adopt a child, or even birth a child using in vitro fertilization that may not include any of the their DNA, as they are to have a child with their own DNA. But these people are in the minority. Most of us are quite attached to our DNA. If we're going to spend time, love, and effort on a child, it must be a child with our DNA.

Of course, our DNA created our attachment to it; its number one job is to get itself replicated. In fact, it's a puzzling phenomenon that not all people feel that attached to their DNA.

Dare we question our DNA?

Dare we even attempt to step outside of the domination of our DNA?

Most of us actually agree that questioning our DNA is a good idea in another area of our life: nutrition. Consider our attachment to oil, salt, and sugar. These nutrients were hard to come by in the Paleolithic age. Our attachment to these made survival sense back then. We would take extra effort to get more oil, salt, and sweet foods which were in short supply, increasing our chances of survival and reproduction.

But, again, DNA does not change much, even over a few millennia. But our easy and cheap access to oil, salt, and sugar has. Today following the cravings that our DNA has programmed into us, instead of making us survive better as it did back then, is killing us now.

So I am suggesting that we question our instinct to be jealous just as we question our instinct to ingest so much oil, salt, and sugar. Americans consume over 150 pounds of sugar per year.

Intense jealousy is symptomatic of low self-esteem

Although jealousy can be an issue even with the most confident, it is exacerbated by lack of self-esteem and lack of self-confidence.

For example, many may feel "I'm not good enough" when their jealousy is stimulated. In particular, women often have the belief, "If I were good enough, he would want only me." Men, in contrast, are more likely to feel disrespected if they suspect or know their woman is with another man.

Men and women with more self-esteem and more self-confidence are less likely to feel strong jealousy than those who are lacking in these.

Said another way, a person who has become their own best friend, is less likely to feel searing jealousy. That's why mastering NNI and OOI are important prerequisites to create great romantic relationships.

Jealousy is a type of fear

Our resistance to this fear is expressed in righteousness

What often happens when acting out of jealousy is that we can throw the baby out with the bathwater. Jealousy tends to gather righteousness to support it. Righteous people, often supported by their righteous friends, can forget their longer term interests in their immediate desire to blame and hurt the other person, seeking a relief of their of their suffering. Jealousy tends to put our focus on what we think "we don't have" instead of "what we have" or "what we could have." It can be a choice of courage to work towards what you want to have with a man or woman rather than try to restrict them in what they have or might have with another.

Unresisting the fear of jealousy

Jealousy, in its various forms, is fear based. Regardless of what you may end up choosing to do or not do when your jealousy is stimulated, use undoing fear first to attenuate your intense feelings of jealousy.

Can you address jealousy with partnership?

Another tool to consider in addressing jealousy is the partnership conversation. Together, as partners, stand above the machinery of your minds, see if you can stand outside of right and wrong, good and bad, and use an attitude of collaboration so that together as partners you may have a better chance to find ways that you can both be happy regarding your issue of jealousy.

Look for the benefits of jealousy

If the level of jealousy is not overwhelming, you can reframe it. On occasion, my girlfriend will do something or say something that stimulates my jealousy. When this happens, I take a deep breath, and let the fear flow through me. Then I say to her, "Thank you for making me feel jealous...it gets me in touch with how much I love you."

Even in today's world, jealousy may, under some circumstances, serve a valid function. Nevertheless, it's important to make friends with that fear, to do your best to let go of defensiveness and blame, and focus instead on what you want to be different and what the benefits, costs, and risks might be in going for that.

It could even be argued that part of the survival function of jealousy was to reduce our chances of contracting STDs, which were often more deadly outside the modern era, save HIV, than they are in today's world. Yet STDs become more problematic when we have more than one sexual partner. This is something definitely to pay attention to regardless of any feelings of jealousy.

Making measured use of jealousy: another possible benefit

A big problem in romantic relationships is that the woman, who wants to feel safe, often mistakenly gives too much safety to her man. Men, more than women, need to be kept on the edge, they need to feel some sense of risk and challenge. Otherwise, it's very easy for them to take their woman for granted. 

One way to keep him on the edge is by measured use of jealousy. For example, as a woman, when she's walking down the street hand-in-hand with her man, says to him, in a light, humorous voice, "Honey, you see that man over there? He's pretty handsome, don't you think? Maybe if I wasn't with you, I would be with him."

Much of what we fear is safe

What often feels safe is dangerous


Our instinctual reaction is to assume that if we're frightened of something, it must be dangerous. A cursory inquiry quickly reveals, we can more easily see it in others, that this is often not the case. If fact, when we act on our fear based upon the assumption of danger, a possible loss, that may not even exist, then we often create more danger and damage through our reactive behavior. 

Regarding jealousy that is stimulated by our suspicions or observed behavior of our partner, it can be helpful to ask the question, "Aside from my uncomfortable feelings of jealousy and righteousness, what danger exists or might exist for me in my relationship with this person?" We might discover that the danger and possible damage is nil or minimal. 

Of course, we still need to address the internal problem of discomfort, but we can be reassured that there may not be much of an external problem.