Jealousy is a tangle of thoughts and emotions triggered by perceived threats to a relationship. It gets a bad rap because of the way some people act when it hits them, says marriage and family therapist Diane R. Gehart, PhD. It’s destructive if acted on aggressively, but can be a useful signal if it’s approached as a force for good. Here are some potential benefits of jealousy:
1. Welcome reminder
The urgent sting of jealousy can prompt you to show how important your partner is to you. “Jealousy can highlight what you value — your relationship,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of the upcoming book Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. Sometimes we need a nudge to remember what’s most important, so use that feeling as a cue to clearly express your appreciation for your partner.
2. Communication booster
Jealousy can help strengthen your connection when you talk about it. “The key is healthy communication instead of bottling up your jealousy and letting it boil out in unhelpful, passive aggressive ways — like ‘Sorry I don’t have a body like that girl flirting with you all night at the party,’” says Dr. Lombardo. Instead, she suggests being assertive and saying something like, “I have to tell you, I got a little jealous watching that beautiful woman flirting with you tonight. You look so handsome.”
Getting riled up at the thought of someone snagging your sweetie can be a clear sign the physical attraction is still intact — or well within reach. “It can help us to see with fresh eyes and rediscover the positive attributes that attracted us in the first place,” says marriage and sex therapist Hilary Phillips, founder of WeWantMoreNow.com, a website for couples. “A partner we have lost interest in can suddenly become much more appealing when another woman is flirting with him, which can lead to a beneficial renewed spark.” Don’t hesitate to act on those feelings.
4. Fuel for a goal
Jealousy can alert you that you’re unhappy with some aspect of yourself — and it can be just the motivation you need to take positive steps toward changing it. “A client was jealous because of her husband’s beautiful and fit co-worker. Unhappy with the way her own body looked, we worked together to get her to lose those extra pounds and help her have the body she wanted,” says Dr. Lombardo. “The result? Both my client and her husband appreciated it.”
5. Motivation to be a better half
We all get busy or lazy at times, and we might find ourselves slacking off on our side of the relationship. “Jealousy can serve as a reminder to be the best partner you can be, so use it to show just how much yours means to you,” says Dr. Lombardo. You might surprise him with a meal you know he loves or tickets to see his favorite band. Making a renewed effort can “improve your relationship and motivate him to be an even better partner.”
6. Insecurity radar
Feeling jealous could point to deeper hang-ups, so listen to the warning signs and get to the bottom of the real issue. You might reflect on your “experience of jealousy and realize that it comes from a sense of not being worthy that stems back from childhood,” says Dr. Gehart. “Or, you may find that the jealousy is arising from a fundamental mismatch in the relationship, with one person being far more invested than the other.” If so, start thinking about how you might address those issues, whether it means therapy or a heart-to-heart with your spouse, or both.
7. Attention tune-up
Thanks to the autopilot pace that is now the default setting for so many, it’s all too easy for our strained attention to drift away from our most important relationship. No worries — just take note and take action. “One client who was jealous realized she showed more excitement towards her children than she did towards her partner,” says Dr. Lombardo. “To change that, she consciously gave her partner a big hug and kiss every time she left or returned home.”
8. The gift of mutual reassurance
Think about it this way: When you’re feeling jealous, it becomes quite clear about how satisfying reassurance can be. In other words, you want your man to say, “There’s nothing to be jealous about. You’re everything to me.” What you probably didn’t assume is that he feels assured too when you’re honest about your feelings. “For him, there’s the reassurance that you care enough to feel jealous and value the relationship enough to step up your game,” says Philips. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and valued!