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Jealousy: Is it the same for men and women?

Everyone experiences the green-eyed monster. Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and “Today” contributor, explains why you feel jealous and how to control it.
/ Source: TODAY

Jealousy is an emotion all of us experience at some point in our lives. Who hasn’t felt the desire to have your loved one to yourself? Or been hurt when he appears to be devoting his time and attention to someone else? This is completely normal. But some of us seem to be able to control their green monsters better than others. Why?

People who feel secure and like themselves tend to be less jealous of others and less possessive of their partners, while those who have experienced abandonment or betrayal in their lives can become overwhelmed with jealousy. As children, they may have felt abandoned when their parents divorced, or they may have had parents who were emotionally unavailable. Or when they were growing up, they saw infidelity, so they may fear that their partners will always cheat, even if they have no cause to feel this way.

And people who feel deep down that they are not really a desirable person or partner, they may always think in the back of their minds: “I’ve got to hold on to them and keep control or they will leave me.” If you feel jealous, or if your partner does, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, jealousy will erode your relationship and destroy your marriage.

Jealousy is a way to exert control in a relationship. For example, many women will try to prevent their husbands from seeing or talking to certain people. This is not only impossible, but it can also be smothering. Sadly, many women live in fear that their husbands will stray and feel threatened when he spends time with his guy friends. Some women are even jealous of their husbands’ jobs, because when they’re not at home they’re not spending time attending to them. (Men can be jealous for the very same reasons.) What drives this insatiable jealousy? Insecurity! It is the woman’s belief if her husband, or partner, is not thinking of her every moment, then he doesn’t love her as much as she loves him. She feels vulnerable and afraid of being hurt or abandoned.

Some women struggle with the intensely jealous husband. Some men will try to control their wives’ every move. If a man doesn’t trust his wife and he wants her to constantly prove her love, he will eventually drive her away. She will simply be emotionally exhausted. (Once again, women can also be possessive of their mates.) Of course, her desire to get away from her husband to have some time to herself will make him even more controlling. It’s a vicious cycle. And often it ends the marriage. Sometimes a partner who constantly accuses the other of cheating will actually drive him, or her, into an affair. The thinking is that if they are going to “do the time,” then they figure they might as well do the “crime.”

There are two different views about the both the origins of jealousy and the different ways men and women experience jealousy. One school of thought is that jealousy is an adaptive evolutionary mechanism. Researchers in this camp have found that men tend to be more jealous about sexual infidelity, whereas women are more disturbed by emotional infidelity. Their reasoning is that men needed to know that their efforts to feed and protect their mates actually propagated their genes and not some other man’s. Women, on the other hand, needed to hold onto a man’s emotional love in order to be fed, protected, and sheltered.Another group of researchers found that culture had more of an influence on jealous behavior than evolutionary needs. They concluded that men and women tend to become most jealous over sexual infidelity, but they think that both of their jealousies are far more influenced by societal and family experience than by survival of the species.

Whatever the origins of jealousy, there’s no question that it can be both beneficial and destructive. If a woman feels a tinge of jealousy, she may work harder on having a healthy relationship with her partner. Or she could become so jealous that she becomes overly possessive or incredibly angry and eventually destroys her relationship. It’s all a matter of how jealous you are.

Getting control of your jealousy does not mean getting control of your partner, it means getting a handle on your own emotions. Here are some ways to find out why you’re feeling jealous:Uncover where it came from. Where was your jealousy born? Did your dad leave after your parents’ divorced? Or was your older sibling the clear favorite of your mother? Did your last spouse cheat on you? Figure out the situation that led you to feel so insecure about any partner.

Examine your self confidence. If you don’t love yourself, how can you truly believe anyone else would love you? Why don’t you like yourself and think about how to change your perspective so you can see yourself more accurately and positively.Stop enabling. If your partner is jealous, don’t allow him to control your behavior. Eventually, you will feel angry and resentful, and act out in ways that may make him feel even more insecure. Tell him calmly and nicely (not during a fight) that you love him, but he has a problem with jealousy and you are not going to operate under lock and key. Set fair ground rules. Everyone needs friends and interests out side her relationship. Discuss this openly and honestly with your partner and make some compromises about how much time you will spend with him. Don’t sneak around to get your time with friends. This will only make your partner even more suspicious and jealous. The more open and up front you can be, the better.Dr. Gail Saltz’s Bottom Line: Jealousy is an emotion all of us experience at some point in our lives. This is completely normal. But we need to be able to control our green monsters, so they don’t harm our relationships.