Watching our partner pay more attention to another person can be unsettling. In this PureWow article, Mindpath Health’s Leela Magavi, MD, and Rashmi Parmar, MD, discuss the signs of jealousy and what to do about it. 

Even though jealousy evokes negative connotations, it can definitely lead to positive outcomes. First and foremost, envy is a natural human emotion! Don’t berate yourself for feeling it. Second, jealousy can be healthy, as long as it’s dealt with in a thoughtful way. Jealousy in relationships can be especially tricky, so take a deep breath before tackling this complex emotion. The good news is, if you’re feeling jealous in your relationship, it’s not time to break up. 

Is jealousy healthy in a relationship?

When we think about healthy relationships, we envision mutual trust, respect, communication, and compassion. Dr. Leela Magavi, M.D., at Mindpath Health, says when we worry about losing our partners, these positive emotions can balloon into fear. This fear often morphs into jealousy, which is kind of sweet when you think about it. It means we want commitment.  

We may become jealous of the attention our partners give to others because we want to be the only apple of their eye. This is healthy when it clarifies and solidifies the definition of your relationship with your partner. 

Finally, a little jealousy can be a nice reminder that the two of you are absolute catches. When a stranger flirts with you, but you only have eyes for your partner, it can remind them how lucky they are. 

Signs of healthy jealousy

  1. Acknowledging it. Healthy jealousy is acknowledged jealousy, plain and simple. This includes sharing your feelings with your partner. If you’re envious and refuse to acknowledge it, there’s not much your partner can do to help. 
  2. Openly talking about it. Dr. Magavi says a partner willing to discuss their feelings in an honest way is demonstrating healthy jealousy. Keeping details hidden doesn’t count! Embrace vulnerability. 
  3. Understanding reasons behind it. While this may be a lengthier process, at least beginning to try to understand why feelings of jealousy pop up is a huge step towards growth.  
  4. Taking responsibility. Take responsibility for your feelings by addressing them and actively pursuing ways to iron them out (which, again, involves open and honest communication with your partner). Responsibility may also look like making sacrifices here and there.  

Signs of unhealthy jealousy

Unhealthy jealousy can tear both romantic and platonic relationships apart. The worst thing you can do is ignore your feelings altogether. They are natural, but letting them simmer will only lead to anger, resentment and distrust 

Paranoia and suspicion. “Unhealthy jealousy results in impulsive comments and actions related to distrust,” says Dr. Magavi. Accusations based on pure speculation and no evidence are symptoms of distrust and often lead to paranoia if they aren’t dealt with. 

“If you are spending a significant amount of time in your day obsessing over your jealous thoughts and placing unrealistic expectations on your partner, it is a big signal that your jealousy has wandered too far into the toxic zone,” says Dr. Rashmi Parmar, M.D., also with Mindpath Health. 

  1. Depression or self-harm. Dr. Magavi has seen severe jealousy turn into depression and even suicidal thoughts. This is serious stuff and requires professional mental health and medical attention. 
  2. Passive-aggressive behavior. Expressing a negative emotion indirectly is passive aggression. Meeting honesty with passive aggression is a defense mechanism meant to sidestep real issues. Jealousy can be uncomfortable — that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to face. 
  3. Controlling behavior. When one partner controls (or tries to control) the other partner, harmful jealousy is at play. It can look like invading your partner’s privacy by reading their personal emails; sound like your partner forbidding you from going certain places or wearing specific clothing. This is a form of abuse and is not acceptable. Often, intense jealousy can lead to this type of unhealthy behavior. 

What to do if your partner is feeling jealous

If your partner has expressed feelings of jealousy, either toward you or someone else you have a relationship with, don’t freak out or tell them these feelings are wrong. Again, since envy signals a person feels threatened or scared, open communication and empathy are key. 

Learning your partner’s love language is another way to make sure you’re demonstrating your affection in the most impactful way. Sometimes, all it takes are extra words of affirmation or small acts of service to reiterate how devoted you are to each other. 

Read the full PureWow article with sources. 

Leela Magavi, M.D.

Newport Beach, CA

Dr. Leela Magavi is a native Californian and Hopkins-trained psychiatrist committed to providing compassionate, evidence-based care to individuals of all cultural, political, religious, sexual, and socioeconomic backgrounds. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at Georgetown University Hospital, during which time she also had the invaluable experience of caring for veterans at Washington, D.C. VA. As a resident, she was awarded ... Read Full Bio »

Rashmi Parmar, M.D.

Newark, CA

Dr. Parmar is a double board-certified psychiatrist in Adult and Child Psychiatry. She earned her medical degree at Terna Medical College & Hospital in Mumbai, India. Thereafter, she completed general psychiatry training at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center program, TX, followed by the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship training at Hofstra Northwell Health program, NY. Her training has equipped ... Read Full Bio »

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