All men have a green-eyed monster that lives deep inside us. Some of us are able to keep it at bay, where others let it roam freely, constantly jealous of our romantic partners.
Well, it turns out there are a few different types of jealousy, and they all impact a romantic relationship differently. In the past two decades, research has broken down jealousy into three distinct categories: anxious, preventative, and reactive. A team of Canadian researchers recently explored how these different types of jealousies impact the likelihood of staying with a partner—or what the scientific community calls “mate retention.” They published their study in Personal Relationships this past December.
Head’s up: It’s important to note that increased mate retention only means a greater likelihood of two people remaining romantic partners. Abusive behavior can be an effective form of mate retention, despite being a cruel and harmful act. That’s why I reached out directly to the research team to see if any of the acts of jealousy not only increased mate retention, but also contributed to a healthy and fulfilling relationship for both partners.
Turns out, one specific type of jealousy did, but only for one gender.
This goes against what many modern researchers, therapists, and couple counselors believe. Often, all types of jealousies are thought as destructive behaviors. As Lesli Doares, a couples consultant and coach, told Men’s Health, “Quite frankly, jealousy is never beneficial for a healthy relationship. By definition, jealousy is about one person’s insecurities that they project onto others. It is really all just a form of anxiety, be it anxious, preventative or reactive, over not being able to control another person or situation.”
She continued, “It is a way to manipulate things by making things unpleasant for the other person. It can be presented about loving the other person ‘so much,’ but actually is about not letting that person be themselves. They have to modify their behavior to pacify the jealousy.”
Before we go further, let’s break down the 3 types of jealousy.
The simplest way to differentiate them is by categorizing each through time.
• Anxious jealousy is more future-oriented. It relates to how concerned you would be if your partner became sexually and/or romantically attracted to someone outside of the relationship.
• Preventive jealousy is more in the present. It addresses things like how possessive you are of your partner and how unacceptable you think it is for them to have “wandering eyes.”
• Reactive jealousy is more reflective, like asking how upset you would feel if your partner flirted or kissed someone else.
Another way to distinguish between the three jealousies is through the psychological process. “Anxious jealousy is more cognitive and involves a consideration of thought processes, whereas preventive jealousy is more behavioral in nature,” explains the paper’s lead researcher, Adam Davis. “In contrast, reactive jealousy is more emotional and gets at levels of distress involved with hypothetical instances of infidelity.”
Jealousy, regardless of type, can cause either “cost-inflicting” or “benefit-provisioning” behaviors.
Simply put, these behaviors describe the things we do to protect our romantic relationship.
Cost-inflicting behavior involves riskier and negative acts, like threatening a rival with aggression, purposely making our partners jealous by flirting with someone else, or preventing a partner from going to parties to monopolize their time and affection. In contrast, benefit-provisioning behavior is healthier and more positive. It involves giving our partners compliments, buying them gifts, taking them out to restaurants, and performing sexual favors for them.
In their study, Davis and his team sampled 144 heterosexual participants who reported being in a committed romantic relationship at the time of the study. Using an already verified jealousy scale that breaks down the three jealousies by categories, the research team was able to see how high each participant ranked on all three types of jealousy. They then used the 38-item Mate Retention Inventory Questionnaire to see which type of jealousy correlated with engaging in either negative cost-inflicting or positive benefit-provisioning behavior.
So which type of jealousy is GOOD for a relationship?
Three interesting results emerged from the study. The first is that for women, but not men, reactive jealousy correlates with benefit-provisioning behavior. Women who experience higher levels of reactive jealousy tended to both reassure their partners of their commitment and give them compliments.
“This kind of jealousy for women, therefore, can be beneficial for the health and longevity of their romantic relationships,” Davis says.
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His results support previous research, which found that reactive jealousy has been positively linked to high relationship satisfaction in quality, likely due to the fact that these women employ benefit-provisioning behaviors.
The second major finding was that anxious jealousy predicted both cost-inflicting and benefit-provisioning behavior. “Therefore, this kind of jealousy seems to be a bit of a ‘mixed bag’ when it comes to healthy and unhealthy mate retention behavior,” Adam explains.
Last but not least, “We also show that feelings in line with preventive jealousy are linked to [cost-inflicting] negative and unhealthy behavior for both women and men, such as emotionally manipulating our partners and trying to control where they go and who they are able to associate with.”
“It may seem odd to think of [certain types of] romantic jealousy as positive and healthy for a relationship,” Davis concludes. “Nonetheless, jealousy can signal very honestly to our partner(s) that we care about and value our relationship.”
It’s all about how we process and express our jealousy. If we attempt to control our partner through means of fear, intimidation, and anger, then it is absolutely not healthy. But, if we instead use jealousy positively—illustrating with love, reassurance, and compliments how much we care for them—it can potentially lead to both a long and healthy relationship.
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