Jealousy and rivalry are two phenomena that inseparably, although with different intensity, accompany the life of every person, and in the event of their intensification, they can have a very negative impact on the functioning of a relationship.
Jealousy and its impact on the relationship between partners
Since time immemorial, love and jealousy have been the two most commonly associated elements. Jealousy is seen as an inevitable consequence of love, its dark and painful side. It is recognized that it can affect every person and every relationship to varying degrees. Constantly manifesting itself, it can be the reason for the use of physical and psychological violence and, as a result, lead to the breakdown of even the most durable relationship.
Jealousy is most often treated as a complex emotion consisting of anger, anger and fear. In a broader sense, jealousy is a combination of emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects. According to the evolutionary theory, jealousy is a reaction to an emerging threat to the stability of a relationship (D.M. Buss, 1992).
According to psychologists, jealousy is a complex psychological phenomenon and manifests itself when a person’s self-esteem, as well as the chances of the continued existence of a relationship, are somehow threatened by third parties. These threats are interrelated, as people with low self-esteem more often doubt their abilities and the ability to keep a partner by their side (B. Wojciszke, 2003).
In the general opinion, jealousy in a relationship was considered a sign of commitment, care and love of the partner. Unfortunately, it often happens that jealousy takes the form of pathological behavior, including delusions of persecution, which cannot be rationally justified. In jealousy, the specific self-esteem of a given individual is of great importance, i.e. not what a person generally thinks about himself, but the assessment of his own value as a partner in a relationship. Many psychological studies have proven that jealousy occurs in people who have a low self-esteem in an existing relationship. Often these people, in various ways, consider themselves inferior to their partner. Situations where men doubting their sexual abilities commit physical and/or psychological aggression towards their partners are significant. Also people whose self-esteem depends to a large extent on what their partner thinks about them are more prone to feeling jealous (B. Wojciszke, 1994).
Based on the above considerations, it can be concluded that the jealousy manifested here is the result of the personal difficulties of the individual who manifests this jealousy. However, it is worth looking at the problem from a slightly different angle.
Manifesting jealousy is not always unreasonable and does not always indicate emotional problems of the person who feels jealousy. Jealousy can manifest itself as a reaction to the current state of the relationship and the way the couple defines their relationship. If people value their relationship, they put more effort into maintaining and nurturing it; These activities undoubtedly have a positive impact on the condition of the relationship, but also affect the degree of their dependence on this relationship. Partners subjectively assess that the benefits they derive from this relationship are not available outside it, and this, in turn, may be the cause of jealousy. The partner who is more addicted and involved in the relationship is most exposed to jealousy. Partners who believe they invest more in their relationship feel less secure, and their jealousy is infused with anger at themselves when they feel jealous. In addition, studies have shown that these people also feel a stronger sexual attraction to their partner, which results from excessive idealization of their other half. An important issue here is the principle of exclusivity, which refers to activities that are undertaken only with the partner. The more “exclusive” activities there are in a given relationship, the greater the chance of jealousy (B. Wojciszke, 2003).
How partners define their relationship affects how they perceive threat and what behaviors can cause jealousy. It may be that even in the case of “marital infidelity” jealousy will not occur if the partners have previously established certain norms according to which a given sexual act took place in such circumstances that did not threaten the existence of the relationship or self-esteem (K. Kałużny, 2004).
Another topic worth discussing is the differences in feeling jealousy between women and men. Women most often focus their attention on the motives of their partners, where sexual needs and attractiveness of the rival are mentioned as reasons for cheating. Experiencing jealousy is associated with feelings of sadness and depression. Men primarily look for reasons in the partner’s emotional involvement, her need for attention and security; the emergence of jealousy makes them feel angry and aggressive (A. Lasota, 2015).
Jealousy is undoubtedly one of the most destructive emotions that threaten the existence of a romantic relationship. Therefore, it is very important to be able to distinguish between rational jealousy, which is the result of a real threat, and degenerate, pathological and unjustified jealousy, which appears despite the lack of such a threat.
Negative aspects of competition in a relationship
Rivalry is another phenomenon that, when intensified, can have a very negative impact on the functioning of a relationship. Psychological theories present both positive and negative aspects of competition. Rivalry is understood as the desire to obtain the greatest possible benefits, while striving to take advantage over the partner. According to Łobocki, rivalry is “(…) usually a persistent, mutual struggle of individuals or groups with each other for goals that are wanted to be achieved at all costs. This struggle is conducted according to strictly defined rules of conduct, excluding the use of force or violence on either side.
The desire to win and defeat the rival often blinds us to such an extent that we do not see the possible negative consequences of our actions. Competition often arouses strong fear in people who compete with each other. This fear results from the fear of defeat, losing and being right with the partner (D. Doliński, 1998).
Partners in a relationship compete for many things, such as children, professional success, earnings or even over who cares and is more involved in the relationship. One of the most common reasons for rivalry between partners is arguing over who is the better parent. This could be considered a positive aspect of competition, assuming that these disputes are in the interests of children. Unfortunately, it happens that it is only an attempt to prove to the partner that he has less competence and is inferior to us in some respect. Another reason for rivalry between partners is career; this becomes a problem when both of them want to succeed professionally and cannot reconcile this with their domestic duties. Not being able to communicate properly exacerbates the problem because the partners do not cooperate with each other, but each tries to transfer responsibilities to the other person’s “side” so that he can take care of his own development. Such a situation causes conflict between partners, intensifies unhealthy rivalry; the partners are embittered, they distance themselves from each other because they have a sense of lack of self-realization in the relationship.
The source of rivalry can also be the subjective feeling of greater commitment to the relationship. Either partner may feel that they are putting more effort into the relationship than they are getting out of it. Competition for who cares more about the relationship is a sign of different expectations of partners, which causes mutual dislike, lack of understanding and resentment. It is true that competition in some cases brings some liveliness, excitement or even joy, but if it is fueled by negative emotions, it can have a destructive effect on the rivals and on the relationship between them (T. Tyszka, 1998).
How do you deal with jealousy and rivalry in a relationship?
Jealousy and competition are part and parcel of everyone’s life. They can manifest themselves at different stages of the relationship and with varying intensity. While a bit of jealousy and rivalry unite and bring the partners closer together, strong, out-of-control emotions lead to the breakdown of the relationship. Many relationships between people that are based on love undergo far-reaching changes. Some of these changes are harmful to the partners who love each other, and their relationship is doomed to disintegration if they cannot cope with these changes and do not have the ability to clearly communicate their needs and expectations. It is also extremely important to maintain a balance between give and take. Eliminating the feeling of asymmetry in giving and taking contributes to lowering the level of jealousy.
It is worth emphasizing that love is one of the most important events that takes place between the birth and death of a person. That is why it is so important to choose the right partners, their mutual trust and mature communication between them. According to Erich Fromm, “in love the paradox is realized that two beings become one, yet remain two persons”, so it is primarily about drawing attention to the similarities between the partners, merging their life paths while not losing their own “I” and opportunities self-realization.
Author: Rania Al-Mashan
Buss D.M., Larsen R.J., Westen D., Semmelroth J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology, Psychological Science, 3(4), 251–255. Retrieved: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1993-01445-001
Doliński D. (1998). Ciemna strona rywalizacji. Przegląd psychologiczny 41 (181-200)
Kałużny K. (2004). Istota zazdrości seksualnej. Seksuologia Polska 2,2, 55-63.
Lasota A., Abramciów R. (2015). Psychologiczna analiza konstruktu zazdrości. Teraźniejszość-Człowiek-Edukacja. Tom 18, numer 3 (71).
Łobocki M. (2008). Teoria wychowania w zarysie. Warszawa: Oficyna Wydawnicza Impuls.
Tyszka T. (1998). Jasne strony rywalizacji. Przegląd psychologiczny 41 (201-212).
Wojciszke B. (2003). Psychologia miłości. Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne.