When is jealousy justified?

Sometimes it is difficult to tell if what you see is innocent or potential betrayal.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell if what you see is innocent or potential betrayal.

Jealously seems an ugly emotion. Yet most of us have felt jealous at some time in our life. Feelings of jealousy can be very powerful and overwhelming. Our lover, when confronted with our jealousy, protests loudly. We question ourselves: Are we overreacting? Or are our feelings of jealousy justified?

All emotions make sense when we fully explore them. They may seem counterproductive at first glance, for example, jealousy so intense and consistent that it drives away the object of our desire. However when we fully uncover the forces that shaped us, our emotions become understandable. Jealousy is such an emotion. In context it makes sense.

To illustrate, lets look at some real life cases where the names have been changed:


Ricky accuses his girlfriend, Jennifer, of inappropriate behaviour. Ricky and Jennifer were waiting with some friends for a taxi on a street corner. A mutual male friend joined them and gave Jennifer a hug. Jennifer considers this male as a platonic friend and the hug as a harmless greeting. Ricky on the other hand is jealous and accuses Jennifer of leading the male friend on.

Jennifer is outgoing and liberated. She thinks it is perfectly okay for her and Ricky to have platonic friends of the opposite sex.

Ricky comes from a Mediterranean culture where, just a generation ago, single women were only allowed out with a chaperone. Ricky may espouse equality, but his feelings of jealousy are triggered by values from his parent’s culture. He tries to be liberated but the friend hugging Jennifer just doesn’t feel right. No man should be touching his girlfriend.

The solution for Ricky is to fully explore his inherited values. He needs to uncover the origin of these values and eventually choose values that are a right fit for himself. If he decides to keep his current value system, he needs to find a girlfriend who shares it.


Margaret feels jealous when her husband Denis comes home late each Friday night. It is the only night Denis gets out. He likes to have a drink with the boys after work.

Margaret stays home with the kids wondering what Denis is up to. She often imagines him meeting women at the club and going off somewhere with them. By the time Denis gets home, she is almost convinced he’s been unfaithful. With him drunk and her jealous, they frequently find themselves in a destructive, pointless argument.

Denis denies any interest in other women. He just likes to unwind at the end of the week. Denis is happy to look after the kids any other night Margaret wants to go out with her friends. She rarely takes Denis up on this offer, preferring to stay home.

Margaret has always been inclined to be jealous. As a child, Margaret received little attention from her father and grew up feeling unable to attract and keep the attention of men. As well she was aware that her father was unfaithful to her mother, further increasing her feelings of insecurity.

Margaret’s feelings of jealousy are unjustified, but understandable in the light of her childhood experience. She needs to resolve her feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, so her reaction to Denis’s night out reflects the reality.


Paula is jealous of the attention her boyfriend, Ken, gives to their mutual friend Beth. Beth broke up with her boyfriend recently and calls on Ken for help nearly every second day. Paula was very understanding at first, but she is now getting fed up. On Paula’s birthday, Ken and Paula went out to dinner. During dinner Ken received a call on his mobile from Beth asking for help with her car. Ken rushed dinner, dropped Paula at home, and went  to Beth’s place.

Paula wants to believe that Ken is just a helpful guy but she finds she is having strong feelings of jealousy.

Paula has no cultural differences with Ken nor a family background that has made her insecure. In fact she is so secure, she has tolerated quite inappropriate behaviour from Ken. Ken’s loyalties appear to be with Beth, not with Paula.

With some prompting, Ken admits he has gotten too close to Beth and finds he enjoys Beth’s company more that Paula’s.

Paula’s jealousy is justified. It is a clear message that she should make some specific demands of Ken and take the risk of losing the relationship.