We are all prone to jealousy in our lives, but particularly in our romantic relationships. Although jealousy can be considered an emotion in and of itself, when jealous it tends to trigger other, more basic, emotions, particularly anger, fear, and less commonly, sadness. The key to discovering that your partner is experiencing jealousy is to pay attention to the subtle, nonverbal cues that are triggered by jealousy and the accompanying emotion(s).
Surveillance Cues. Jealousy and suspicion go hand-in-hand. When a partner is jealous and suspects infidelity there tends to be an increase in cues of surveillance – increased attention, eye contact, and “hovering” behavior.
Sex Differences. When jealous, men are more likely to have the accompanying emotion of anger; for women, sadness, although any partner can have any type of emotional reaction. What this means is that understanding your partner’s pattern of accompanying emotions will help you detect jealousy.
Anger and Suppression Cues. Cues of anger include facial expressions of anger – narrowed eyes, slightly bared teeth, flushed face. Anger can also cause sweaty palms. An angry partner may give terse responses to questions, or may give you the “silent treatment.” If the partner is trying to suppress those anger cues, you may see lip biting, or the person engaging in deep breathing in an effort to calm down.
Tie Signs. When jealousy triggers the accompanying emotion of fear, it often manifests as a fear of losing the partner. This may lead to “tie signs” – an effort to psychologically “hold on” to the partner. Tie signs include holding hands or kissing more than usual. If sadness accompanies jealousy, you may see the opposite – withdrawal.
Context Matters. What conditions tend to trigger jealous reactions in your partner?
If your partner is flirting with an attractive person, that is an obvious situation that will trigger jealousy, but there are sex differences. Men tend to be more jealous of a partner’s attention to a potential rival. Women tend to be more threatened by a lack of attention from their partners. Moreover, women tend to experience more self-blame resulting from jealousy.
Male and female reactions to jealousy also tend to be different. Women are more likely to try to repair the relationship; men are more likely to pursue other potential partners.
The antidote to jealousy is obvious – working to strengthen the relationship. Being honest and getting jealous feelings out in the open is the first step.