Jealousy: The Rational vs. the Emotional

Jealousy is a two-headed, green-eyed monster. It’s got an intellectual side and an emotional side.

People often attempt to have rational conversations about it but let’s be clear: the emotional side runs the show. Jealousy absolutely, positively will not be reasoned with.

Even though rational dialog might seem to be pretty pointless, Jealousy—the two-headed, green-eyed monster—will often insist on it, and will put on a show of reasoned debate as a way to hijack the conversation to further obscure what’s really going on.

Here is Jealousy, trying to sound like it has the intellectual upper hand:

  • Divine morality: “That is a sacred thing to be shared between two people.” Could be sex, intimacy, friendship, dinner or even conversation, depending on who you ask.
  • Pragmatism: “You have no time as it is! It’s so reckless of you! Do you realize what could happen? What will people think?!”
  • Character assassination: “Seriously, of all people, why them?! They’re [insert negative quality here]!

Let me be clear: I am not arguing any of these points in the least. It’s not for me to say whether they’re valid or not.

But it doesn’t matter, because they’re not running the show.

Emotion is running the show.

These points are reasonable sounding but they’re not the real reasons. First there were raw, intense feelings. Then, justifying beliefs follow up to support them. So any discussion at this level isn’t touching the real topic. Jealousy is tricking you. It’s dug in as fuck. You think it has any intention of being swayed by a reasoned debate on the relative accuracy of what’s sacred, what’s pragmatic, or who’s worthy of what interactions? C’mon.

The only real way to address Jealousy is from the emotional side. Visceral, intense, irrational.

This is the bad news, and the good news. We can’t hide behind our urgent attempts to convince our partner that God doesn’t want you to do this heinous thing, out of fear that somehow it’s not enough that we don’t want them to do it. That somehow our feelings alone are not a sufficiently compelling reason.

In my book, that’s the only reason that matters. It’s the only relevant fact.

Because the feelings your togetherness generates are the purpose of the relationship, the reason you’re together.

Experiencing connection, and what that feels like, is the point.

In life, pretty much everything is available to us. We don’t need another human being. There’s nothing we can’t do, or have, or experience on our own. Except for one thing. The vitally important, life-affirming experience of connection.

You’re together for how it feels to be together.

So if jealousy is coming up in the relationship—and you agree that’s not the feeling you want to be having—that is the only relevant fact.

The quality of my relationship with my partner is very important to me. Because when it’s good, it’s really fuckin’ stellar. So I have a powerful incentive to use my and my partner’s feelings as my guide — to put emotions front-and-center in my actions and decision making.

I said earlier that the emotional side of jealousy is “visceral, intense, and irrational.” I’ll go a step further. Emotions don’t really care about fairness, or reciprocity, or rules, or (ironically) agreements. So it’s not going to get you very far to dismiss emotions as unreasonable — of course they are — or irrelevant — they most certainly aren’t.

So if you’re facing jealousy in your relationship, the first thing to know is that the conversation for you to have about it is at the level of feelings. Notice if you’re trying to rationalize about something that’s intrinsically an emotional issue.

Because your relationship is intrinsically an emotional issue.

This post was previously published on Sex + Connection and is republished here with permission from the author.

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