02 Oct 2018

Can a jealous partner ever be satisfied?

For a jealous person, a single misdirected glance by their partner means they are thinking of cheating. And if their partner doesn’t look at anyone else at all? Then something is definitely going on.

Wysokie Obcasy
Dorota Wodecka Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Can a jealous partner ever be satisfied? - NewsMavens
Snake, PixaBay

The following fragments are from Dorota Wodecka’s interview with the psychologist Professor Wiesław Łukaszewski which appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy” in July 2018. 

Dorota Wodecka: My grandmother used to say that if a man is jealous, then he loves you.

Professor Wiesław Łukaszewski:  I would rather say: "If he is jealous, it means that he once loved you." Jealousy is the feeling that remains after love has faded and been replaced by anxiety or distrust.  It can even be said that jealousy is often a substitute for love and means: "I don’t love you anymore, but I still care about you."

DW: One of my colleagues fell in love and hired a private detective to follow the object of his affection for a few days. The woman didn’t mind the situation and accepted it as a proof of love.

You need to mean a lot to someone if they pay a stranger to spy on you. This woman clearly considered the surveillance a testament to her partner’s deep feelings for her. Personally, I’d be more apprehensive about getting close to someone so distrustful and paranoid.

DW: Paranoid?

Distrust is the foundation of jealousy, and often results in the fierce and persistent invasion of a partner’s privacy: ransacking pockets and drawers, going through their phone and emails, constantly questioning: “Where are you?”, “Where have you been?”, and  “What are you doing?” The suspected partner starts living in constant fear of the next attack on their privacy.

Jealousy, especially of another person, can be extremely invasive. It’s a self-driven passion, not requiring any logical reasons or evidence.

The very essence of jealousy is a state of mind which allows someone to interpret any behaviour as strange and suspicious. When two people look at each other, for a jealous partner it’s a sign they might be having an affair. If they don’t look at each other at all, they are having an affair, but are shrewd enough to hide it. It’s a paranoid state of mind.

DW: Is it curable?

Due to its origins in the mind of the suspicious partner, jealousy almost never ceases, but rather intensifies with time. It is based in our imagination, which makes it hard to control; usually every attempt to remove unwanted thoughts or images from our head always has the opposite effect -- all suspicions and doubts come back to us, ever stronger and even more convincing.

Jealousy is a destructive unceasing cycle which drives people towards irrational behaviours and emotional outbursts.

We can compare this tension to a balloon being blown-up until it explodes. It happens even to those who have decided to bring their jealousy to an end and sworn they would never be suspicious again. Sometimes they manage to keep this promise, as long as their partner stays away. Have I mentioned that the object of jealousy is a source of ambivalence?

DW: Meaning?

The object of jealousy evokes contradictory feelings in the jealous partner: care and desire, but also anger and pain. Growing distance brings out the object’s positive features, which can stimulate a partner’s lust, love or nostalgia. But as soon as they approach, the negative emotions prevail and that longing and desiring partner becomes bitter and agressive.

Some couples spend their whole life swinging on this emotional pendulum; they drift apart and regain their affection, only to lose it again after the reunion.

This emotional incongruence relates not only to “romantic” jealousy, but also to any other situation in which a “partner”  triggers contradictory reactions. It happens in  marriages with couples, but also between parents and children.

DW: I miss him when he’s away but hate it when he’s around?

Yes, because, for example, you suddenly can’t stand how he squeezes the toothpaste out of the tube or how he tugs at his ear. This is a psychologically complex situation, because jealous people are initially full of the good will to save a relationship, but they lack any idea on how to do it. That's how it looks when jealousy begins to germinate. Then it's grows much worse. Because a close object of jealousy evokes negative feelings such as anxiety, distrust, anger or even hatred, yet from a distance arouses positive ones, for example, concern, affection and nostalgia. 

At the beginning of jealousy, there is a conflict between the desire to meet with the object of one’s feelings and the pain of avoiding it. By the end of this process there is only a conflict between the distress associated with being far away from the "loved" one and the distress associated with being too close.

The only thing that is similar in both cases is the focus on the partner. Love transforming into jealousy is an easy to overlook, discreet process, yet it’s brutal and irreversible.

DW: Are we all jealous?

It’s a trait activated by certain situations somehow related to our general social distrust. Suddenly we’re hit by a thought or suspicion which, despite our best efforts to mute it,  becomes more and more persistent. Even the smallest, most trivial notion or action can stir up our anxiety and possessiveness with the remains of fondness and affection.

DW: Is jealousy, once activated, impossible to control?

I hate to generalize, but in most cases, it cannot be stopped.

DW: Are we predestined to be jealous or is it something we acquire with age?

People learn jealousy incredibly quickly.

From the earliest age we’re cautioned: “Don’t talk to strangers”, “Don’t smile”, and “Don’t let anyone in the house”. Parents try to prevent their children from harm, but, unintentionally, they teach them to keep away from people and never trust them.

Socialization generates distrust in both apparent and discreet ways. If you take a look around, you’ll see bars, locks, doors and CCTV cameras. These signs of social mistrust affect us unconsciously. With all these walls, gates, fences, and omnipresent security guards, it’s no wonder we struggle with trust. And this lack of trust leads to jealousy and control issues.

DW: Does jealousy cause us to make assumptions about people’s negative intentions?

Jealousy and envy, yes. Jealousy relates mainly to romantic situations. Envy doesn’t stem from our desire for others’ possessions  or achievements, but rather from a strong conviction that we’re entitled to certain benefits or privileges. It’s always fueled by a feeling of injustice, for example: “it’s not fair that my colleague got promoted and I didn’t”.

DW: If jealousy begins in our imagination, how can we get rid of it?

The safest and most reasonable solution would be separation. Jealousy can quickly turn into an obsession, provoke extreme actions, and even lead to a crime.

Divorce, break-up, moving out and cutting ties seem like the only effective way out.

DW: Could we break up and get back together when jealousy fades away?

I highly doubt it ever truly fades away. Most likely, it will return straight after the  reunion, and, possibly, be even more intense. After all, who knows what our partner got up to when we were not around?

DW: Are women more possessive than men?

Experience tells me that men predominate in this sphere too, but here and now I can’t provide any statistics to prove it.

DW: Is jealousy always perceived in a negative way?

Not at all. Very often people treat it as a demonstration of love and rarely notice jealousy’s potential dangers. It’s a mixture of mistrust, control, desire, rage and grievance -- that’s a lot to be afraid of!

DW: We’re jealous out of a fear of rejection? Loneliness? Because we’re scared that someone else might be better?

In my opinion, it’s more about power over another human being. When someone says “she’s mine”, what they really mean is: “I control her”. Jealousy is a fear of losing, or an attempt to regain the power over our partner. This power is initially harmless, yet it can quickly become ruthless and despotic.


Prof. Wiesław Łukaszewski – is a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław and Sopot, Poland.

--Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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