Jealousy in Relationships


Sibling rivalry is as old as the hills, so they say. Cubs in the den, fighting for milk. Birds pushing siblings out of the nest to ensure their own survival. Most of you reading this do not have your physical survival depending on having one less sibling eating at the family table. But many of us might believe that our emotional wellbeing depends on a sibling moving out of the spotlight, at the very least.


Children are dependent on their parents for unconditional love. When love is given conditionally they begin to believe that there might not be enough of it to go around. When children  feel that there is a scarcity of love they begin to resent those they see receiving it. Children are biologically programmed to try and obtain their parents affections, this is for their actual survival: physical, emotional and psychological. If a parent is inconsistent with the love they give their children, appearing to favour one over the other, the parent is doing an injustice to all the children. The one(s) who receive(s) less are losing out on a basic need and are forming a perception of themselves as undeserving of love. These children might become people pleasers or become bitter at the world or suffer from depression or anxiety. The children favoured often suffer by losing relationship with the siblings whose needs are not being met.

When our own children show signs of sibling rivalry, it might mean digging a little deeper, as parents, to see what each child’s unique needs and fears are and addressing them directly. This takes time. Some kids are naturally more competitive than others and so might be more in tune with differences or have perceptions of unfairness, to a greater extent than others. Removing hierarchy avoiding terms like “better than,” or “higher up,” etc. is a starting place. But society pushes competition in the education, the sports world and the media. Competition is not a bad thing as long as it is not about basic needs and rights such as the right of a child to be loved and a accepted by his or her parents. Talk about places where competitiveness is promoted and examine who benefits from these competitions. Help your child consider win/win scenarios and work on your own perspective of competition and win/lose ideologies, if you are struggling with this concept.

For a sibling, it can be easier to be angry at another innocent child than at an ‘all powerful,’ ‘all knowing’ parent who holds the child’s very survival in their hands.

Many people, if unsuccessful at obtaining unconditional love from a parent, as as child, will continue to seek approval from their parent(s) well into adulthood. They continue to  hope for the acceptance that they should never have had to seek in the first place. These children, come adults, often blame their siblings for the inability of their parents to meet their own needs as if a sibling took the limited resources of love/acceptance/ attention, etc for themselves, leaving nothing left for others. I’ve heard adults talk about their siblings as if the sibling had been spoiled or gotten away with too much. This may have been true, but it is also sometimes true that a sibling actually got exactly what every child deserves from their parent and that getting any less would only make two injustices, not correct one.

To move past sibling rivalry one needs to be able to see oneself, one’s parents and one’s siblings in context. Parents are fallible human beings who were likely doing the best with what they had, and were limited in their ability to fulfill the emotional and psychological needs of every one of their children. This does not make what happened, okay, but something that cannot be changed. It shifts the explanation away from a child being unworthy or unacceptable to focus not the parents limitations. The context of siblings who may have received more is that of innocent children with no more power or ability than oneself. And oneself as no more or less acceptable and deserving than any other sibling. It also means re-evaluating our adult relationships and deciding what needs to shift based on current needs. As adults we have a wide variety of relationships with family, friends, spouses and others. No one person will ever meet all of our emotional needs, therefore more is often more, in terms of number of relationships (even for introverts).

We may need to let go of the idea that a parent who has never been able to fill our needs completely, will ever be able to do so. This might mean a period of grief and acceptance.


I’ve always been an introvert, and generally,have found ideas and projects more reliable/safer than relationships. I prioritize the time in my head above time with other people. I love my friends and family, but I sometimes just feel like, at the end of a day, It’s easier to read a book then call a friend. If I have a large project going on (almost always) this tends to take precedence, with the excuse that, “once this is done, I’ll have more time to hang out.”


Recently, I’ve been trying to rebalance the way I spend my time and invest more into friendships. When I do reach out to try and connect with someone, maybe for the first time in months, it feels like a really big deal on my part.

If a friend doesn’t get back to me right away or has to re-schedule, I sometimes feel rejected. This happens even though I know that I’ve done the same thing myself in the past.

This feeling is heightened when I hear of that person connecting with other mutual friends after we’ve failed to connect our schedules. I worry that they’d rather be with each other, instead of me. I’m a 43 year old woman. This sounds ridiculous when I write it here, but when I’m honest, this is what it feels like inside.

It helps if I can step back and look at the situation from a distance, honing in on actual words that were said instead of just the way I felt about things or the tone I added to the interaction. When I can look more objectively I can often find explanations that tell me that there is a possibility that there are reasons for their response that have nothing to do with rejection of me.

Relationships do take work and I have put in relatively little compared to many others.

I’ve heard of such as thing as a friendship that can pick up right were it left off, no matter how long it’s been, but not all friendships work this way. Most require time and attention.

Friendships don’t give pay checks and they are often less demanding than family which is why they are often on the back burner. Prioritizing them is one way to live my values. I do value my friends and when I feel connected to others I’m less likely to envy my friends’ connections to each other. I can then see other friendships, between friends, as growing and strengthening our relationships and not as taking away from our relationship.

Intimate Relationships

Jealousy in intimate relationships is bound to come up at one time or another. It does not necessarily meant that there is a problem in the relationships, it might mean doing some work on one’s own insecurities or it might mean have a discussion with one’s partner to work out what works for the two of you. When talking with couples I find that…

…everybody knows what fidelity means, to themselves, but they rarely know what it means to anyone else. We tend to assume that we all hold the same definition.


For one person fidelity means not having sexual intercourse with an individual who is outside of the relationships while the couple is cohabitating. To others, it means not spending time alone with a person who could be considered attractive, to their partner, or even communicating with such a person when the partner is not present.

Usually people measure fidelity by the things that would make them feel that their relationships could be threatened. In other words, what would make them feel jealous. People sometimes become incredibly angry when their partner engages in activity which makes them feel jealous even if these activities have never been explicitly discussed as taboo.

As I said earlier, many couples don’t define fidelity, out loud, with each other, but assume it is understood. Often, if a partner breaches this unspoken understanding, then this will be the first time it is addressed. Sometimes concerns about fidelity are brushed off or minimized by a partner, who, either genuinely does not understand the concerns, or finds them unreasonable or who might just completely disagree. Sometimes a partner will agree, only to discover that what they thought they were agreeing to was not what their partner meant. At these times clarification will be required.

Sometimes the partner trying to define fidelity may not be aware of other issues complicating their responses to their partners’ behaviour. For example, a past experience of ‘being cheated on, ‘might colour one person’s assumptions about the meaning of their current partners’ behaviours. A smile is assumed to be flirting, a phone message is assumed to be an affair, etc.

The accusation of infidelity is sometimes as detrimental to a relationships as actual infidelity, because it is a sign of broken trust.

When an agreement has been reached about the limits on an a relationship, a breach of that agreement results in loss of trust. Jealously is often a part of this. Jealousy can loom when our partner gives what we’ve agreed to share exclusively, to someone we have not agreed to share it with, without our consent. The feelings of the offended person are often equally strong, whether it is time, affection or sex.  This is because the wrong that has been done, has to do with trust and respect, not merely the exchange of bodily fluids.

There is no right or wrong agreement to come to, as a couple. There is only an agreement to uphold the established boundaries.

If you see no problem in taking a co-worker out to lunch but your partner does, you don’t necessarily have to feel the same way as your partner, but you might agree to uphold the boundaries proposed for the sake of your relationship. You would do this to communicate that your relationship is more important to you than lunch with a co-worker.

Trust and infidelity can sometimes extend to situations that aren’t about other people. Couples sometimes talk about various hobbies or addictions in their relationships, like that activity is an unwanted paramour. Heated discussions about time and attention and resources sometimes come down to ultimatums of “it’s me or _____ (fill in the blank – golf, alcohol, your job, etc.) This is about connection or the lack of connection. There are a variety of reasons a hobby might be given more time or energy than one’s partner. This is worth examining.

When there is an addiction, particularly a chemical addiction, as in alcohol or drugs, the question about whether an individual is choosing an addiction over a relationship is a thorny one. Addiction as disease or addition as moral failing, becomes less clear the closer one is to the person addicted. As an outside witness to these scenarios, I’ve often felt that addicted individuals do have choice, but only within the limits of their current resources, information and support. This can be difficult, if not impossible to assess.

I’ve generally found that indulging in an addiction, rarely has to do with any attempt to harm the people who love the one who is addicted.  

In Conclusion….

Depending on the intensity and regularity of jealousy, the presence of jealousy might simply mean that we prize our partner a lot. When it becomes intense and starts imposing itself on the relationship in unreasonable ways… undermining basic respect and autonomy, it is work that needs to be done alone. If this is you, your work may be to look at how you define an intimate relationships and how the definition might be contributing to or moving away from partnership and into ownership. When attitudes and behaviours start to become controlling then a relationship is at risk. Keeping a relationships is not about increasing control but about increasing trust and respect.

If you and your partner are unable to come to an agreement about the limits of your relationship, it might be worth talking to an uninvolved outsider with good facilitation skills to see if you can work through whatever is in the way of finding agreement.

Check out a new, and beautifully written book by Esther Perel called “The State of Affairs – Rethinking Infidelity.”*


*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.

For more on jealousy, check out Jealous Much?

For more on family conflict check out  “The More We Get Together…”

For more on friendship check out What do Adults do for Fun?

And Lonely? Let’s Move Closer

For more on relationships check out Staying Together, after Kids

and Mating in Captivity







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