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Jealousy - Dual-factor Conceptualization, Types Of Jealousy, Correlates Of Jealousy, Responses To And Coping With Jealousy

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationships


Often called the "green-eyed monster," jealousy has been a literary theme for centuries. However, it was not until the 1970s that jealousy became the focus of systematic, social science research.

Most contemporary conceptualizations of jealousy define it by focusing on situational antecedents. This makes it possible to distinguish jealousy from envy because different situations evoke them. Jealousy is precipitated by a threat from an agent to a person's relationship with someone, whereas envy is a negative reaction that is precipitated when someone else has a relationship to a person or object (Bringle and Buunk 1985).

Distinguishing between jealousy and envy does not mean they cannot occur in the same situation; they can. However, the overlapping occurrence of the two phenomena does not suggest that one can be reduced to the other.

Jealousy is best viewed as a compound emotion resulting from the situational labeling of one or more of the primary emotions such as fear or anger. Society teaches us to label the primary emotions we experience in specific situations that threaten significant relationships as jealousy. In other words, the primary emotion words such as anger and fear describe the emotional state, whereas the compound emotion word jealousy explains the emotional state (Hupka 1984).

Because individuals learn "explanations" during the socialization process, this conceptualization of jealousy assumes that jealousy is a social phenomenon. It is at least partially learned and it is manifested in response to symbolic stimuli that have meaning to the individual. The social aspects of jealousy have been noted by a number of writers. Kingsley Davis (1936), who is among the most prominent, argues that a comprehensive conceptualization of jealousy must include the public or community element.

The distinction between primary emotions and the compound emotion of jealousy is illustrated by the following example of sexual jealousy. A husband confesses to his wife that he recently had a one-time sexual relationship with another woman while away from home on a trip. Depending upon a variety of cultural, personal, and relational factors, the wife may experience either anger, fear, disgust, sadness, or a combination of such primary emotions. If the woman is typical of most individuals in Western society, she will interpret her husband's extramarital relationship as a threat to their marriage and will have learned that people experience jealousy in such situations. As a result, she will explain her anger, fear, and other primary emotions in terms of jealousy. Because extramarital sex is incompatible with many people's moral values, this example illustrates Eugene Mathes's (1991) point that the situations in which jealousy is experienced are determined by a person's beliefs about morality as well as by social expectations.

Jealousy is defined in a variety of ways in the literature. Gordon Clanton (1981) defines it as a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship. Gerald McDonald (1982), taking a structural exchange perspective, views marital jealousy as the perceived threat of diminution or loss of the valued resources of the spouse. Robert Bringle and Bram Buunk (1985) define it as an aversive emotional reaction that occurs as the result of a partner's extradyadic relationship that is real, imagined, or considered likely to occur. Ira Reiss (1986) presents a sociological or group perspective by defining jealousy as a boundary-setting mechanism for what the group feels are important relationships. Finally, Gary Hansen (1991) expands upon Clanton's definition and views jealousy as a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship, arising from a situation in which the partner's involvement with an activity and/or another person is contrary to the jealous person's definition of their relationship.


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