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Responses To And Coping With Jealousy

People respond to jealousy-producing situations in a number of ways. One of the more comprehensive attempts to classify them comes from Jeff Bryson (1991), who identified eight modes of response: emotional devastation, reactive retribution (get even), arousal (intensify ardor or interest in partner), need for social support (more intensive interaction with friends), intropunitiveness (blame and punish oneself for being jealous), confrontation (confront the situation directly), anger, and impression management (make others think don't care/get drunk or high). These eight responses comprise a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions that are independent of each other. A person may experience all of them, some of them, or only a single reaction in response to a particular jealousy-producing situation.

In addition to identifying the ways in which people respond, research also has focused on how people cope with jealousy. Buunk (1982) examined the ways people cope with their spouses' extramarital relationships and identified three strategies: avoidance (of the spouse), reappraisal (of the situation), and communication. Avoidance includes such things as considering the possibility of leaving the spouse and retreating. Reappraisal refers to cognitive attempts to reduce one's jealousy and includes developing a critical attitude toward one's own jealousy as well as direct attempts to get the jealousy under control by relativizing the whole situation. Communication, the most common strategy, can reduce jealousy if it results in a redefinition of the relationship or a changed perception of the partner's behavior. Buunk (1982) found that communication is positively related to marital satisfaction whereas avoidance is negatively related to it. Janice L. Francis (1977) reached a similar conclusion when she identified the development of communication skills as the appropriate treatment mode for sexual jealousy.

There is evidence that some people also cope with jealousy by devaluing their relationship. Peter Salovey and Judith Rodin (1985) found that selective ignoring, defined as simply deciding that the desired object is not that important, is a coping strategy used by some.

Although many studies of jealousy do not investigate the extreme techniques of coping with jealousy such as the use of physical force or homicide, studies of family violence leave little doubt that they occur frequently. Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, and Suzanne Weghorst (1982) reviewed several studies of spousal homicide that used data beyond those found in police files and concluded that male sexual jealousy may be a major source of conflict in an overwhelming majority of spousal homicides in North America. In addition, young males experiencing intense sexual jealousy are among the most common perpetrators of murder and suicide (Marzuk, Tardiff, and Hirsch 1992). Similarly, studies have noted the prevalence of jealousy as a motive in nonfatal wife abuse (Dobash and Dobash 1979) and courtship violence (Bookwala et al. 1992).

It is interesting to note that culture appears to contribute to the severity of aggression in sexual jealousy situations among males. Hupka and James M. Ryan (1990) studied ninety-two preindustrial societies and found that importance attached to being married, limitations placed on nonmarital sexual gratification, and emphasis placed on private ownership of property are associated with more aggressive responses in jealousy situations.

Further evidence for the importance of culture comes from the work of Ana R. Delgado, Gerardo Prieto, and Roderick A. Bond (1997) who examined whether people consider jealousy justification for wife battery. They found striking differences between Britain where the harmdoer was seen as more guilty and Spain where the victim was seen as more guilty.

Finally, a number of social-psychological studies provide some insight into some of the cognitive processes that may be involved as people cope with jealousy by changing their perceptions of their partners' behavior. Studies by White (1981) and Buunk (1984) indicate that perceived motives or attributions for the partner's behavior are related to jealousy. Therefore, changes in perceived motives or attributions can reduce jealousy. In addition, Bernd Schmitt (1988) found that jealous people derogate their rival on attributes they perceive to be important to their partners, but not on attributes they perceive as less important to their partners.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsJealousy - Dual-factor Conceptualization, Types Of Jealousy, Correlates Of Jealousy, Responses To And Coping With Jealousy