The feeling when you think that a special relationship that you have with someone is threatened because a third person is trying to have a similar relationship. You really don’t want that to happen and you cannot think of much else.

You feel jealous when an important relationship of yours is being threatened by someone else who is trying to have a similar relationship1. In a case of jealousy there are (at least) three players: you, the mate, and the rival2. The most typical example is that of romantic jealousy: you are in a relationship with someone, and you believe that someone else is trying to get involved with your partner. The jealousy is clearly more intense if you believe that your partner is interested in these advances, however, you can be jealous even if that is not the case.

Jealousy can also apply to non-romantic relationships3. Nevertheless, the premise remains the same: You have a relationship with someone or something, and a ‘rival’ is threatening this special relationship. For example, children may feel jealous when they get a little brother or sister, since the special relationship they had with their parents is now in jeopardy. Or, when a gifted student had a private tutoring session every Thursday afternoon, she can become jealous when she now has to share this session with another student, because she feels that she lost the special relationship with her teacher.

Although the mate and the rival are typically people, either of them may also be animals or even objects4. For example, someone can become jealous if the family dog starts giving another family member more attention. Alternatively, if a woman increasingly devotes her time to her work, her husband may become jealous of her work.

Jealousy may be difficult to classify among other negative emotions, since a jealous person can go through many emotions: they can feel fear towards the prospect of their partner leaving them; they feel distrust toward their partner’s assurances that nothing is going on; they can get angry with the rival, and so on. However, it is important to distinguish such an episode of ‘jealous emotions’ to the emotion of jealousy itself. The latter is the painful realization that the special relationship is threatened, which puts the emotion close to feelings like longing and envy.

In the comic, Murphy encounters two colleagues making out in the broom closet. When he discovers that one of them is Jessica, whom he has a serious crush on, he experiences a pang of jealousy.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“Why is he looking at her like that?”

“I don’t want you to see him anymore.”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Jealousy & Envy

Envy and jealousy are among the most-often confused emotions. This confusion is usually one-way, though: people often use the word jealousy when they mean envy, but not the other way around. For instance, someone can be said to be jealous of her classmate’s good grades. In practice, the words are now used interchangeably for cases of envy. Although both emotions are about comparisons that turn out negatively for the person having the emotion, they are actually quite different5. In one way they are even each other’s opposite: envy is evoked when someone has something good that you want, jealousy when you have something good that you believe someone else wants to have. However, the emotions may co-occur, in a scenario where you believe you may lose your special relationship to someone who is a serious rival because he has qualities that you do not possess. However, you can also be jealous of a person who threatens your relationship without envying anything about them, or reversely, envy someone for what they have without them threatening any of your relationships.

Jealousy & Rejection

There are several situations in which rejection and jealousy can be co-experienced, but it is important to conceptually distinguish them. Both are in essence about (the possibility of) losing a partner or special relationship. For instance, when a wife tells her husband she loves someone else and wants to leave him, he is likely to feel both rejection and jealousy. However, the rejection is felt towards his wife no longer loving him, whereas the jealousy is felt towards losing the relationship to a rival. As such, there can be cases in which someone is very jealous, but not feel rejected. For instance, when a husband cheats on his wife but still loves her and does not have the intention to leave her, he may actually overcompensate by spending more attention and love to his wife than he did before the affair. His wife may feel very jealous, but there are no preconditions for rejection.

Sources and further reading