Jealousy – A Conceptual Deep Dive

In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about jealousy, defining exactly what it is, why it developed as an evolutionary adaptation, how it shapes the behaviour of men and women and more.

What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is the fear that another person may take something that you consider to be yours.

Unlike envy which stems from your own desire for something that belongs to someone else, jealousy stems from the fear that someone else desires what belongs to you,

It All Begins With Love

Love is synonymous with being human. It is something we all desire. However, with love comes the need for protection of the bonds that it creates. The emotion that evolved as this protection was jealousy.

Thus, love and jealousy are intertwined. They depend on eachother and feed on eachother. Love stimulates jealousy and vice versa.

“He that is not jealous is not in love.” ― Saint Augustine

The Evolutionary Lens

Jealousy is triggered by circumstances that signal a threat to a relationship. Thus, it evolved as an adaptation in the context of infidelity.

However, the way both sexes perceive infidelity is different which stems from the different adaptive problems they each had to solve. Men had to solve the problem of paternity. Women had to solve the problem of security. Consequently, for men, jealousy evolved to ensure paternity while for women, it evolved to ensure security.

Thus, men’s jealousy is more sensitive to cues of sexual infidelity as this represents uncertain paternity while women’s jealousy is more sensitive to cues of emotional infidelity as this represents uncertain recourses.

Men are threatened by sexual infidelity. Women are threatened by emotional infidelity.”

Mates, Once Gained, Must Be Retained

Jealousy is not always a response to an infidelity that has occurred in the past. It can be an anticipatory response to prevent an infidelity from occurring in the future. Consequently, both sexes evolved an adaptation known as mate guarding.

Mate guarding is a mate retention tactic. It is used to maintain reproductive opportunities and sexual access to a mate by preventing them from abandoning a relationship and mating with others.

For men, jealousy is specifically attuned to rivals who have recourses, while for women, it is specifically attuned to rivals who have beauty. Thus, men are more likely to engage in Mate Guarding if their wives are particularly attractive and women are more likely to engage in Mate Guarding if their husbands are wealthy.

“Men Mate Guard to ensure future paternity. Women Mate Guard to ensure future security.”

It Can Be Healthy

Most people believe it is an emotion that should be purged from our psychological repertoire. However, jealousy can be and indeed is useful. In fact, research shows that couples who score higher on jealousy “tests” are more likely to stay together than those who score lower.

Too little signals detachment from a relationship. Too much signals insecurity about a relationship. A moderate amount signals Genuine Desire, love and commitment and shows that a partner is invested in the relationship. As with most things in life, balance is the key.

“Properly used, jealousy can enrich relationships, spark passion, and amplify commitment. It is an adaptive emotion, forged over millions of years, linked inexorably with long-term love.” ― David Buss


Jealousy evolved as an adaptation. It served to protect relationships and the threat of the loss of love by motivating behaviours that reduced the risk of infidelity.

For men, it evolved to prevent sexual infidelity as this would jeopardize future paternity. For women, it evolved to prevent emotional infidelity as this would jeopardize future security.

Intentionally evoking it can be a way to gain valuable information about the strength of a partner’s love and commitment to a relationship.

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