Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

The Happy Green Eyed Monogamist: Role of Jealousy and Compersion in Monogamous and Non-Traditional Relationships

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

The Happy Green Eyed Monogamist: Role of Jealousy and Compersion in Monogamous and Non-Traditional Relationships

Article excerpt


Scholars have long been fascinated by the question as to whether or not jealousy is a cultural universal. They have asked: Are there gender differences in what sparks jealousy? How do people deal with jealousy? However, since the 1970s and 1980s, social commentators have begun to address another, very different, type of question: Can people alter their jealous reactions to their partners' affairs? What impact does jealousy (or the lack thereof) have on intimate relationships? Are multiple relationships really a threat to intimate relationships?

A plethora of scholars have addressed the first two sets of questions. Our major concern, however, will be the third set of questions. Specifically, we ask: Are there gender differences in the tendency to feel jealousy or "compersion" (i.e., to take pleasure in one's partner's sexual pleasure in other sexual encounters)? (Precisely what theorists mean by feelings of "compersion/empathy" will be discussed in a later section.) What is the impact of a tendency to be jealous or to take pleasure in a partner's pleasure (to have a compersion reaction) on relationship satisfaction? Does gender, one's ability to be jealous or compersive, and type of relationship (monogamous versus non-traditional) interact in shaping relationship satisfaction?

A. Traditional Perspectives on Jealousy

According to the American Psychological Association (VandenBos, 2007), jealousy can be defined as:

"A negative emotion in which an individual resents a third party for appearing to take away (or likely to take away) the affections of a loved one" (p. 506).

Researchers in Israel (Nadler & Dotan, 1992) and the Netherlands (Bringle & Buunk, 1986) found that individuals experience the most jealousy and the most severe physiological reactions (e.g., trembling, increased pulse rate, nausea), when a loved one's affair poses a serious threat to their dating or marital relationship. Berscheid and Fei (1977) also provided evidence that low self-esteem and the fear of loss are important factors in fueling jealous passion. They found that the more insecure men and women are, the more dependent they are on their romantic partners and mates, and that the more seriously a relationship is threatened, the more fierce their jealousy.

B. Is Jealousy a Cultural Universal?

Most scholars assume that jealousy is a cultural universal--known to exist in all cultures--although culture and historical era shape how jealousy is defined, what sparks it, and how men and women deal with it. Anthropologists, cultural psychologists, historians, and social psychologists tend to focus on the influence of culture and historical era on people's perception as to the nature of jealousy (Hatfield, Rapson, & Martel, 2007). Evolutionary psychologists tend to focus on the universality of jealousy, arguing for its antecedents in human kinds' evolutionary and genetic heritage.

According to Buss (1994), for example, in the course of evolution, men and women were programmed to differ markedly in the kinds of things that incite jealousy. Since men can never know for sure whether the children they think are theirs (and in which they may choose to invest their all), are really their own, men should find sexual infidelity the most worrying. Women, on the other hand, who know that any children they conceive are theirs, should worry far less about their mates' sexual liaisons. What worries women is the possibility that their mates may be forming a deep, emotional attachment to a rival, thus squandering scarce resources on another. Scientists have also collected evidence that in men, sexual infidelity incites the most jealousy, while in women, the discovery that their husbands have formed a deep emotional attachment to another women, and/or is squandering resources on her is most upsetting (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Glass & Wright, 1992).

Cultural and evolutionary theorists have also collected considerable evidence indicating that men and women often respond differently to jealous provocation. …

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