Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship will have at some point experienced jealousy. Whether it's witnessing your other half flirting with someone else, feeling a pang of envy when your partner's picture is liked by a work colleague or feeling suspicious they are getting close to someone else.
While it can turn you into an emotional, sometimes irrational, wreck, jealousy is actually a perfectly normal emotion to encounter.
What is interesting, however, is that men and women seem to experience it differently.
Turns out the reason we often don't understand why our partner is feeling jealous is because men and women have different triggers, which set those feelings in motion.
Past studies have found that men are more upset by the idea of sexual infidelity, while women are more upset by the idea of emotional infidelity, even when an intimate exchange does not take place.
More recently, scientists wanted to research whether people were aware about these distinct differences between the sexes in terms of jealousy triggers.
The study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, looked into what people think makes other people jealous, broken down by sex.
The researchers also wanted to investigate factors that could influence our perceptions of jealousy triggers. Where we pick up those responses, whether they are learned or whether our perceptions are based on our own experiences.
The researchers analysed responses from 1,213 people where the majority were heterosexual (86.2%). They also conducted analyses on sexual minorities (bisexuals and homosexuals).
Interestingly, sexual preference didn't really play a role in interpreting feelings of jealousy.
"Homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual men reported that other men would be more jealous of sexual infidelity than they would admit," one of the study authors Mons Bendixen, a professor at NTNU's department of psychology, told Psych.org.
In other words, he says, they have a somewhat stereotypical perception of what makes men jealous.
A similar pattern appeared in heterosexual women, in that they thought other women would be more jealous of emotional infidelity than they would admit.
Study authors say the findings suggest when it comes to jealousy we understand our own sex best.
"Generally speaking, men are good at understanding other men's jealousy responses, and women are good at understanding other women's jealousy responses," explains Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, one of the other study authors. "At the same time, we are surprisingly good at understanding the opposite sex at the group level."
How to curb jealousy
As well as the difference between the sexes of jealousy triggers, psychologist and relationship advisor, Barbara Santini, says there are some other factors at play when it comes to the emotions connected to jealousy.
"Psychological theories suggest that jealousy also arises from deep-seated insecurities, fears of abandonment, and a fragile sense of self-worth," she explains. "These internal narratives, often sculpted by past experiences and societal messages about love and worthiness, play a critical role in how jealousy manifests and impacts relationships."
While jealousy does have the potential to erode trust, intimacy and mutual respect, Santini says it also offers an unparalleled window into our deepest vulnerabilities and needs, inviting introspection and growth.
Addressing jealousy, therefore, requires a multifaceted approach, deeply embedded in empathy, communication, and personal development.
Communication is key
Engaging in open, honest, and vulnerable conversations about feelings of jealousy can transform it from a source of conflict to an opportunity for deepening connection. "It's about expressing fears and insecurities, not as accusations, but as invitations for understanding and reassurance," Santini explains.
Understanding and compassion
Recognising that jealousy often stems from our insecurities and past hurts allows for a more compassionate approach to our partner's feelings. "This understanding can foster patience and empathy, providing a foundation for mutual support and healing," Santini says.
Self-awareness and growth
Jealousy often signals areas within ourselves that need attention and healing. "Whether it's building self-esteem, addressing past traumas, or cultivating a sense of security within, personal growth is a powerful antidote to jealousy," Santini adds.
Boundaries and trust
Constructively discussing boundaries that honour both partners' needs and sensitivities can reinforce trust and respect. "Trust, built over time through consistency and integrity, is the bedrock upon which jealousy can be effectively managed,' Santini says.
Seeking external support
When jealousy overwhelms, turning to therapy or counselling can provide the tools and insights needed to navigate these turbulent waters. "Professional guidance can help unravel the complexities of jealousy, offering strategies for individuals and couples to rebuild trust and intimacy," Santini says.
"Jealousy, while challenging, holds the potential for profound personal and relational growth. By approaching it with empathy, introspection, and a commitment to communication, couples can navigate these waters, transforming jealousy from a source of division to a catalyst for deeper understanding and connection."
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