Jealousy Is Not Always Bad

Neither is possessiveness.

Flirty jealous couple teasing each other The Vadym Fedorchenko Collection | Canva

Jealousy gets a bad rap nowadays. Everyone is supposed to have evolved past jealousy, and what was once considered a normal and understandable feeling/behavior is now considered toxic. 

Certainly, toxic jealousy that is part of an abusive and controlling dynamic is unfailingly negative. But jealousy that indicates your spouse values you and finds you appealing to other people is often flattering and exciting. Many of my female clients take their husband’s lack of jealousy or possessiveness as evidence, not of maturity but of disengagement and disinterest.


When you first met your spouse, you hoped that nobody else would hit on them because you did not yet feel confident that they liked you. You became uncomfortable at the thought that someone else might snap them up, or that an old flame would return to the scene and want to reconnect with them. This sort of “mate guarding” is evolutionarily-based. Birds and humans engage in the same sorts of mate-guarding behaviors for the same reasons (spoiler: one of the ways to mate-guard is “frequent in-pair copulation”).

RELATED: How To Tell The Difference Between A Protective Boyfriend & Toxic Jealousy


But then, after a few years of marriage and/or kids, people often start taking their spouse for granted. Since so many marriages today are child-centered, there are far fewer opportunities for couples to dress up and interact with other adults sans kids, which makes it hard to even notice when someone checks out your partner. Relatedly, so many couples are so focused on the business of raising their kids that they cannot even imagine someone else swooping in and stealing their spouse away because they assume their spouse is 100% focused on the kids as well and would never even be tempted to do anything to put their child-care center marriage at risk.

Rates of infidelity increase with age. People want to feel desired in a way that their partner doesn’t seem to express anymore. If you don’t think your spouse considers you attractive enough to appeal to others, this can make you so depressed and feel so bad about yourself that you at at risk of being tempted to cheat by the first person who flirts with you and looks at you with appreciation. 

RELATED: 3 Agonizing Reasons Why Women Cheat (Even On Men They Love)


Most of the female clients I have who end up in emotional affairs felt unseen by their husbands and certainly were left to their own devices emotionally and physically for an extended time. Most men and women with secure attachment styles (and certainly those who are preoccupied) enjoy some level of possessiveness and jealousy. 

Here are some green flag examples:

  • Telling your partner when others seem attracted to them
  • Telling your partner that they could get a lot of other people and you feel lucky they chose you
  • Responding with playful worry or irritation if your partner gets hit on
  • Being worried if your partner is texting someone from work at odd hours and bringing it up rather than ignoring it
  • Being competitive with other people for your spouse’s attention, e.g. noticing and mentioning it if your spouse was talking to some attractive person for a long time

Here are some toxic examples that are red flags:

  • Telling a partner not to go out with friends because you don’t trust them
  • Talking in a nasty demeaning way about all the partner’s exes
  • Making mean remarks about anyone who hits on your spouse, implying only “hussy” or otherwise low-class people would be attracted to your partner (people say this without even realizing that this demeans themselves for being with their partner)

People with an avoidant attachment style, aka “distancers” are the ones who are most uncomfortable receiving “jealous” or “possessive” attention like this. They generally are happiest when neither partner voices any objection to the other’s behavior at all, and rail against feeling constricted or “owned.” They say things like, “I let you do whatever you want, why don’t you do the same for me?” and “I trust you fully, certainly go out with your ex-boyfriend till 3 am just catching up! I mean, I wouldn’t want you telling me what to do!”


RELATED: 15 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never, Ever Ignore

Possessiveness is also not a bad thing. 

Wearing wedding rings is a signifier of belonging to your partner, and so is taking their last name, which may be on its way out but is still done frequently. And possessiveness can bring lots of passion to the bedroom. For instance, many women who identify as more submissive in bed and wish their husbands were more dominant fantasize about the feeling of being owned by their partner. If a man refuses ever to act possessive, even in bed, he may well be failing to try something his wife would respond well to.

Possessiveness makes men feel valuable and appreciated also. If a man gets hit on by a kid’s mom while he is coaching Little League, and his wife sitting right there doesn’t even notice, never mind say anything, obviously that isn’t going to be very flattering. It feels like the wife doesn’t even comprehend that the man could be considered attractive to that woman and isn’t remotely concerned, not out of how secure the relationship is, but because she finds it inconceivable that he could be appealing to someone else. Certainly, your husband talking to a mom at a child event shouldn’t be something that angers you and causes a fight, but thinking it is completely below the threshold of something you would even notice is kind of insulting.


Let’s put it this way: nobody would mind their partner saying, “Hey, that man/woman at the party seemed into you, but you’re mine” but plenty of people would mind their partner being completely oblivious. 

So, err on the side of commenting more about how your partner belongs to you and how this makes you feel, and see if they look happy and flattered. You may be surprised by how much your remark means to your partner, especially if you usually never say anything remotely possessive or jealous. 

RELATED: 10 Sneaky Signs Jealousy Is Destroying Your Relationship


Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of Dr. Psych Mom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.