Jealousy has a bad reputation. After all, jealousy can end friendships. Jealousy can lead people to brood over feeling short-changed by life and distract them from precious gifts they should be enjoying. Intense jealousy can interfere with romance and marriage and destroy the very bond that sparks the jealousy to being with. Jealousy taken to psychotic levels is, of course, paranoia-a true psychiatric disorder.
Yet in romance, mild and even moderate jealousy may not only have its benefits, but be a critical ingredient to maintaining passion.
We all want to feel chosen by our romantic partners. We want to feel special. In love, there is a dimension of conquest, of overcoming the resistance of the other person to intimacy and defeating all the other potential suitors who might have won the heart of the person who smiles upon us. This "favored nation status" in love is very closely linked to jealousy. Early on in a relationship, when the romantic energy is most intense, it would be unusual not to feel jealous if a romantic partner were to dote on another.
As romantic relationships continue on, for months and years, we can easily take the love and attraction of our partners for granted. We can tip past confidence about the commitment of our partners, into complacency. And the trouble with complacency is that it is the antidote of passion. It kills any desire to compete for the special place occupied in the life of another. We too often stop earning love and stop appreciating it.
Good jealousy is the kind that keeps us awake and alert in our love lives. And we should welcome it. We should luxuriate in the harmless flirtations of our partners, give one another license to play a bit with passion and never fail to note the miraculous and much-maligned feeling of wanting and needing to be the winner in an eternal quest for the heart of another.
Anyone can safely take a small dose of jealousy right now. Just close you eyes and imagine your husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend sitting down to tell you that he or she is leaving you for someone else. Imagine that other person in your mind. Then resolve to tell your partner one thing or go on one adventure that would win her back. Now, open your eyes-and do it.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.