The Communication of Jealousy

by Jennifer L. Bevan (Author)
©2013 Textbook XII, 218 Pages
Series: Language as Social Action, Volume 15


This book won the 2014 National Communication Association’s Diamond Anniversary Book Award
This book received the 2014 Gerald R. Miller Outstanding Book Award from the «Interpersonal Communication Division of the National Communication Association» and the «National Communication Association – Communication and Social Cognition Division – 2013 Distinguished Book Award»
Informed by a wide variety of academic disciplines and offering a unique interpersonal communication approach to the study of jealousy, The Communication of Jealousy examines, integrates, and informs research on jealousy experience and expression. The book’s integration and interpretation of academic jealousy research is through a jealousy expression lens, meaning that the focus will be particularly, but not exclusively, on jealousy research that includes a behavioral or communicative component that is drawn from a number of academic disciplines as diverse as communication, social and clinical psychology, sociology, criminology, forensic anthropology, and the biological sciences. To date, no academic book has considered jealousy primarily from an interpersonal communication perspective; in doing so, this book effectively connects jealousy research from related academic disciplines and develops a theory that advances the state of jealousy expression research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter One. Introduction: Jealousy Definitions and Models
  • What Is Jealousy?
  • Definitions of Jealousy
  • Jealousy and Envy
  • Classifications of Jealousy
  • Jealousy Models
  • Jealousy as a Social Construction
  • Chapter Two. The Evolution of Jealousy Expression Research
  • From Coping Strategies to Jealousy Responses
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Coping Strategies
  • The Communicative Responses to Jealousy Typology
  • A Review of Communicative Responses to Jealousy Research
  • Frequency of Usage Patterns
  • Relationships with Other Variables
  • Individual and Relational Sample Characteristics
  • Chapter Three. Jealousy Expression Beyond Romantic Relationships
  • Jealousy Expression Within the Family
  • Sibling Jealousy and Rivalry
  • Adult Family Jealousy Expression
  • Jealousy Expression in Same-Sex and Cross-Sex Friendships
  • Same-Sex Friendships
  • Cross-Sex Friendships
  • Jealousy and Envy in Organizational Settings
  • Envious Behaviors
  • Jealousy Experience and Expression in Mediated Contexts
  • SNS Jealousy Expression
  • The Influence of Jealousy Source and Relationship Context on Jealousy Expression
  • Chapter Four. Individual and Relational Characteristics and Jealousy Expression
  • Individual Characteristics and Jealousy Expression
  • Biological Sex and Gender Orientation
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age
  • Relationship Antecedents of Jealousy Expression
  • Relationship Length and Type
  • Long-Distance Versus Proximal Relationships
  • Relationship Satisfaction
  • Relationship Commitment
  • The Relative Influence of Individual and Relationship Characteristics on Jealousy Processes
  • Chapter Five. Cognition and Emotion in the Jealousy Expression Process
  • Cognitions
  • Cognitive Jealousy
  • Goals and Motivations
  • Rumination
  • Emotions
  • Emotional Jealousy
  • Specific Jealousy-Related Emotions
  • The Interplay Between Cognitive and Emotional Jealousy Components
  • Chapter Six. Theoretical Considerations of Jealousy from a Psychology Perspective
  • Evolutionary Theory
  • The Sexually Dimorphic Jealousy Experience Hypothesis
  • The Sexually Dimorphic Jealousy Expression Hypothesis
  • Attachment Theory
  • Jealousy Experience
  • Jealousy Expression
  • The Investment Model
  • Jealousy Experience
  • Jealousy Expression
  • The Utility of Psychology Theories in Understanding Jealousy Expression
  • Chapter Seven. Theoretical Considerations of Jealousy from a Communication Perspective
  • Theories of Uncertainty
  • Uncertainty Reduction Theory and Relational Uncertainty
  • Uncertainty and Jealousy
  • The Relational Turbulence Model
  • Jealousy Experience
  • Jealousy Expression
  • Putting It All Together: Jealousy Expression Profile Theory
  • The Content of the Jealousy Expression Profiles
  • Constructive Jealousy Expression
  • Avoidant Jealousy Expression
  • Destructive Jealousy Expression
  • Rival-Focused Jealousy Expression
  • Benefits and Uses of Jealousy Expression Profile Theory
  • Chapter Eight. The Implications of Jealousy
  • Individual Implications
  • Jealous Individuals' Physiological Responses
  • Individual Implications for the Jealousy Target
  • Relational and Social Implications
  • Interpersonal Conflict
  • Divorce
  • Violence
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • The Role of Jealousy Expression Profile Theory in Understanding Implications of Jealousy
  • Are There Positive Implications of Jealousy?
  • Bibliography
  • Index


I am grateful to a number of individuals who assisted me either directly or indirectly in guiding this book from an idea to an actuality. Jealousy is a topic that has fascinated me since my first semester of graduate school in the fall of 1997, and many scholars and friends have provided invaluable help to me along the way, now over 15 years later. My thanks first and foremost to Wendy Samter, my brilliant advisor at the University of Delaware, who initially encouraged my interest in studying jealousy and who was instrumental in setting me on the path to becoming the interpersonal communication scholar that I am today. I am also grateful to my dissertation advisor at the University of Georgia, Jerry Hale, for patiently assisting me as my scholarly interest in jealousy truly blossomed, and for Laura Guerrero’s valuable input to and support of my research throughout the years. My department chair at Chapman University, Fran Dickson, has also been unwaveringly supportive about this project, as well as helpful in my navigation of the publishing process.

Walid Afifi, Charles Pavitt, Jennifer Monahan, Kenzie Cameron, Tina Harris, the late Michael Kernis, Steve Yoshimura, Karin Tidgewell, Kristen Stetzenbach, and Pam Lannutti have been wonderful, collaborative committee members or co-authors on my jealousy research projects. Karen Shallcross, Sandy Williams Hilfiker, Kristy Maddux, John Lynch, Megan Dillow, Jennifer Waldeck, Lisa Sparks, and Veronica Hefner have been true friends through the years who have provided me with invaluable advice (or distractions!) when I needed them. I am also extremely thankful to my mother, Margaret Bull, who has always been so supportive of what I do, and so proud of who I am, no matter what.

Special thanks also go to those who directly made this book possible: Chapman University, for providing me with a semester sabbatical to devote my time fully to writing, Amy Hicks and Alexandria Papilion, my hard-working undergraduate research assistants who spent many hours organizing and annotating jealousy research, my Peter Lang editor Mary Savigar, who walked me through the publishing process with care and precision, and especially to my series editor Howie Giles, who provided the very best experience I could ask for in writing and revising my first book. ← xi | xii →

I am additionally grateful to the hundreds of participants who have shared their experiences of jealousy with me over the years. I fully recognize that their willingness to provide such personal, and sometimes painful, information is a great privilege and has assisted in a better scholarly understanding of jealousy. I simply could not have gotten to this point without them.

Finally, I must appreciatively acknowledge my canine “co-authors” Daphne and Stewie, who spent many a day napping quietly beside me as I wrote (and were willing listeners when I bounced an idea or two off of them!). And last but definitely not least, to the person I am most thankful for, my husband, Gordon. I truly could not have completed this project without him.


Introduction: Jealousy Definitions and Models

The Greek root of the word “jealous” is zelos, which is an intense and passionate ardor about something. The notion that jealousy is rooted in a word that can be either constructive or destructive, depending upon the situation or context, illustrates the inherently complex nature of this unique interpersonal experience. And, as with any complicated human experience, artists have been inspired to depict and explore jealousy throughout history. These artistic efforts have taken visual form, such as Edvard Munch’s many painted renderings of jealousy, as well as been musical in nature, such as John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, where he sings about his fear, anxiety, and physical loss of control when thinking about losing his wife, Yoko Ono, to a rival. And these creative renderings of jealousy have also emerged in written literature, most notably in William Shakespeare’s dramatic portrayals of jealousy in Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though humans have undoubtedly experienced and expressed jealousy as long as they have shared relationships with one another, it is only in the past three decades that there has been concerted scholarly interest across academic disciplines, including communication; social, developmental, and evolutionary psychology; family studies; anthropology; the forensic sciences; and sociology, in unraveling the nature of jealousy. Jealousy has received significant clinical attention as well, with marital and family therapists reporting that it is at least a minor issue for two-thirds, and a major issue for one-quarter, of their clients (White, 2008). However, despite its prevalence in the clinical setting, therapists also note that jealousy is an issue that is both particularly difficult to treat and damaging to the relationship (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). Clearly, humans have long been curious about jealousy, and it accordingly is an ever-evolving topic in therapeutic interactions and area of scholarly research.

Though the language of jealousy and how it arises can assist close relationship partners in its management and negotiation (Planalp, 1999), there has been, as yet, no comprehensive consideration of research that has considered jealousy as a communicative act. Jealousy is generally accepted as involving interrelated emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components (e.g., Pfeiffer & Wong, 1989), ← 1 | 2 → and how it is experienced and the meaning that is ascribed to it is a function of the partners’ interactions (Sprowl & White, 1989). As such, how jealousy is expressed is central to understanding the fundamentally interactive nature of jealousy. After all, the language of jealousy is preceded and accompanied by feelings, thoughts, and any number of related relational and individual characteristics. Jealousy expression also serves as an impetus for responses by and potential changes to the jealous individual, the partner, the rival, and the relationship. And on a broader scale, processes of jealousy experience and expression are both entrenched in and shaped by societal rules and conventions (e.g., East & Watts, 1999).

Because jealousy only exists when a relationship is perceived to be threatened by a third party, it is a fundamentally interpersonal experience. Indeed, Stearns (1988) notes that jealousy “depends on interpersonal situations for incidence and expression” (p. 194). As such, interpersonal communication processes naturally and necessarily emerge throughout the jealousy experience. First, jealous individuals’ initial appraisals of a threat are typically aroused by interactions that are observed between the partner and the rival. In other words, the experience of jealousy is often first sparked by perceiving a relationship between a partner and rival, and then interpreting their communication as threatening or problematic in some way. In addition, communicative situations where individuals’ romantic partners or cross-sex friends are verbally intimate or share an emotional – but not sexual – relationship with another person have been found to incite jealousy (e.g., Bevan & Samter, 2004; Parker, 1997). Language is also central to how an individual copes with his or her jealousy. For example, coping and mate retention strategy typologies (e.g., Buss, 1988; White & Mullen, 1989) showcase various forms of communicative strategies such as avoidance/denials, derogation of the partner or the rival, and demanding commitment from the partner. Many of these strategies are also represented in Guerrero, Andersen, Jorgensen, Spitzberg, and Eloy’s (1995) and Guerrero and Andersen’s (1998b) communicative responses to jealousy typology, which was the first systematic, comprehensive attempt to formally organize the various ways in which individuals express their jealousy. Communication is also essential for relational partners to interactively negotiate and manage the jealousy that is experienced in a way that is mutually satisfying at individual and relationship levels (Bevan, 2011; Yoshimura, 2004).

Overall, it is clear that interpersonal communication represents an essential, informative link between an individual’s jealousy experience and the individual, relational, and social consequences of jealousy. Thus, this book offers a unique interpersonal approach to examining and integrating academic research on jealousy, with an emphasis on the language of jealousy. Specifically, this book will cohesively compile and integrate jealousy literature from sources that span multiple scientific and social scientific disciplines and sources, as well as offer a dis ← 2 | 3 → tinct interpersonal communication approach to the study of jealousy. To do so, the book is structured as follows: Chapter 1 provides a comprehensive review of the multiple ways that jealousy has been defined and modeled in previous research, in addition to introducing the concept of jealousy from a communication perspective. Chapter 2 will trace the history of jealousy expression research, from its initial instantiation as an aspect of clinical and psychological coping strategies to today’s more expansive and representative communicative responses to jealousy typology. Chapter 3 will examine the prevalence of jealousy experience and expression beyond romantic relationships by describing research that examines jealousy across a variety of relationship contexts, including family, same-sex and cross-sex friend, mediated, and work/organizational relationships. In Chapter 4, the principal, important individual and relationship variables that have been studied in relation to coping strategies and communicative responses to jealousy will be described and reviewed. Chapter 5 will consider the prevalent cognition and emotion variables that have been linked with various forms of jealousy expression. In Chapter 6, the psychology and communication theories that have been most frequently applied to jealousy expression in previous research will be presented and analyzed, and a deductive theory of jealousy expression (Jealousy Expression Profile Theory, or JEPT) will be proposed and described. Chapter 7 will conclude by identifying and examining the individual, relational, and social implications of jealousy expression and behavior. Throughout the chapters in this book, research that examines the language of jealousy will be emphasized. The first step in understanding jealousy – defining what it is and determining what it is not – is presented next.

What Is Jealousy?

Definitions of Jealousy

Shakespeare’s famous description of jealousy as “the green-eyed monster” in Othello remains a common characterization even today. However, when scientific interest in jealousy expanded beyond the study of pathological jealousy in clinical contexts in the mid-1970s (Bringle & Buunk, 1985), a more descriptive, functional definition than what Shakespeare offered in 1603 was necessary. Accordingly, multiple definitions of jealousy, as well as assorted methods for classifying individual aspects of jealousy, have emerged from a wide variety of academic sources. Though distinct in a variety of ways, many of these definitions and classifications do share essential commonalities, and are explored here through a jealousy expression lens.

In the first known special issue of an academic journal about the topic of jealousy, Clanton (1981) heralded jealousy research, still in its infancy, as a living ← 3 | 4 → and growing area of study. He also presented his definition of jealousy: “a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship or to one’s happiness or self-esteem in connection with a valued relationship” (p. 260). Clanton and Smith (1986) later slightly adapted this jealousy definition to “a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship or to its quality,” which has since served as a definition of the term in numerous scholarly chapters and research studies (e.g., Clanton, 1989; DeLamater, 1991; Hansen, 1983, 1985a, b; Hill & Davis, 2000). Clanton and Smith’s definition is thus a useful and enduring description of jealousy. However, though Clanton and Smith’s definition includes fundamental jealousy components, such as its reactive nature, the presence of a perceived threat, and the existence of a valued relationship with another, it possesses two limitations. First, its parsimony makes it somewhat ambiguous in nature. For example, because this definition does not specify what the reaction may include (i.e., behaviors, emotions, and/or thoughts), the communication of jealousy is thus implied rather than explicit. Second, Clanton and Smith’s definition does not describe what the perceived threat could (and could not) be. Conceivably, a partner moving to a different country could be a perceived relational threat according to this definition, but because that action is not necessarily associated with a third party, it would not qualify as jealousy according to most other scholarly definitions.

Hansen (1985a) expanded upon and provided additional clarification to Clanton’s (1981) jealousy definition by specifying two necessary antecedent factors. First, the jealous individual views the partner’s behavior, whether real or imagined, as deviating from his or her definition of their relationship. Further, the partner’s actions do not necessarily need to be sexual in nature, as even relationships with friends or co-workers, or time spent engrossed in activities such as work or hobbies, can conflict with the jealous individual’s relationship definition. Second, their relationship must be seen by the jealous individual as valuable. Hansen (1985a, pp. 713-714) also noted that “there is a wide variation in the times and places that jealousy occurs, the situations that cause it, as well as about whom jealousy is felt,” an expansion of how jealousy is conceptualized that is consistent with his research findings (e.g., 1982, 1983, 1985b; see Hansen, 1991 for a review).


XII, 218
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
experience psychology sociology criminology anthropology
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 218 pp.

Biographical notes

Jennifer L. Bevan (Author)

Jennifer L. Bevan (PhD, University of Georgia) is an associate professor of communication studies at Chapman University. Her research examines difficult interactions such as jealousy, serial arguments, uncertainty, and distance caregiving. She has published over 35 articles in such journals as Communication Monographs, Human Communication Research, and Communication Research.


Title: The Communication of Jealousy
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