Thursday, July 14, 2016

Green: Envy or Healthy Jealousy?

'Healthy jealousy?' you ask.  'Oh stars, Melody's off her rocker.'  Ehehe, maybe and maybe not.

Apropos of using spare moments in the last several weeks to analyze the various friendships I have and how they all fit together- like different colors in an embroidery tapestry- I've been doing a lot of thinking on the different kinds of love that exist, the different kinds of friendship, and on jealousy.  As usual, when I finally came to some conclusions late last night (showers are wonderful places for helping one think) I bounced the thoughts off my soul sister, the final step in my thinking.  Bouncing thoughts off of her clarifies them for me.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines 'jealous' as:
1) 'feeling or showing envy of someone or of their achievements and advantages'
2) 'feeling or showing suspicion of someone's unfaithfulness in a relationship'
3) 'fiercely protective or vigilant of one's rights or possessions'
4) '(of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship'

We're taught that jealousy is a bad thing.  In the context of the first meaning above, it is.  Being jealous of someone's achievements or their skill or their personality is understandable, but frustratingly silly at times because God made each of us different.  Sometimes it seems like one person has better talents or is more likable than you are, but your focus is in the wrong place if you think that makes you less than them.  Instead of wishing you had someone else's friends or their talents or skills or their advantages, take a long, hard, HONEST look at who you are and what you do have and try to understand how you fit in the world and God's plan.

With the the second and third meanings above, the prevailing belief in many Christian circles seems to be that jealousy is an evil thing that poisons relationships and that if you feel it, you're giving in to Satan's evil influences and you're being weak and silly and you need to do something about that.

But.  God says more than once throughout the Old Testament that he is a jealous God (see meaning #4).  That if His people turn away, He won't strive with them forever and will at some point punish them because He won't tolerate other loves in their spiritual heart.

A lot of people (including me at one point) assume that jealousy in human relationships exists as a result of sin in the world.  But we're made in God's image, are we not?  We are created to have certain kinds of relationships that are exclusive.  The 'eros' love- what we in the Western cultures call 'romantic' love- is the foremost example of this.  We are created to only have one romantic love at a time.  (No, people, I don't subscribe to the 'polyamory is actually fine and possible' belief.) 

It's actually natural and right and /in His image/ that IF there is suspicion that your romantic partner is wandering in their love to you, there be jealousy.  Thinking that there might be unfaithfulness is you being protective of your rights in that relationship.  It's not clingy or needy to notice that something might be wrong.

But sin enters in where we're all fallible humans.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes we'll think someone is wandering in their love and they aren't.  But we won't know that if it's not discussed.  The only surefire cures for jealousy are 100% honesty and then faith in the other person.  'Hey, wife, it feels like you're spending an awful lot of time with him.  Can we talk about this?  Can we spend more time together?'  'Hey, husband, I know you and she are friends from way back but that familiarity with her, that's making me uncomfortable.'

Sometimes, it really is an issue that needs to be changed and sometimes, after it's been discussed, you figure out it's not really an issue after all, but either way, it requires ABSOLUTE HONESTY.  And then having faith in the other person that when they say 'I really do love you more than anyone else in the world' and then DEMONSTRATE IT, that they mean it.  (And to clarify, yes, there are a lot of people who have a difficult time balancing emotions with reason or faith and belief in their partner, and hence do become ridiculously jealous and needy and clingy.  Also, there are plenty of people who say they love you but don't back it up with actions and yes, that's also a problem.)

In friendships, the issues become at once both simpler and more complicated.  We are not created to exclusively have one 'phileo' love- what we in Western cultures know as 'platonic love'.  We were created to spread that around.  Because of the way human personalities interact and intersect, people usually have 'levels' of friends.  Some people only have one friend period (I feel sorry for them).   Some have one best friend, others have five best friends.  Beyond those, they have close friends, then good friends, then friends, etc.  Friendships are not supposed to occupy the exact same place in our hearts that romantic relationships do.  They have their own place and yet they are no less important, and can be almost as deep as the relationship with your spouse.  But, although each of those phileo loves is unique, it's common for jealousy to exist in friendships, and it's not always a bad thing.

Firstly, it means that the friendship means enough to one or both of the participants for one of them to feel protective of their place in the other person's life or of the other person's place in their life.  Secondly, it means that they're observant enough to have noticed a change in the relationship and to feel concern over it.  As with romance, there is one way to handle it if you even want to try to fix it.  100% honesty.  'Hey, A, we don't spend as much time together as we used to, can we change that?'  "Hey, B, I feel like you're not talking to me as much about the important things in your life; why not?'

'Well, all this is fine and good', you say, 'but what about clinginess in either friendships or romantic relationships?  People do get awfully clingy sometimes.  Jealous girlfriend/boyfriend is a cliche for a reason.'
Yes, they do.  But.  Healthy jealousy is often mistaken for clinginess.  There is a difference and sometimes it's very hard to tell where the line is.  The New Oxford American dictionary defines clinginess in regards to relationships as: 'overly dependent on someone emotionally'.

Clinginess isn't saying 'hey, there is something unsatisfactorily different about our relationship now, is there something we can do about that?'- whether you're talking to your girlfriend, husband or friend.  Clinginess is calling someone a dozen times a day because you feel insecure about your relationship unless you are talking to them almost incessantly.  It's pitching fits about every little thing that your friend does without you.  It's constantly guilt tripping people with 'I thought we were friends; don't you like me anymore?'  It's freaking out when someone doesn't reply to your FB message within an hour.

In conclusion, sometimes jealousy isn't the green of envy; it's the green of an alive relationship realizing there might be something wrong that needs to be fixed, some dead growth to be pruned to keep the relationship healthy and growing.  100% honesty is not an absolute fix- sometimes it won't work for a variety of reasons- but it's the best starting point you can have.

May you have happy, healthy, honest relationships.

8 comments:

  1. AMEN! I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with all of this.

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  2. Truth as the base and the building materials, to keep the relationship on solid ground...very well said. <3

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  3. Well said! I never really thought about this before, but you're right.

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  4. I remember reading or hearing that jealous is "for" a person, like a spouse is jealous regarding attention to or unfaithfulness in the other spouse, and that this is in some level appropriate. And envy is "of" as in covetous of the talents and attentions others are receiving. I had thought the dictionary mixed the two, but I just looked it up and this is correct.

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    1. It seems you missed the entire point of the post.

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  5. Oh wow. Just...wow. This was SO deep and thought provoking. You made such amazing points. Jealousy CAN be healthy in certain relationships, when handled correctly. I have bookmarked this post because it's something I want to keep on hand! SUCH good thoughts!

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  6. It's true; in our culture (and particularly in Christian circles, it seems), we are taught that jealousy is a bad thing--a sin--and to avoid it. And yet, as you pointed out, God describes Himself as "a jealous God," only adding to the confusion. Your treatise clarifies this seeming paradox nicely.
    I love how you covered both sides of the coin on several points--that's what makes an article like this not only interesting, but...well, for lack of a better word...valid. It shows that you've thought this through and are aware of the variables in your subject. And that makes it easier to apply.

    Honesty--YES! And communication. Both are HUGE keys to maintaining healthy relationships...but often scary, as it means being vulnerable, and of course, Humans hate to be vulnerable (and then there are us hypersensitive, empathic folk who are so afraid of hurting people's feelings that we either pussyfoot around the issue...or just suck it up and let it fester. Ugh). More marriages--and friendships--could be saved if people would just be willing to be honest (but loving; "Speak the truth in love"), not get offended by others' honesty, and talk it out.

    Especially cool is the symbolism of the color green. Yes, we've been taught to associate green with envy/jealousy, but I love the analogy of it being the color of life and health in relationships.
    Bravo!

    God bless, my friend,
    ~R~

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