“Jealousy,” relates the Song of Solomon, “is cruel as the grave.” So Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld discovered several years ago when “the green-eyed monster” seized him, causing the breakup of first one relationship, then another, with women he had found “warm, loving…altogether wonderful.” While this was going on in his personal life, readers of his weekly column on sex, drugs and health, titled Dear Dr. Hip, began writing to ask how to deal with jealousy. After combing through the psychological literature and conducting more than 100 interviews with people of divergent backgrounds, Schoenfeld wrote Jealousy:
Taming the Green-Eyed Monster, published earlier this year by Holt, Rinehartand Winston. The son of a contractor, Schoenfeld grew up in the Bronx and Miami Beach. In 1961 he graduated from the University of Miami medical school, briefly studied parasitology at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Gabon and earned a master’s in public health from Yale. During the activist ’60s, Schoenfeld returned to his undergraduate alma mater, Berkeley, to work in the student health service and launch his newspaper column, which was later collected in book form as Dear Dr. Hip Pocrates. Also the author of Natural Foods and Unnatural Acts, Schoenfeld, 45, shares a Marin County house with Dr. Janet Bodle and their three children from prior marriages. Schoenfeld discussed his findings with Nancy Faber of PEOPLE.
What is jealousy?
It’s a mixture of emotions that can include anger, fear, grief and feelings of betrayal. We learn jealousy during infancy and childhood. It stems from a basic survival instinct.
To a baby, the mother is everything, the source of life itself. When something or someone else gets her attention, the infant feels as if life itself is being denied.That’s why, when adults experience jealousy, they are often thrown into a state of irrational fear, and are rendered helpless and grief-stricken.
Are there different kinds of jealousy?
There’s sibling jealousy; professional jealousy, which relates to competition on the job; time jealousy, resentment of the hours a loved one spends with a hobby or career; and, of course, sexual jealousy.
Is that the most prevalent kind?
Well, it’s the most difficult to cope with. I can tell you that from personal experience. When we are involved with someone, we know rationally that we can’t own him or her but emotionally we want to. When we perceive a threat to the bond it’s as if a piece of ourselves is being stolen.
What if there is no clear threat? Doesn’t jealousy often arise anyway?
Yes. Freud described three types of sexual jealousy. Normal jealousy is a response to a real threat. Delusional jealousy is usually seen only in psychotic people. They respond to totally unreal clues; for instance, they hear voices in the TV set telling them their partner is sleeping with the mailman. The third type is called projected jealousy. Let’s say a man would like to see other women, but he can’t admit it to himself. His inner duplicity leads him to suspect his woman, and he accuses her of doing what he himself dreams of doing. This kind of jealousy can often be directed at rivals who don’t even exist.
What do you mean?
A building contractor I know was exceedingly jealous of the men who worked with his wife, a woman who managed musical groups. One morning after she finished a phone call, he exploded, “All right, goddammit! Who the hell is this guy Art? You’ve been talking about him on the phone all week!” She replied, “Art who? I don’t know any Art.” He got even angrier: “You sure as hell do! Art Nevey, or Art Nova…” Finally, his wife shot back, “That’s art nouveau, you idiot!” Their marriage soon ended.
What else arouses jealousy in the absence of a real threat?
Insecurity, most of all. For instance, a couple goes to a party and one partner thinks the other is having too good a time. Blows to our self-esteem—loss of a job, poor health—or just general feelings of inadequacy make us more susceptible to jealousy.
Are women more susceptible than men?
I’d always heard that, but I found the opposite to be true. It takes more provocation to make a woman jealous.
The first love both sexes know comes from a woman—the mother. As a girl grows up, she identifies with the mother and incorporates the idea of becoming one herself. So while the prospect of losing a loved one is traumatic, a woman cannot lose that maternal feeling within herself. A man, though, must always find that love outside himself.
How often do jealous people spy on each other?
It’s very common. They start going through wastebaskets, checking phone bills for strange numbers, driving past a lover’s house to see what cars are parked there. Often they hire a professional. Private detectives tell me jealousy surveillance is the major part of their business.
Is violence unusual?
Four or five people I interviewed admitted they had smashed their lover’s car with their own car. Car revenge is not unusual. So is throwing dishes and ripping up clothing. A friend of mine once rented a chain saw and destroyed his lover’s furniture. This kind of thing is done by perfectly normal people.
Do you consider that a healthy outlet?
Of course not. Later these people look back and are properly ashamed of themselves. Today people want to be liberated; yet jealous feelings get in the way. People don’t like succumbing to such illogical emotions. They think they should have outgrown such feelings.
So liberation hasn’t reduced jealousy?
On the contrary, jealousy is on the rise. More women working outside the house, for instance, means more social situations and more opportunities for jealousy to arise.
What about communes?
People expect to transcend jealousy in communes by sharing. In some, even sexual sharing is specified. Yet that doesn’t solve the problem. People still tend to pair off and then become jealous for all the usual reasons.
And open marriages?
If one partner spends time away when the other wants to be together, or if only one of the partners has an outside involvement, then you’re right back to square one.
Did you find that any open marriages worked?
Only a few. Generally, both partners were involved with others at the same time and to the same degree. Also, the people had decided at the beginning of the relationship that they were going to be open sexually, and they had discussed openly together what kinds of things made them jealous. Just being open and honest doesn’t help if you start only after your partner feels betrayed.
What can you say about people who claim they never get jealous?
They are either very secure people in a very good relationship, and they truly have no cause for jealousy, or they are not able to get close to other people. If you don’t care deeply for others, then you won’t get jealous. Often, people who can’t get close to others have at some point experienced such painful jealousy that thereafter they guard themselves to an extreme. That’s fairly common.
How can you increase security in a relationship?
In their book, Group Marriage, Larry and Joan Constantine suggest that first the commitment each partner makes to the other should be increased. One partner must never feel the other will leave at the first sign of trouble. This lowers the threat of loss and often reduces the need for outside involvements. Second, regard your partner as unique and irreplaceable, not just as a role-filler.
What should you do to reassure an unreasonably jealous partner?
Sociologists Lynn Smith and Gordon Clanton advise sharing all the details of what you’re doing. If you think some activity might upset your partner, discuss it in advance, not afterward. You may want to agree that both partners should have one or more free nights a week. If you have freedom yourself, you may resent it less in your partner.
If you’ve become jealous, what is the recommended treatment ?
Apply the jealousy first-aid kit. It goes like this: 1) Admit you’re jealous and don’t feel guilty. 2) Escape. Take a short vacation. 3) Get a good night’s sleep. A massage or hot bath can also help. 4) Talk to someone sympathetic. 5) Put your emotions on paper. 6) Make an appointment with yourself to meditate on your feelings. Then they won’t be gnawing at you all the time. 7) Keep busy. 8) Read wise counsel, like the I Ching and Dr. Albert Schweitzer. 9) Laugh. Go to a funny movie. 10) Write these nine suggestions down and keep the list with you at all times.