Jealousy Of Our Friends’ New Friends Can Be Good for Friendships, Says Research
Friendships are almost never monogamous. But, the presence of a new person or partner in a close friend’s life can bring up unpleasant emotions like jealousy or anger, which can make us feel guilty. Fortunately, there’s hope. Like friends insulting or roasting each other to keep each other humble, friendship jealousy is also a negative behavior that can have pro-social benefits. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms that feeling jealous can make people work harder at being a better friend.
Though an analysis of 11 studies, researchers explored what happened when people felt jealous that their close friends spent more time with new people. Feeling replaced or unwanted can seem like rejection, which is a painful experience. In an attempt to prevent potential rejection, people were likely to put in more effort to preserve that friendship by giving more affection and attention to their friends.
“Getting jealous can sometimes be a signal that a friendship is threatened, and this signal can help us jump into action to invest in a friendship that we might have been neglecting,” Athena Aktipis, study co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, said in a statement. These actions were split into two types — friend guarding (looking out for rivals, monopolizing the friend’s time, and making sure they don’t leave you) and friend retention (making each other laugh, not being insensitive). In one of the 11 studies, 330 participants responded that they were more likely to engage in friend guarding and retention behaviors if they believed their relationship with their friend was under threat due to another person.
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“Friend guarding [occurs] across cultures and also in non-human animals. Female wild horses are known to bite and kick other female horses,” added Keelah Williams, study co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College.
While friend retention behaviors are harmless, friend guarding behaviors may move into manipulative territory depending upon a person’s intentions. Giving excessive affection and attention to a target in order to preserve one’s friendship and taking it away as soon as jealousy fades is similar to a commonly known manipulation tactic called love-bombing. This sort of manipulation can make people at the receiving end feel unbalanced and anxious, rather than loved. Thus, it is important to be mindful of the way we seek to repair friendships, especially when jealousy is a motivator.