All feelings are acceptable; but some of the behaviors that follow from them are not. Some feelings are more likely to lead to behaviors that are wrong, unjust, or cause others pain. Jealousy is one of them.
Jealousy is a natural emotion that we find in many cultures. But there are some cultures in which jealousy is less typical. Do you know the difference between envy and jealousy? Envy typically means that you wish you had something someone else has. Jealousy is usually a feeling people get when they feel they are about to lose someone precious to them. Psychologists talk about how jealousy is “activated” in seeing a partner with someone else who you feel may be superior to you in some way or from seeing a partner talk, flirt, or simply hang out with someone. Both insecurity and fear of loss are at the bottom of jealousy. Also, a lack of trust. Sometimes that lack of trust might be unfounded, and sometimes it comes from being hurt in the past, by a partner or from someone else.
Think about a time when you felt super jealous. This example doesn’t have to include a partner.
What was happening?
What were you insecure about in terms of yourself?
What events in your past might have had an impact on your feelings (e.g., your parents’ divorce, a partner has cheated on you, etc.)?
What did you do about your feelings of jealousy?
If you chose a violent or unethical action, did it really make you feel better?
Well, what DID you do about it? Probably you did nothing, but if you did something, was there a good outcome? Jealousy feels bad, and so people try to get rid of that feeling or find a way to feel superiority or power in a relationship. People can get accusatory, angry, and make a partner “pay” for making them feel that way, even when a partner wasn’t doing anything suspicious at all.
Activity: Look at the chart below, and think about good and bad actions that can come from your jealousy. Which actions might best resolve your feelings of jealousy?
This arrow represents the way in which you process your feelings of jealousy. Do you make yourself upset by thinking about these feelings over and over again? Or could you process the feelings and choose an action that might help you feel better?
ACTIVITY: What Jealousy Makes Us Do
Read the following actions that a person might do in response to feelings of jealousy. Is the act ethical or unethical? Is it justified? Justified but unethical? Explain.
|Act||Ethical or not?||Is it justified?||Justified but unethical?|
|You ask friends to watch your boyfriend/girlfriend at a party you won’t be attending|
|You read his/her emails (because you know the password)|
|You find out that he/she cheated and you beat up the third person|
|You confront your partner with a list of accusations|
|You check your partner’s facebook wall|
|You drive by your partner’s house to see what time he/she gets home|
|You ask your partner’s friend about his/her behavior|
|You act cold and aloof to your partner when you think he or she has been flirting with someone else|
|You flirt with someone else to make him or her jealous|
|You check his/her call log|
|You get revenge by scratching his/her car|
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
A guy has been coming on to your girlfriend regularly at school. She’s at a party and you’re not…and she makes out with this guy. You hear about it on Facebook before school on Monday. You confront your girlfriend, and she is very very sorry and says it didn’t mean anything. She says she doesn’t know why she did it and that she doesn’t even really like him.
How would you feel in this situation? Whom do you blame most? Assign a percentage of blame to each of the people in the situations below.
|In the situation described above?|
|If she had been drinking?|
|If this other guy was your best friend?|
|If he was your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend?|
|If this was a same-sex couple?|
|If you had just started going out a few weeks ago?|
|If you had been dating for four years?|
(Important: Teachers need to have students read through these hypothetical situations and have the students let them know if any of them should not be discussed in class due to sensitive issues.)
PSYCHOLOGY OF JEALOUSY
Psychologist David Buss (2000) did research that looked at what made people more jealous: imagining their partner in love with another person or imagining their partner having sex with another person. He found that the majority of men who answered his questionnaire were more upset by imagining their partner having sex with another person and the majority of women were more upset by imagining their partner in love with another person.
List all the reasons why this might be true and beware of gender stereotypes!!!
His explanation is that the roots of jealousy are evolutionary – that women need to keep a man close to them to help provide for them, and men need to keep a woman close in order to make sure their DNA gets into the babies made! Well, that sounds like a gender stereotype to us! Perhaps sex means something different to men, something more meaningful and akin to what love means for women? Perhaps it’s harder for them to imagine the falling in love part? Perhaps they feel more possessive? Isn’t there something about jealousy that treats the other person like an object in your possession?
If jealousy is akin to treating someone like an object, or your possession, then would it be more moral to permit freedom in a relationship? Freedom for your girlfriend or boyfriend to do whatever they want with other people? How does that sound to you? We imagine that for most of you, that doesn’t sound so hot.
JEALOUSY AND ADULTERY
Where do our ideas come from that one must be loyal to one’s boyfriend or girlfriend? Why monogamy? Why is two-timing or adultery immoral?
ACTIVITY: Reading and Discussion
Read the following selection by Bonnie Steinbeck (1986) and then discuss the questions below.
WHEN ADULTERY CONFLICTS WITH A MORAL IDEAL
Bonnie Steinbock poses the question of whether there is rational justification for disapproving of adultery that holds for everyone and answers in the affirmative. However, she does not base her view on the assumption that the prohibition of adultery is a moral rule; in fact, she claims that adultery is a private matter. Still, it is in the moral domain, not as a moral rule, but rather as a moral ideal. Agreeing with Wasserstrom (1984) that open marriages are not immoral, she defends marital fidelity on a Romeo and Juliet model of “true love”—a valued ideal of what marriage should be, an ideal in which one chooses to forgo pleasures with other partners in order to achieve a unique relationship with one’s beloved.
Adultery falls within the domain of morality insofar as it relates to a view of a good way for people to live. The prohibition of adultery is neither a moral absolute (there can be extramarital sex without betrayal) nor binding on all rational agents. Steinbock defends the value of fidelity on a particular ideal of married love that depends on what it means to love someone deeply and completely.
From QQ: Report from the Center for Philosophy and Public Policy 6, no. 1 (Winter 1986): 12-14. Reprinted with permission of the author.
According to a 1980 survey in Cosmopolitan, 54 percent of American wives have had extramarital affairs; a study of 100,000 married women by the considerably tamer Redbook magazine found that 40 percent of the wives over 40 had been unfaithful. While such surveys are, to some extent, self-selecting—those who do it are more likely to fill out questionnaires about it—sexual mores have clearly changed in recent years. Linda Wolfe, who reported the results of the Cosmopolitan survey, suggests that “this increase in infidelity among married women represents not so much a deviation from traditional standards of fidelity as a break with the old double standard.” Studies show that men have always strayed in significant numbers.
Yet 80 percent of “COSMO girls” did not approve of infidelity and wished their own husbands and lovers would be faithful. Eighty-eight percent of respondents to a poll taken in Iowa in 1983 viewed “coveting your neighbor’s spouse” as a “major sin.” It seems that while almost nobody approves of adultery, men have always done it, and women are catching up.
The increase in female adultery doubtless has to do with recent and radical changes in our attitudes toward sex and sexuality. We no longer feel guilty about enjoying sex; indeed, the capacity for sexual enjoyment is often regarded as a criterion of mental health. When sex itself is no long intrinsically shameful, restraints on sexual behavior are loosened. In fact, we might question whether the abiding disapproval of infidelity merely gives lip service to an ancient taboo. Is there a rational justification for disapproving of adultery which will carry force with everyone, religious and non-religious alike?
Trust and Deception
Note first that adultery, unlike murder, theft, and lying, is not universally forbidden. Traditional Eskimo culture, for example, regarded sharing one’s wife with a visitor as a matter of courtesy. The difference can be explained by looking at the effects of these practices on social cohesiveness. Without rules protecting the lives, persons, and property of its members, no group could long endure. Indeed, rules against killing, assault, lying, and stealing seem fundamental to having a morality at all.
Not so with adultery. For adultery is a private matter, essentially concerning only the relationship between husband and wife. It is not essential to morality like these other prohibitions: there are stable societies with genuine moral codes which tolerate extra-marital sex. Although adultery remains a criminal offense in some jurisdictions, it is rarely prosecuted. Surely this is because it is widely regarded as a private matter: in the words of Billie Holiday, “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.”
However, even if adultery is a private matter, with which the state should not interfere, it is not a morally neutral issue. Our view of adultery is connected to our thoughts and feelings about love and marriage, sex and the family, the value of fidelity, sexual jealousy, and exclusivity. How we think about adultery will affect the quality of our relationships, the way we raise our children, the kind of society we have and want to have. So it is important to consider whether our attitudes toward adultery are justifiable.
Several practical considerations militate against adultery: pregnancy and genital herpes immediately spring to mind. However, unwanted pregnancies are a risk of all sexual intercourse, within or without marriage; venereal disease is a risk of all non-exclusive sex, not just adulterous sex. So these risks do not provide a reason for objecting specifically to adultery. In any event, they offer merely pragmatic, as opposed to moral, objections. If adultery is wrong, it does not become less so because one has been sterilized or inoculated against venereal disease.
Two main reasons support regarding adultery as seriously immoral. One is that adultery is an instance of promise-breaking, on the view that marriage involves, explicitly or implicitly, a promise of sexual fidelity: to forsake all others. That there is this attitude in our culture is clear. Mick Jagger, not noted for sexual Puritanism, allegedly refused to marry Jerry Hall, the mother of his baby, because he had no intention of accepting an exclusive sexual relationship. While Jagger’s willingness to become an unwed father is hardly mainstream morality, his refusal to marry, knowing that he did not wish to be faithful, respects the idea that marriage requires such a commitment. Moreover, the promise of sexual fidelity is regarded as a very serious and important one. To cheat on one’s spouse indicates a lack of concern, a willingness to cause pain, and so a lack of love. Finally, one who breaks promises cannot be trusted. And trust is essential to the intimate partnership of marriage, which may be irreparably weakened by its betrayal.
The second reason for regarding adultery as immoral is that it involves deception, for example, lying about one’s whereabouts and relations with others. Perhaps a marriage can withstand the occasional lie, but a pattern of lying will have irrevocable consequences for a marriage, if discovered, and probably even if not. Like breaking promises, lying is regarded as a fundamental kind of wrong-doing, a failure to take the one lied to seriously as a moral person entitled to respect.
These two arguments suffice to make most cases of adultery wrong, given the attitudes and expectations of most people. But what if marriage did not involve any promise of sexual fidelity? What if there were no need for deception, because neither partner expected or wanted such fidelity? Objections to “open marriage” cannot focus on promise-breaking and deception, for the expectation of exclusivity is absent. If an open marriage has been freely chosen by both spouses, and not imposed by a dominant on a dependent partner, would such an arrangement be morally acceptable, even desirable?
The attractiveness of extramarital affairs, without dishonesty, disloyalty, or guilt, should not be downplayed. However satisfying sex between married people may be, it cannot have the excitement of a new relationship. (“Not better, a friend once said defensively to his wife, attempting to explain his infidelity, “just different.”) Might we not be better off, our lives fuller and richer, if we allowed ourselves the thrill of new and different sexual encounters?
Perhaps the expectations of sexual exclusivity in marriage stems from emotions which are not admirable: jealous and possessiveness. That most people experience these feelings is no reason for applauding or institutionalizing them. Independence in marriage is now generally regarded as a good thing: too much “togetherness” is boring and stifling. In a good marriage, the partners can enjoy different activities, travel apart, and have separate friends. What draw the line at sexual activity?
The natural response to this question invokes a certain conception of love and sex: sex is an expression of affection and intimacy and so should be reserved for people who love each other. Further, it is assumed that one can and should have such feelings for only one other person at any time. To make love with someone else is to express feelings of affection and intimacy that should be reserved for one’s spouse alone. This rejection of adultery assumes the validity of a particular conception of love and sex, which can be attacked in two ways. We might divorce sex from love and regard sex as a pleasurable activity in its own right, comparable to the enjoyment of a good meal. In his article “Is Adultery Immoral?” Richard Wasserstrom suggests that the linkage of sex with love reflects a belief that unless it is purifies by a higher emotion, such as love, sex is intrinsically bad or dirt.
But this is an overly simplistic view of the connection between sex and love. Feelings of love occur between people enjoying sexual intercourse, not out of a sense that sexual pleasure must be purifies, but precisely because of the mutual pleasure they give one another. People naturally have feelings of affection for those who make them happy. At the same time, sex is by its nature intimate, involving both physical and psychological exposure. This both requires and creates trust, which is closely allied to feelings of affection and love. This is not to say that sex necessarily requires or leads to love; but a conception of the relation between love and sex that ignores these factors is inadequate and superficial.
Alternatively, one might acknowledge the connection between sex and love, but attack the assumption of exclusivity. If parents can love all their children equally and if adults can have numerous close friends, why should it be impossible to love more than one sexual partner at a time? Perhaps we could learn to love more widely and to accept that a spouse’s sexual involvement with another is not a sign of rejection or lack of love.
The logistics of multiple involvement are certainly daunting. Having an affair (as opposed to a roll in the hay) requires time and concentration; it will almost inevitably mean neglecting one’s spouse, one’s children, one’s work. More important, however, exclusivity seems to be an intrinsic part of “true love.” Imagine Romeo pouring out his heart to both Juliet and Rosalind! In our ideal of romantic love, one chooses to forgo pleasure with other partners in order to have a unique relationship with one’s beloved. Such “renunciation” is natural in the first throes of romantic love; it is precisely because this stage does not last that we must promise to be faithful through the notoriously unromantic realities of married life.
Fidelity As an Ideal
On the view I have been defending, genuinely open marriages are not immoral, although they deviate from a valued ideal of what marriage should be. While this is not the only ideal, or incumbent on all rational agents, it is a moral view in that it embodies a claim about a good way for people to live. The prohibition of adultery, then, is neither arbitrary nor irrational. However, even if we are justified in accepting the ideal of fidelity, we know that people do not always live up to the ideals they accept and we recognize that some failures to do so are worse than others. We regard a brief affair, occasioned by a prolonged separation, as morally different from installing a mistress.
Further, sexual activity is not necessary for deviation from the ideal of marriage which lies behind the demand for fidelity. As John Heckler observed during his bitter and public divorce from former Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, “In marriage, there are two partners. When one person starts contributing far less than the other person to the marriage, that’s the original infidelity. You don’t need any third party.” While this statement was probably a justification of his own infidelities, the point is valid. To abandon one’s spouse, whether to a career or to another person, is also a kind of betrayal.
If a man becomes deeply involved emotionally with another woman, it may be little comfort that he is able to assure his wife that “Nothing happened.” Sexual infidelity has significance as a sign of a deeper betrayal-falling in love with someone else. It may be objected that we cannot control the way we feel, only the way we behave; that we should not be blamed for falling in love, but only for acting on the feeling. While we may not have direct control over our feelings, however, we are responsible for getting ourselves into situations in which certain feelings naturally arise. “It just happened,” is rarely an accurate portrayal of an extramarital love affair.
If there can be betrayal without sex, can there be sex without betrayal? In the novel Forfeit, by Dick Francis, the hero is deeply in love with his wife, who is paralyzed by polio in the early days of their marriage. Her great unspoken fear is that he will leave her; instead, he tends to her devotedly. For several years, he forgoes sex, but eventually succumbs to an affair. While his adultery is hardly praiseworthy, it is understandable. He could divorce his wife and marry again, but it is precisely his refusal to abandon her, his continuing love and tender care, that makes us admire him.
People do fall in love with others and out of love with their spouses. Ought they refrain from making love while still legally tied? I cannot see much, if any, moral values in remaining physically faithful, on principle, to a spouse one no longer loves. This will displease those who regard the wrongness of adultery as a moral absolute, but my account has nothing to do with absolutes and everything to do with what it means to love someone deeply and completely. It is the value of that sort of relationship that makes sexual fidelity an ideal worth the sacrifice.
Neither a mere religiously based taboo, nor a relic of a repressive view of sexuality, the prohibition against adultery expresses a particular conception of married love. It is one we can honor in our own lives and bequeath to our children with confidence in its value as a coherent and rational ideal.
1. In the following passage, Steinbock discusses Mick Jagger’s long-term relationship with Jerry Hall:
“Two main reasons support regarding adultery as seriously immoral. One is that adultery is an instance of promise-breaking, on the view that marriage involves, explicitly or implicitly, a promise of sexual fidelity: to forsake all others. That there is this attitude in our culture is clear. Mick Jagger, not noted for sexual Puritanism, allegedly refused to marry Jerry Hall, the mother of his baby, because he had no intention of accepting an exclusive sexual relationship. While Jagger’s willingness to become an unwed father is hardly mainstream morality, his refusal to marry, knowing that he did not wish to be faithful, respects the idea that marriage requires such a commitment. Moreover, the promise of sexual fidelity is regarded as a very serious and important one. To cheat on one’s spouse indicates a lack of concern, a willingness to cause pain, and so a lack of love. Finally, one who breaks promises cannot be trusted. And trust is essential to the intimate partnership of marriage, which may be irreparably weakened by its betrayal.”
Do you agree with Jagger’s perspective on marriage? What do you think about the fact that they have children together?
2. Steinbock states:
“The second reason for regarding adultery as immoral is that it involves deception, for example, lying about one’s whereabouts and relations with others. Perhaps a marriage can withstand the occasional lie, but a pattern of lying will have irrevocable consequences for a marriage, if discovered, and probably even if not. Like breaking promises, lying is regarded as a fundamental kind of wrong-doing, a failure to take the one lied to seriously as a moral person entitled to respect.”
Do you think it is always ethical to admit cheating right away so there is no deception?
3. Steinbock notes, “People naturally have feelings of affection for those who make them happy, and sex is a very good way of making someone extraordinarily happy. At the same time, sex is by nature intimate, involving both physical and psychological exposure.”
Do you agree with this quote? Is that the reason why cheating is bad?
4. “While we may not have direct control over our feelings, however, we are responsible for getting ourselves into situations in which certain feelings naturally arise. ‘It just happened,’ is rarely an accurate portrayal of an extramarital love affair.”
Thinking about the quote above, what actions or behaviors do you think lead to infidelity? What are the “little infidelities” that might lead up to someone falling in love with someone else?
Buss, D. M. (2000). The dangerous passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex. New York, NY: Free Press.
Steinbock, B. (1986). Adultery. From QQ: Report from the center for philosophy and public policy, 6(1), 12-14.
Wasserstrom, R. (1984). Is adultery immoral? In R. Baker & F. Elliston (Eds.), Philosophy and sex (pp.93-106). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.