Is your spouse unreasonably jealous? Or are you the one in the marriage that feels jealous when your spouse focuses on other people or interests? Whoever is the one that exhibits this behavior, jealousy is a toxic emotion that, when carried too far, can destroy a marriage.
Contrary to what media portrays in romantic movies, jealousy is not love. Jealousy stems from insecurity. The jealous spouse does not feel they are “enough” for their partner. Their low self-esteem makes them perceive other people as threats to the relationship.They, in turn, try to control the partner by preventing them from having any outside friendships or hobbies. This is not a healthy behavior and will doom the marriage eventually.
Jealousy starts early in childhood. It is observed among siblings when we call it “sibling rivalry.” At that age, children compete for the attention of their parents. When a child thinks that they aren’t getting exclusive love, the jealous feelings begin. Most of the time this irrational perception goes away as the child develops and gains a healthy level of self-esteem. But sometimes, it persists, and the green-eyed monster continues to grow, ultimately transferring over to love relationships when the person starts dating.
What is the basis of jealousy?
It all begins with poor self-esteem. The jealous person does not feel a sense of innate worth.
A jealous spouse might harbor unrealistic expectations about marriage. She might have grown up on the fantasy of marriage, thinking wedded life would be like she saw in magazines and movies. She might think that “Forsake all others” includes friendships and hobbies, too. Her expectations about what a relationship is are not grounded in reality. She doesn’t understand that it is good for a marriage for each spouse to have their own outside interests.
The jealous spouse feels a sense of ownership and possessiveness towards their partner and refuses to allow the partner free agency for fear that that freedom will allow them to find “someone better.”
Unresolved childhood issues
The jealous spouse may have unresolved early-childhood issues of sibling rivalry or have had a bad experience in a previous relationship with infidelity or dishonesty. They think that by remaining alert (jealous) they can prevent the situation from repeating itself. They don’t realize that this irrational behavior is toxic to the relationship and can result in driving the spouse away, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The jealous pathology actually creates the very situation that the afflicted person is trying to avoid.
A small amount of jealousy is normal; most people state that they feel a twinge of jealousy when their partner talks about an old love or maintains innocent friendships with members of the opposite sex. But excessive jealousy is abnormal and can even lead to dangerous behavior such as that displayed by O.J. Simpson or Oscar Pistorius. Fortunately, that type of pathological jealousy is rare.
The jealous spouse is not merely jealous of their partner’s friendships. The object of jealousy can be time spent at work, or indulging in a weekend hobby or sport. It is basically any situation where the jealous person cannot control the circumstances and therefore feels threatened. Yes, it is irrational. And it is very damaging, as the spouse can do little to reassure the jealous mate that there is no threat “there.”
How jealousy damages a marriage
Too much jealousy will wear down even the best of marriages, as it permeates all aspects of the relationship.
The jealous partner requires constant reassurance that the imagined threat is not real.
The jealous partner may resort to sneaky behaviors, such as installing a key-logger on the spouse’s keyboard, hacking their email account, going through their phone and reading text messages, or following them to see where they are “really” going. They may denigrate the partner’s friends, family or work associates. These behaviors have no place in a healthy relationship.
The non-jealous spouse finds themselves in a continual state of defensiveness, having to account for every move made when not with their spouse.
Can jealousy be unlearned?
It is possible to overcome jealous feelings but it takes a lot of time and effort. If your marriage is at stake, it is worth entering into counseling to help untangle the roots of jealousy. Typical areas that your therapist will have you work on include:
- Recognizing that the jealousy is damaging your marriage
- Admitting that the jealous behavior is not based on anything factual actually occurring in the marriage
- Relinquishing the need to control your spouse
- Stopping all spying and surveillance behavior
- Rebuilding your sense of self-worth, through self-care and therapeutic exercises designed to teach you that you are safe, loved and worthy
So whether it is you who is experiencing an abnormal level of jealousy in the marriage, or it is your spouse, it is recommended that you seek help if you want to save the marriage. Even if you sense that the marriage is beyond saving, getting therapy would be a good idea so that roots of this negative behavior can be examined and treated, and any future relationships you may have can be healthy ones.