One of the most positive aspects of being in a committed relationship is feeling secure in your partner’s love. It’s wonderful to know that we are desired and valued for whom we truly are – and that our bond is strong because of the love we give our partners in return.
Still, we’re only human, and there will be moments when our commitment is tested. In the life of every married couple, feelings of jealousy and competition will sometimes arise. The trigger may be as simple as the reappearance of a past romantic partner or a late-night work session with an attractive colleague. Or it may be part of a more persistent pattern in the relationship that signals the breakdown of trust between the two of you.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to deal with jealousy in an open, honest manner as soon as it arises. In fact, marriage therapists say that the health of your relationship depends on it.
AN EVERYDAY EMOTION THAT CAN ATTACK YOUR MARRIAGE
Jealousy often takes hold when we’re fearful of losing a relationship that we value. It’s one of the most common emotions we experience as humans – yet if we ignore it, this feeling can destroy the foundation of almost any relationship.
Jealousy can lead to worried, mistrustful, even neurotic behaviors such as spying on a spouse’s private emails or texts. It hits men and women with equal force and, unfortunately, it doesn’t always diminish with age.
In one study of couples that had been together 25 years or more, a marriage expert found that virtually none of the spouses who described themselves as happy were worried about their partners being attracted to other people. However, 1 in 5 of the unhappy couples said they felt worried or mistrustful of their partners at least some of the time.
UNDERSTANDING THE TWO FORMS OF ENVY
Most of us are familiar with reactive jealousy, which is a response to something that poses an actual threat to the relationship (such as a friend or business associate that shows active interest in your partner).
A different and equally dangerous form is suspicious jealousy, in which one or both of you feel distrust or worry that doesn’t line up with reality.
It’s important to note the difference here. Couples counselors emphasize that virtually every spouse will feel reactive jealousy when a partner flirts or, worse yet, cheats. But partners differ widely when it comes to the level of suspicion they feel.
Please note that suspicious jealousy is NOT the same as feeling neglected, mistreated or misunderstood, though these issues can definitely fan the flames. However, suspicious jealousy may flourish even when your partner hasn’t misbehaved and your partnership is not actually at risk. Its main source is insecurity that may stem from childhood events or past relationships that ended in betrayal.
Suspicious jealousy can also be fostered by body image issues, no longer feeling loved or needed as the marriage progresses, or feeling overly dependent on the other as a source of meaning and life satisfaction.
DEALING WITH SUSPICION: HOW SPOUSES CAN SUPPORT EACH OTHER
Be honest and listen carefully. Begin with a heart-to-heart talk. Discuss the issue directly and be sensitive to your partner’s response. If you’re the worried partner, consider whether your fears are causing you to make something out of nothing. Your partner should take a hard look at innocent behaviors that could trigger jealousy, such as talking at great lengths to other men or women at parties or special events.
Keep in mind that it’s crucial NOT to dismiss or criticize a partner’s jealous feelings. Jealousy makes us feel vulnerable and out of control, and no one is immune to it. Compassion and reassurance, not defensiveness, will help to reaffirm trust.
Foster self-confidence in the jealous partner. It’s vital for the partner who feels jealous to recognize that his or her feelings may have absolutely nothing to do with the other partner’s behaviors. Each spouse must bring a strong sense of the unique qualities s/he brings to the marriage. Spending time with people and activities that affirm personal self-worth is a great place to start.
Build mutual independence. Jealousy can take over when one or both partners are too dependent on the marriage. This is especially likely to happen when the loss of a marriage would dramatically change the economic or social status of either spouse. Viewing themselves and one another as strong, independent beings is crucial for married partners. The less each one’s identity is tied to the other, the less room there is for fear and jealousy to creep in. Couples can begin by affirming that they are equal partners – a pair of individuals who find deep worth in one another and want to make their relationship work.
Work with a qualified couples therapist. Reactive jealousy may seem like a simple issue to resolve. But some expressions of jealousy, such as those that lead to stalking or electronic snooping, are a sign of much bigger issues. One or both partners may be suffering from the sense that they are unlovable or worthless. An experienced marriage counselor can make it safe for both parties to open up and discuss these hidden feelings, which is the first step toward healing.
STRUGGLING WITH JEALOUSY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP? JANAE MUNDAY CAN HELP
Working with a professional marriage counselor can help you clarify and overcome feelings of envy that may threaten your relationship. Janae Munday, LCSW, has worked with hundreds of Phoenix-area couples to resolve a wide range of intimate issues. To schedule an appointment, get in touch with Janae today.