Jealousy in Relationships
Most of us have experienced some degree of jealousy in our relationships.
Jealousy is, for the most part, a normal emotion that in small doses can serve a couple but when out of control can easily ruin a relationship. Healthy jealousy serves to help keep lines of communication open… For example, one partner can become jealous of the other partner if he/she likes to flirt at social functions. The flirtatious partner may enjoy the attention of others but not realize that they are making their partner very uncomfortable and embarrassed. The flirtatious partner may also not realize that they are sending mixed signals to others that may mistakenly be misinterpreted as interest… The partner who is becoming jealous could very appropriately be having alarms go off that tell them there may be a real danger of their partner getting themselves into an awkward situation.
The partner experiencing jealousy may suggest a little private talk to discuss their uncomfortable feelings and request that their partner be more aware of the impact they are having on both them but possibly the others they are flirting with. In this example, the partner who is experiencing jealousy does not attempt to control their partner but puts more emphasis on how they are feeling. The request could be a simple one such as "could you spend a little more time with me at these functions as I am feeling awkward by myself" or "I get feeling a bit insecure when you let other girls sit on your lap,". In the case of normal or healthy jealousy, jealousy does not permeate the relationship and is likely not part of a regular discussion or source of arguments. Neither of the couple is highly reactive to jealousy and both can hear feedback from the other if the conversation is about one partner's jealousy feelings.
With unhealthy jealousy, the opposite is the case.
The couple has frequent arguments about incidents where one or both partners were jealous, there is a good deal of mutual attacking /blaming, and unresolved hurt feelings that occur during and after a jealousy incident. At its core, the person with a high degree of jealousy fears being abandoned or rejected by someone else. The fear of being abandoned creates a high degree of suspicion (usually unfounded) that their partner will find someone else more desirable. The outcome is that the highly jealous person reads too much into a gesture or conversation that their spouse is having with another. For example if one partner puts his/her arm around someone at a party the highly jealous partner may assume that their partner is trying to be sexual with that person or that they have a crush on that person and are just waiting for a chance to be with them and will easily be led astray to do so.
Sometimes the highly jealous partner cloaks their jealousy by saying "it is not you that I am concerned about its that other woman but at its core, the very jealous partner still believes that they will be rejected by their partner for someone else more desirable than they are. The highly jealous partner may corner their partner either at the party or later accusing them of being attracted to whomever and making a spectacle of themselves. Comments may follow such as "it was pretty obvious to me and to anyone looking that you wanted to have sex with that guy. I'm sure if I wasn't there you would have". There are two elements that are common of highly jealous partners; a fear of rejection relating to beliefs that one isn't good enough, attractive enough, smart enough etc coupled with an attack style that just about always invites a defensive position from the other partner. Both of these elements keep the discussions around jealousy circular and predictable.
With extreme jealousy, I try to have both partners use the 80/20 guideline that says that the partner with the high degree of jealousy is about 80% responsible to manage themselves and their partner about 20% responsible to help out or at least not make the situation worse. So for the extremely jealous partner that means that they need to more closely examine some of their somewhat catastrophic beliefs that run their jealousy and be more conscious of managing these beliefs in a healthier way. In other words, they are invited to stop putting all of the emphasis on their partner to make them feel more secure and more emphasis on themselves to feel better/more confident when jealousy strikes. For the very jealous partner that often means spending some time in counselling examining their self-doubting beliefs and learning how to manage/minimize these beliefs.
For the other partner, I may encourage to be more aware of when they may be triggering their partner and in general try to be more supportive in social situations. For example, the other partner may be encouraged to present more as a couple at a social function by standing together a bit more or maybe putting their arm around their partner occasionally. The other partner can also try to be more empathetic when their partner is in jealousy mode and offer some support (the 20% guideline says you are not responsible for your partner's feelings but you can at least be supportive and not throw fuel on the fire by cross accusations or belittling the jealous partner.
How Marriage Counselling Can Help
Jealousy can sometimes be difficult to manage in a relationship. In many situations, even two or three sessions with a professional marriage counselor can dramatically improve your situation.
Understanding new strategies for improving communication between partners and using better conflict resolution techniques can make a significant difference in a short period of time.