April 01, 2011

Understanding and Coping with Jealousy in Marriage

Understanding and Coping with Jealousy in Marriage

Romantic jealousy is a very common problem in troubled marriages. But it also can be a can
be a painful issue even in the best relationships. Ironically, we have mixed feelings about jealousy.
Some think that it is a sign of love. Others believe that jealousy is a sign of immaturity. Today we
are going to look at normal jealousy, clear up some misconceptions and offer some suggestions
for dealing with it .

What is jealousy ?

Psychologically, jealousy is an emotionally intense envy and worry over a rival. Jealousy involves
fears of losing: a competition, a relationship and of self respect.

Why are we jealous ?

In general jealousy happens because humans by nature are insecure. We compare ourselves to
others and feel inadequate. We worry that we that someone else is better and thus our partner will
prefer him/her over us. Most feelings of insecurity stem from frustrations and losses in childhood
which have carried over into adulthood. It is interesting to note that men are more insecure about
sex while women worry more about emotional closeness. For most people ,jealousy, like insecurity,
is something that can be reduced but not completely eliminated. It is not something one outgrows.

What triggers a jealous reaction ?

In addition to obvious things, jealousy can be triggered by behaviors that are in a gray area , i.e.
those things which are not serious breaches of trust but are acts which are inconsiderate or
insensitive to the partner's feelings. At other times jealousy comes from the mere appearance of
impropriety.   Jealousy problems in marriage are usually the result of a combination of minor misconduct on
one side and emotional insecurity on the other.

The Prerequisites of Dealing with Jealousy - Understand Don't Blame : A willingness to

Identify the source (s). The first step in dealing with jealousy is a mutual self examination. It needs
to be determined how much of the jealous reaction comes from inconsiderate behavior and how
much come from emotional insecurity? Here are some questions:
1) Is there any behavior going on that my mother would find inappropriate? ?                                                                                                                                                                2) Is there any part of my assumptions, expectations or reaction which is inaccurate, unrealistic or exaggerated?

Take Individual Responsibility In most cases it "takes two to tango". ( Neither side is entirely at fault)
Each partner must reality-test his/her behavior and thought process and take responsibility for
his/her part of the problem, e.g. admit when you acted in an insensitive way or when you lost it for
no good reason.

Be Pro-active in Framing Jealousy as a Problem to be Solved. Once you understand jealousy,
you realize that it is not an curable problem nor is it, necessarily, a sign of a bad marriage. Jealousy
is just another one of the normal challenges (just like money, in- laws, control, sex etc.) with which
all couples must learn to deal Couples who struggle with jealousy need to accept that it as a normal
problem and learn the skills to deal with it. When properly framed couples are able to approach it
pro-actively rather than avoid it, i.e. don't wait until the next crisis arises, plan ahead how you want
address the issue.

Specific Tips for Reducing Jealousy in your Marriage

  • Frequently renew your commitment to fidelity and mutual consideration regularly.
  • Discuss your expectations regarding behaviors involving the opposite sex. 
  • Examine daily routines and reduce areas of access and opportunity for misbehavior .
  • Make re-assuring gestures frequently to remind one another of your love and commitment.
  • Know your personal history regarding jealousy and rejection and work to improve your self-esteem and appreciation of your own uniqueness and self value . 
  • Agree on a reasonable ways to discuss jealous feelings and worries when they arise.

In more complex situations, where changing behaviors or understanding insecurities don't seem to help, professional help may be needed to get to the underlying cause.

While jealousy is a common and painful problem for many marriages, there is hope for taming the "green eyed monster". While jealousy is not, in and of itself, a good thing it can be a warning sign that a problem is present which shouldn't be ignored. In fact, the self and relational examinations which result from dealing with the jealousy can lead to real growth in understanding and intimacy in the marriage.

It is clear, that, as humans, we are, because of our nature and history, insecure and thus jealousy is never completely "outgrown." Nonetheless, much can be done to prevent jealousy from over-shadowing the strengths and joys of your marriage.


These remarks were prepared by the Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC for Bridge Street 4 1 2011

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