“I still remember him saying that he thought that another woman was more attractive than me.” “That guy couldn’t keep his eyes off of you. Didn’t you notice?!”
You may have had or heard similar thoughts about your husband or wife. These kinds of thoughts are a normal part of relationships, but they are potentially very harmful and difficult to deal with. Mostly these thoughts are motivated by the fear that you will leave the person or that they will leave you.
Your commitment to stay together is not about how attractive you are or how smart or funny. It is about your promise to be together in relationship. Sticking to this promise takes openness and a willingness to share your fears.
Whichever one of you is the most jealous, it is important that you take on the issue and your fears together as a couple. The worst thing you can do is attack or blame the other person, as with the couple described here:
In Bill and Mary’s marriage, he felt suspicious of his wife from the beginning. He would often check her Facebook messages, and when he suspected something, he would interrogate her about it. He did this by questioning her relentlessly and accusing her of lying. This behavior would make her more defensive and increase the tension between them.
Mary became afraid to tell him anything about her contacts with other men, out of fear of his reaction. His anger would create more conflict. To avoid it, she kept secrets. Both behaviors were harmful to their partners. They were at an impasse until they went for help in couples therapy.
Here are some of the things that they were instructed to do that helped them:
1. Slow down and stop talking until you can agree to work together on the issue. You may think, as most people do, that “communication is our problem,” but sometimes communicating will make the problem worse by adding fuel to the fire. This is particularly true with an emotion as volatile as jealousy. Step back and make an agreement to take the time to deal with it productively as a powerful team. Plan a specific time to work on the issue over the next few days.
2. Reestablish yourselves as a committed couple and team with a powerful vision for your relationship. Restate and reassure each other of your commitment to your marriage. Repeat it together as a couple “mantra” or pledge to each other.
3. Acknowledge each other for something the other has done for you or your partnership. For example, “I appreciate your taking the time to talk about this with me.” Acknowledgments go a long way to creating an opening for communicating and understanding.
4. Create some clues or keywords to use to alert each other when you are feeling vulnerable or jealous out in public. “I am having trouble with this” or “Let’s check-in” or tap on the shoulder that you both understand or squeeze your earlobe. This can help you get on top of the jealousy together before it gets out of hand.
5. Make requests of each other as opposed to saying what “should” be done. For example, don’t say “you should have known what was going on and done something about it.” Instead, ask your partner to pay attention to potential flirtations and create boundaries around that. Or, “please tell me what it was about that incident that bothers you the most”.
6. Remember that there are two points of view in this scenario. One from the perspective of the person who feels jealous and the other from the perspective of the person being accused of some kind of indiscretion. In both cases, when you address the issue you’re upset about, try to make non-judgemental statements of your own feelings rather than demanding or questioning your partner about their behavior. Questions are often threatening and elicit defensiveness and create resentment. Your partner may feel attacked and under interrogation.
When this happens, it’s important to share these feelings so you can work on it together. Request that your partner expresses what is bothering him or her and simply listen to hear what they have to say. Do not feel that you need to defend your own feelings, explain yourself, or offer a solution. The goal is just to hear and be heard. Ideally, you both get time to share and be heard.
Once your partner has finished sharing, say, “I heard what you said, thank you.”
Use these tips as a starting point. Doing any one of them will remind you that you are trying to make progress together to solve this issue and rebuild trust in your relationship. You may want to get some coaching from a good friend or a professional you trust. This can be especially helpful if you need a boost, you’re at an impasse and can’t resolve it yourselves and you’re motivated to make some real progress.
Jealousy can be very painful and hurtful to all involved. One last thought, healing issues like this are often harder when the people involved are regularly drinking or using drugs. Deal with it in a sober time. Ongoing substance use can make it harder to get to the heart of the matter and times of intoxication can exacerbate feelings of jealousy and make it harder to recover.
If you need coaching or support in managing the problem of jealousy, contact us. We are happy to set up a time to start the process of dealing with this common issue. Please call us at 434-971-4701 to set up an appointment.