Who can you trust?

A woman who visited the beach this summer sent me an email in which she admits that she constantly feels jealous and threatened by her boyfriend’s popularity with other people, especially women. She goes on to say that it’s painful for her to feel that way, and that she tries to control it, but nothing works. Even though she has no proof whatsoever that he might be cheating, she sees her feelings slowly eroding their otherwise good relationship. Well, she’s right: Jealousy is a relationship killer and can create a lot of unnecessary pain; throwing an otherwise stable person seriously off balance.

Jealousy in a relationship boils down to a lack of trust. The chronically jealous person never fully experienced a sense of trust to begin with. He or she goes through the early phase of the relationship fairly easily. But once it matures into an exclusive partnership, the insecure feelings of suspicion rise to the surface.

Unfounded jealousy is the result of mistaken assumptions and errors in thinking. One of these is the false belief that people who are truly in love never ‘look’ at anyone else. Ridiculous. You can be the most happily married or coupled person in the world, and it still doesn’t change the fact that you might see and appreciate someone else who may seem attractive or sexy in some way. There’s nothing abnormal or wrong about this as long as you understand it and see it for what it is. To deny or repress such a natural, momentary emotion seems unhealthy and more likely to create problems that would not otherwise exist. Secure couples that don’t have jealousy issues often operate on the approach that, ‘It’s OK to look—just don’t touch.’ Put another way, you can acknowledge the momentary feelings of attraction that you or your partner might occasionally have towards another, and know that it implies nothing more than just feelings.

Another error in thinking is to equate a momentary spark of physical attraction with a lifelong commitment. They are two entirely different things. Many people who have had an affair will admit that the person with whom they cheated ends up NOT being the person with whom they want to spend their life. People in affairs often regret their actions and prefer to return to their spouse—if possible. Usually, an affair fills a void. If you feel that something is missing from your relationship, then you might be attracted to someone who can fill that void—albeit temporarily. Of course, that doesn’t make it right, and the possibility of permanent damage to the relationship is enormous.

The chronically jealous partner fails to appreciate that difference. He thinks: ‘She’s looking at that guy George. She has feelings towards him; I just know it. That means she’s going to act on those feelings.’ But wait: Just because she might have a flicker of attraction towards George doesn’t mean she wants to spend all of her days with him. A momentary attraction is nothing more than that—just attraction. If the spouse is secure, he’ll assume that’s all it is, unless there’s real evidence to the contrary.

It’s sad how unfounded jealousy can often lead to behaviors that create worse problems than what the jealous person feared in the first place. Like spying. Or secretly checking their email or voice mail. Even following them around. The jealous person lives his or her life under a cloud of paranoia. Ultimately, the partner will learn of this mistrusting behavior; creating brand new problems on top of it all. I’ve told jealous people who admit they have no basis for their suspicions to just ‘let it go.’ The truth usually comes out, anyway. Most people are not very good liars and even good liars are eventually exposed. All you have to do is be alert and conscious. If there is truth to be found, you’ll see it. The fact is, you probably won’t, since you admit there’s not any evidence in the first place!

The jealous person usually has significant insecurities. So much of jealousy is projection and self-fulfilling prophecy. The jealous person might feel like, ‘I’m not desirable. Why would he want to be only with me? He MUST be sneaking around with someone else.’ As a result, she starts to see ‘evidence’ of cheating where there is none. The suspected spouse or partner is put into a position of constantly having to prove him- or herself ‘innocent.’ It creates unnecessary stress and conflict for both parties, and in some cases can lead to breakup or divorce.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m certainly not denying that people cheat on their spouses or lovers. It happens—although I don’t assume it happens most of the time. But we can’t live our lives based on the anxiety-ridden premise of, ‘What can happen?’ It eats away at our physical and mental well being. Suspicious people might say that it’s naïve and foolish to trust. But to trust is to take a risk. There’s no gain without risk. Yes, sometimes we’re hurt, but the rewards—at least along the way—are often worth that remote possibility of pain. If a committed couple trusts themselves and each other, suspicion and doubt need never be a part of their lives together.