A woman I know tells me that she constantly feels jealous and threatened by her boyfriend’s popularity with others, especially women. She goes on to say that she tries to control her feelings, but nothing works. Even though she has no proof whatsoever that he might be cheating, she says that these feelings are eroding their otherwise good relationship. She’s right: Jealousy is a relationship killer that can create a lot of unnecessary pain.
This kind of jealousy boils down to a lack of trust. The chronically jealous person never really 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 rise to the surface.
Unfounded jealousy comes from the false belief that people who are truly in love never “look” at anyone else. Ridiculous. You can be the most happily coupled person in the world, but it still doesn’t change the fact that you might see and appreciate someone who is attractive or sexy. To deny or repress such a natural, momentary emotion is unhealthy and more likely to create problems. Secure couples who don’t have jealousy issues often operate on the approach that, “It’s OK to look — just don’t touch.”
Another error in thinking is the tendency to equate a fleeting spark of physical attraction with a lifelong commitment. They are two entirely different things. Many people who have had an affair even admit that the person with whom they cheated is NOT 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, and you might be attracted to someone who can fill that void, albeit temporarily. But the possibility of permanent damage to the relationship is enormous.
The chronically jealous partner fails to appreciate that difference. She thinks: “He’s looking at Susan. He has feelings towards her; I just know it. And he’s going to act on those feelings.” But wait: Just because he has a flicker of attraction toward Susan doesn’t mean he wants to spend all of his days with her. If the spouse is secure, she’ll assume that’s all it is, unless there’s real evidence to the contrary.
Unfounded jealousy can often lead to behaviors that create bigger problems than what the jealous person feared in the first place. Like spying, or secretly checking their email or voicemail. Even stalking. The jealous person lives his or her life under a cloud of paranoia. Upon discovery, this creates new problems. Most people are not very good liars, and even good liars are eventually exposed. If there is truth to be found, it’ll come out one way or another, unless there’s no evidence in the first place.
The jealous person has significant insecurities. So much of jealousy is projection and self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’m not desirable. Why would he want to be only with me? He MUST be sneaking around with somebody else.” As a result, she starts to see “evidence” of cheating where there is none. The spouse or partner is put into a position of constantly having to prove him- or herself innocent. It creates stress and can eventually lead to breakup or divorce.
I’m certainly not denying that some people do cheat on their partners. But we can’t live our lives based on the anxiety-ridden: “What can happen?” It eats away at our physical and mental well-being. Chronically suspicious people might insist 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 can get hurt, but the rewards are almost always worth the remote possibility of pain. If a committed couple truly trusts their relationship, suspicion and paranoia will never be a part of their lives together.