Is it normal for your spouse to feel jealous even if you haven’t done anything wrong? How do you respond to them when they are jealous? And how do you best respond to the jealousy that can crop up in your own heart sometimes? In this two-part blog post, I tackle these tricky issues.
A Typical Example of Jealousy in Marriage:
David’s wife Danielle is a high-powered attorney at a top-notch law firm. In December, she brings David along to her office Christmas party.
She warns him ahead of time that the festivities tend to get a bit wild, and promises they will leave early. “When the real craziness starts,” she says, “we’ll ‘call it a night.'”
David is a little out of place in this glitzy scene. As he and Danielle enter the room, he feels outclassed. His J.C. Penney suit, squeaky-stiff dress shoes and outdated tie make him stand out like a sore thumb. In this room, Georgio Armani and Bruno Magli seem to be setting the dress code. All the men in the room look as though they stepped off the cover of GQ.
Those guys are the ones laughing with Danielle, talking shop with Danielle, and making frighteningly warm eye contact with Danielle.
At first, David tells himself that there’s nothing to worry about. Parties are social events, after all, and Danielle is just being social. This is her work team. She should have supportive, friendly connections with the rest of her staff.
But, he can’t seem to calm himself down. The other men in the room seem to act as though he doesn’t exist. He wonders if he should have written “just the husband” on his name tag.
After the party, David and Danielle fought all the way home. David was especially upset that (in his mind) Danielle had lied. She had broken her promise to leave early. Danielle disagreed. They left well before the party was “over.” In fact, she would have stayed longer, she said, if she hadn’t been afraid to. She was painfully aware that David had his “nose bent out of shape about something.”
David accused Danielle of being a bit too friendly with her co-workers. He didn’t expect her to fawn over him all night in front of her friends. But in his mind, it wouldn’t have hurt to bring him into the conversation a bit more.
David vows never to attend another Christmas party with Danielle, and she seems happy to hear it. After all, why would she want to bring him next time if he is going to be such a downer again? This is her office Christmas party. A time to de-stress and have fun with the team. This night is not about David, she reminds him.
At the end of the evening, David and Danielle aren’t speaking.
David believes it’s normal for him to feel jealous given the circumstances.
Danielle believes that if he can’t control his jealousy, the relationship will really suffer.
In a way, they both are.
There are good reasons that people feel jealous from time to time in marriage. But jealousy can also cause frustration and difficulty.
In part one of this post, I’d like to explore three reasons that jealousy can be a normal emotion.
REASON #1 – WE FEAR LOSING THINGS WE VALUE
Before I left the house today, I made an extra trip to the basement to make sure that I did not leave the iron plugged in. I checked to make sure that the oven was off. I double checked all the locks on the doors to make sure that the house was secure. Then, when I got in my car, I fastened my seatbelt and adjusted my rear view mirror.
All this takes extra time out of my morning, but I don’t mind. I don’t want the house to burn down or be ransacked by a burglar. I also don’t want to lessen my chances of surviving a car crash. My home and my life are things I value.
It’s natural that when we value something, we struggle with anxious thoughts about loss. And, those thoughts are healthy. They help us take precautions to safeguard what is important to us. Those thoughts motivate us to take action to take action to reduce risk. But we have to be careful, because that motivation can get out of hand. When it does, we can accidentally try to control more than we should. More about that later.
Your spouse’s jealousy is a sign that they value you. They don’t want to lose you to someone or something else. That means that they struggle to see their life without you in it. That’s definitely a positive.
REASON #2 – THE DANGER IS REAL
If your spouse is jealous, it might be hard for you to accept this idea. After all, you know the intent of your heart. You know whether your mind flirts with disaster.
If you never even get close to breaking your spouse’s trust, where’s the basis for their fear?
The danger your spouse feels doesn’t have to be about you. Infidelity is everywhere. When was the last time you checked out at the grocery store and didn’t see a magazine headline about cheating? TV, movies, news, and social media seem to say it’s normal. And sadly, it’s now true that most of our families have been touched directly by the pain of infidelity. As a result, it makes sense that anyone could become anxious about this.
Plus, most of us know that good people cheat. Just because someone has great intentions does not mean that they won’t slip and fall in this area. So it doesn’t make everything better when we tell our spouse “I would never do that!” It may be a little reassuring, but it doesn’t make the fear magically vanish.
If your spouse is jealous, you’ll do well to recognize that the danger is real. Reassure your spouse of your faithfulness to them, but first, prove to them that you understand their anxiety.
REASON #3 – SOMETIMES WE STRUGGLE TO SEE VALUE IN OURSELVES
This is a big one. Your spouse’s feelings of safety in marriage start with their ability to see their own value. If they struggle to recognize what’s good about them, it will be hard for them to trust. We use our self-esteem to reassure ourselves that the other person will want to stay. But if self-esteem is low, that reassurance won’t be there. Because of this, they’ll pay attention to what other people bring to the table that they don’t. It can be a threatening feeling.
The more they struggle to see their own value, the more frightened they will be of losing you. And they’ll be tempted to keep you on a really tight leash.
While the tight leash can definitely chafe, it is still a sign of love and value. One of the most important things you can do is remind your spouse what is good about them. Be sensitive to moments when they may not feel “good enough.” A little reassurance in those moments goes a long way.Read Part 2 of This Post