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.Read Part 1 of This Post
Finally, here’s three things you should know if you struggle with jealousy.
1. When jealousy rules, trust dies.
Try this exercise:
On a piece of paper, draw a straight line. Label the far left side of the line “jealousy,” and the far right side of the line “trust.” Now, ask yourself, “where am I on this line?”
The goal is to be somewhere in the middle. That’s where we are healthiest in relationships. If we trust absolutely, we set ourselves up for trauma in an imperfect world. But, if we don’t trust at all, we set ourselves up for a life without intimacy.
Your spouse understands the line. They know that if jealousy rules your thoughts and emotions, your trust is low. That can be hard for them, since they may be doing all they can to live an honorable life.
So they may voice the fact that they feel undervalued, underestimated, or unappreciated. They might even start to believe that you don’t trust them at all.
In those cases, a jealous spouse will often say “But I do trust you! I just don’t trust so-and-so, or I don’t trust the other guys at your work, or I don’t trust those young girls working the front desk at your office.” That’s a fair statement. I have no doubt you don’t trust those other people, and why would you? You don’t know them. And, they may have given you reasons to feel worried.
But none of those other people can cause your spouse to cheat on you without his or her consent.
That means you do struggle to trust your spouse. And that’s not a criticism. There are a ton of reasons you might be feeling that lack of trust. And it’s okay to accept and confront what’s going on inside your heart. Your spouse likely already knows that there’s a lack of trust there.
Working through the anxiety with your spouse could bring you and your spouse closer. So, be encouraged!
2. Jealousy Motivates Control
As we’ve already said, we try to “manage” whatever we fear losing. It’s a reasonable, human, gut reaction.
We’ll go to great lengths to keep people from stealing from us. We’ll lock stuff, put alarms on stuff, and build fences around stuff.
Those are all control behaviors. And with inanimate objects like a house or a car, controlling behaviors can be wise. But with a human being, they usually backfire.
Unlike a house or a car, human beings have a need to exercise personal freedom. That freedom allows them to bring their full self to the relationship.
Think of the image of two dating lovebirds walking together, holding hands. Now, imagine one says, “I love you so much I will never let you go.” What a romantic thing to say! But what if, while saying that, they pull out a pair of handcuffs and place them on both of their wrists?
If the other lovebird objects to the handcuffs, that might freak out the handcuff-er. “What do you mean? Are you planning to leave me? Does this mean you don’t want to be with me? I don’t have any problem being handcuffed to you, but you must not really love me. If you really loved me, you’d want to wear my handcuffs! See? I knew it all along. You’re planning on getting out.”
If you think it through, it makes perfect sense. If you plan on being with someone forever, and you have some way of proving to yourself you’ll never lose them (ala handcuffs), then why not go that route? And after all, if that person is never planning to leave anyway, why should it bother them?
It bothers them because the handcuffs mean they can’t give you their love voluntarily.
“But wait a minute,” someone will say, “doesn’t the Bible talk about how the ‘two become one?'”
The two individuals become one married couple. Marriage is not the death of individual identity. It’s the coupling of two identities in the formation of one brand new team.
If you and your spouse are “handcuffed” to each other, it’s probably time to break out the keys. It’s time to leave room for a new season of authentic, unmanaged, heartfelt, “hand-holding.”
3. You Are Worth Far More than You Realize
As I’ve said earlier in this post, jealousy almost always involves a struggle to see your own value.
It’s a common problem, and it stems from living in a world of negative, shaming voices. Sometimes parents play a big role here.
Three types of people set others up for low self-esteem. The first is the “harpist.” They continually “harp” on whatever faults or problems they see in other people. The second is the “blamer,” who makes a habit of blaming others for whatever they don’t like. Third, is the “drill sergeant.” This person thinks that putting other people down is the best way to motivate them to do better.
If you grew up around a “harpist,” a “blamer,” or a “drill sergeant,” it will be hard to have high self-esteem. The message all three people communicate is “you’re not good enough.” That message can become a voice inside that just won’t shut up.
As a result, it makes sense that you would be struggling to feel good enough–even for your spouse.
But you are worth far more than you think. And, you need to hear that message regularly. If your marriage is in great shape, and your spouse is affirming and kind, you can share with them that this is a need. You need reassurance of your worth.
If not, marital therapy with a good Christian marriage therapist is a great next step. If your spouse won’t go, sign up to go on your own. You need the comfort, guidance, and assurances a skilled therapist can provide. It can become a springboard for the confidence you need to see the best in your spouse, and in your situation.
I hope this post helps. This is one of the questions I deal with most in my marriage coaching ministry.
I tried to hit the high points in this post, and deal with some of the more universal elements of marital jealousy. But, I realize your situation is unique. So once again, I’d like to make this point: if jealousy is causing problems in your marriage, it’s a good idea to see a counselor.
I also want to make the point that if your spouse has given you reason to believe they aren’t being faithful to you, then trust issues are normal.
If your spouse has been flirting with disaster, I would never tell you to just “look the other way.” Again, my recommendation would be to get into counseling as soon as possible. I hope your spouse will go with you. If they don’t, go by yourself. And soon.
I’d like to leave a word of warning for people reading this post with “jealous” spouses. If your spouse has a reason to be jealous because you are betraying their trust, please do not hijack my post. Please do not use what I’ve written here to tell your spouse to “chill out.” Be a grown up and own what you’re doing. Make a U-turn, get some help, and do the right thing.
Thanks for reading this much longer than normal post. I hope it is a help as you work to strike the healthy balance between trust and jealousy in your relationship.