Jealousy (also known as ‘The Green Eyed Monster’ because of its power and irrationality) comes in several forms, from mild discomfort when your partner looks at another woman/man or receives emails or texts from an unknown person, to being deeply suspicious that everything they do hides a betrayal. But its different to feeling jealous if you know with certainty that your partner definitely has been (or would like to be) unfaithful, to being concerned that something might be going on behind your back. The first is more justified, the second is unfounded although it can be just as powerful.
People in the grip of jealousy can behave as through they are possessed, and can act completely out of character. It is a form of madness.
In Imago Relationship Therapy we teach that we are all the product of our experiences, and if we have experienced betrayal or we feel unsafe for any other reason, it makes sense that we are jealous, defensive, untrusting and protective. In fact some people like it when their partners are a bit jealous because it makes them feel really wanted. (This, however, is deeply unhealthy and needs help from a couples counsellor as much as the therapy for the jealousy itself.)
The best relationships are those where there is trust between the partners, and there is no space or reason for jealousy. In fact, where there is jealousy there is also likely to be game-playing and insecurity. And ‘a bit’ of jealousy can quickly escalate to unreasonable, suffocating behaviour which will be the death of the relationship – exactly what the jealous partner does not want.
If your partner is jealous, with or without reason, it is important to get help as soon as possible. It is extremely hard for couples to resolve jealousy issues on your own. It needs an outsider to create a sense of safety and reality from which the relationship can become grounded and begin the rebuild.
The jealous one needs to be reassured, but often it is part of the jealousy that they won’t believe anything they are told. The more they are told that ‘there is nothing going on’ the more convinced they are that there is, actually. They might only begin to believe it if they hear reassurance in the safety and calm of the therapy room. There is something about having declarations of fidelity and trust witnessed that makes them more credible.
What should you do?
The first step is to listen carefully to the jealous one’s fears. Exactly what is it that they are frightened of? Is it abandonment? Is it betrayal, or loss? Whatever it is, the likelihood is that this is a feeling that they first experienced many years ago. An experienced therapist will be able to help the ‘sufferer’ to understand where these feelings come from, and help their partner to understand what they need to provide to help overcome the jealousy. Paradoxically, the chances are the the non-jealous partner has unconsciously been exacerbating the situation, assuming that there is no real grounds for jealousy in the first place.
As a relationship begins to feel stronger, it is important to do some work around ‘differentiation’ and ‘fusion’. These are the two extremes of a continuum between high self-contained independence at one end and complete co-dependency on the other. Both are unhealthy and neither leads to a rewarding, safe and trusting relationship. Differentiation is the understanding that your partner is not you, is different from you, and will have different interests, likes and dislikes. Acceptance of these differences goes a long way towards allaying jealous fears. Fusion, or symbiosis, is the inability to see your partner as separate from you, and a high level of neediness which may be flattering at first but sooner or later becomes smothering. It shows a low sense of self-worth. If either of these characterises the relationship it is easy for jealousy to become a factor.
At the heart of jealousy is fear. One might be scared that the other is going to run off, or lie, or let you down in some way or another. And once jealousy begins to take hold it can infect our imagination, dictate our behaviour and lead us to do things that we seriously regret. But its so hard to control. Thats why professional help is strongly recommended, and, if possible, using the Imago Dialogue format which creates safety and allows for deep understanding between the partners.
Being able to express your fears is the first step; having them heard them is the second. From there, trust and confidence can grow and then there is no space for jealousy.
Relationships can recover from all kinds of dark places; if jealousy rules yours, don’t think that its normal or it has to always be like this. It doesn’t, and a trusting, safe relationship awaits you down the line. But work has to be done first, on re-creating honesty, communication and understanding your partner’s past.
For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to www.anniegurton.com