You feel jealousy when you experience the unpleasant sensation of a rival. No matter how much your spouse may attempt to reassure you, another person’s interest in your spouse raises all of your red flags. Listen to this e-mail we received:
“My husband is very jealous of a male co-worker with whom I’ve been working on a project for several years. Often when I come home, he’ll sarcastically say: ‘How’s your boyfriend?’ Despite his teasing front, I know that he is serious. He’ll even bring this guy up around our family and friends, as if he’s trying to start an alliance against me. I have told him numerous times that he is simply a friend at work, but he remains insecure about our relationship. I am starting to pull away from our intimate talks because he brings this up every time. It’s very frustrating. How do I reassure him of my love and at the same time reassure myself that he will somehow stop this irrational jealousy?”
Jealousy comes in different levels. Legitimate jealousy is a means to guard your territory. This comes from a sincere care and commitment to a relationship. Occasional jealousy includes occasional suspicions, like being uncomfortable when your spouse is with certain friends of the opposite sex. Chronic jealousy includes lies, threats, self-pity, and feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and insecurity.
Legitimate jealousy guards the heart of a marriage. God calls you to respect jealousy that comes from your spouse in the form of warnings of danger up ahead. When your spouse is a secure person and desires to protect your marriage against cracks, you need to listen. Confront the issue head on by finding the reason for the jealousy and then making changes to keep you both out of danger and guard your marriage.
Shows you care and are committed to the relationship.
Protects your marriage by putting safeguards in your relationship against evil attacks.
Keeps each other (and your marriage) accountable through honest communication.
Helps you confront major issues and head them off before they become major problems.
Regard healthy jealousy as a gift from God that will keep you out of danger. Men: Trust your wife’s instincts. If she suggests that another woman is behaving inappropriately, your wife is probably right. Most women have radar, an innate alertness to nonverbal communication and an ability to translate body language into emotional facts. Your wife probably is able to see these things clearly, so don’t criticize or blame her warnings on insecurity. Women: Trust your husband’s instincts. He knows what men want and how they pursue it.
Unhealthy jealousy is altogether different. It stems from comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate, unimportant, inferior, and pitiful. When you carry this jealousy to pathological extremes, it will dominate your relationship. Some spouses have experienced a lot of loss in life (divorce, death, abandonment in childhood) and may bring unresolved issues into the relationship through jealousy.
A chronically jealous spouse will use self-pity, lies, threats, and manipulation to control a relationship. When the other partner resists, the jealous person reacts by becoming more controlling. Then the other partner resists further by confiding in a friend or seeking relief outside the marriage. Sometimes this leads to more jealousy and worst-case predictions.
If you have a jealous spouse, do some self-evaluation.
Assess whether you are doing something that provokes the jealousy.
Stop that activity for a time to show your spouse that you’re committed to the relationship.
Increase your loving actions toward your spouse.
Talk honestly with your spouse about the problem. Get his/her take on it (the feelings may be legitimate) and work together to find a solution.
If you are dealing with jealousy:
Listen to others. If your friends comment on your jealousy, it must be a problem.
Be honest with yourself. Ask what is causing the feelings. Are you trying to manipulate?
Spend time with God.
Think about your spouse more positively. Jealous people use their anxious thoughts and suspicions as cues to misread anything that their spouses do. Instead, take a deep breath and pray—for yourself and for your spouse.
Express your feelings to your spouse. Own up to the fact. Be honest without being blaming or manipulative.
*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!