Elizabeth Duffy asked me to offer some input on this post in which she addresses a reader’s question about a struggle with jealousy. I think she’s done a terrific job covering most of the bases. Anyone who followed her advice would definitely on a good path to leaving jealousy behind. I only have two additional thoughts.
The first is that when a person is jealous, they have a tendency to look for–and consistently find whether there is reason to or not–external reasons for their jealousy; the beautiful co-worker, a spouse coming home a little later from work than expected, etc. The temptation in this situation is to keep needling one’s spouse about every perceived offense no matter how small and/or to constantly look around for proof of the affair one is desperately afraid is happenning just out of sight.
The problem with this approach is that it misses the fact that whether or not there is an affair, the relationship itself is not as intimate, connected, and secure as it should be. Rather than worrying about the possibility of infidelity, it would be much better to invest the energy into discussing what habits would need to be in place to make the relationship feel more secure than it does. I’m certain this is what Elizabeth was getting at when she talked about making your spouse your friend, but I wanted to pull out his dimension of that process of friendship-making. Too many people worry about losing their relationship instead of investing the same amount of energy into making it a relationship that is so strong it can’t be lost.
The second point is less obvious. In the rare instance when the marriage really is solid, there is no infidelity, and one’s spouse really isn’t engaging in any inappropriate behavior but one still feels painfully jealous, usually the problem has to do with an insecure attachment style in childhood. Insecure attachment results when my parents respond just enough to my emotional needs for me to not feel abandoned (and maybe to even feel adequately cared for at least physically), but not enough to ever feel emotionally secure. That attachment style tends to result in a person who always feels off balance in relationships but is never quite sure why and feels guilty about it to boot. If a person is raised in that environment, their brain is always on high-alert, constantly worrying about what they might have done–what they might yet do– to drive the people they care about away. These are the folks who go from “0 to abandoned in 60 secs” for the slightest reason. For people in this situation, counseling can be a very helpful means of sorting through the past hurt and finding ways to leave it back behind instead of carrying it into the present relationships.