You are out together at a party…but why is your man so engrossed in deep conversation with that gorgeous blonde? Why does your wife always look great when you are out together but unkempt at home? Is it concern or just that green eyed monster otherwise known as jealousy that is pinching you?
Jealousy is an often painful emotional response that typically occurs in relationships when a third party is seen as a threat in some way. Elaborating further, Dr. Raymond Hamden, clinical and forensic psychologist in the Human Relations Institute, says jelousy occurs when someone has something you believe belongs to you and you want it back. “In a relationship, this really means that someone has your man or your woman and you want him or her back,” he says, emphasising that jealousy can be due to abstract information and does not have to be concrete or tangible.
It can also stem from insecurity: “Jealousy can also mean having to share someone’s love with another in a relationship and believing that one is not good enough for their partner so they are not able to have their partner’s full attention,” he says. Another facet of jealousy, observes Dr. Hamden, is that it is actually a normal part of the early relationship process.“ All relationships start off in what is known as the passionate stage, since the beginning of a relationship is physical and tangible and there is no such thing as love at first sight,” he says. “The love comes later and is a learned attitude with psychological components, one of which is jealousy.” As a relationship matures and the individuals become more secure in their couple hood, Dr. Hamden notes that there is less need to use jealousy as a vehicle or defence mechanism to keep the other person attached.
There can also be an underlying fear beneath jealousy, especially of losing the person we care about. Jealousy is often attributed to an insecure connection to a partner in relationship. In the beginning of a relationship jealousy is normal – not immature or a sign of insecurity – but Dr. Hamden says, is a normal part of the early, passionate phase of the relationship that is a way of saying “I love you and want to be desired by you; I don’t want any competition.”
Abnormal signs of jealousy, notes Dr. Hamden, could be more than jealousy and can actually be a red flag that the jealous individual is an abuser and uses jealousy as a conscious vehicle to control. “Not just physical, sexual, emotional; sometimes it can even be economic abuse or social abuse; forbidding the person to associate with certain people or forbiddingthe person to have enough money to do things that may seem questionable to the jealous individual,” he says, adding, “But it all usually comes back to the jealous individual’s inadequacy and low self-esteem, or lack of self-confidence.” This was the case with real life couple, Kelly and Mark, who broke up on account of his deep underlying insecurities and fears. A 32-year-old sales executive in Dubai, Kelly says that she recently dumped Mark, her fiancé, on account of his jealousy and spite. “We were engaged for six months and I thought that Mark was the man of my dreams. He was loving and caring; a true joy to be around. But slowly I noticed after we got engaged that his telephone calls increased in frequency; he constantly wanted to know where I was and who I spoke to that day. Initially it was cute and made me happy. Soon it became suffocating. He couldn’t bear to be without me for a minute! The minute I came home, he would call to tell me he was taking me out for dinner. He often arrived at work with flowers and a packed lunch for the both of us. But I felt like he was smothering me—I couldn’t even enjoy a chat with my best girlfriend because he would constantly probe and ask what we discussed and why. I asked him to change his ways but he said he was showing concern. I decided to end it once and for all and he literally camped outside my apartment all night – to the point where the watchman had to threaten the police would come and remove him by force. Even then he called so much that I changed both my landline and my mobile numbers….”
How it affects the relationship
When jealously becomes a psychological disorder as was the case for Kelly, the person begins to stalk an individual or harass that individual with the purpose of changing the behaviour towards them—“They may go to their home at 3 am just to make sure they are alone, phone them and stalk them and can become quite violent,” Dr. Hamden says, and while it initially may seem cute and sweet that a person is so caring that they actually become jealous. “But when a person has no sense of anxiety that they are doing harm to the object of love by controling them and psychologically winning them over this becomes problematic,” says Dr. Hamden.
But why are some partners not jealous and others overly jealous? Dr. Hamden says that while jealousy can be a learned behaviour, it could be an indication of genetically grounded personality disorder as in being controlling.“ When a person is married and the jealousy is destructive, the marriage will suffer because the basis of a marriage is trust and respect,” he adds. Jealousy affects gender differently also: “For men jealousy is more tangible and more physical in appearance whereas in women the jealousy is more emotional and more nurturing,” he explains.
If jealousy is not addressed when it comes up in relationship some or all of these possible effects may emerge. Jealousy can lead to physical and emotional distress for the person feeling it. It puts a strain on the relationship, potentially distorting communication and the freedom of both partners. In extreme cases it can lead to verbal or physical abuse both within and outside the relationship. Such is the case with a Dubai-based couple, Pam and Amit, both doctors in a private hospital. Pam says she has had enough of Amit’s incessant snooping and spying on her and she wants to throw in the towel and leave the marriage. She says, “When I married Amit I knew I was his first major girlfriend and serious relationship. But I, on the other hand, had a few serious relationships before finally settling down with Amit – which I foolishly confessed to him one day. Soon after our wedding, he began asking me about my past boyfriends—first gently but then he became more probing and aggressive to the point of being disrespectful. He has also begun asking me about the male doctors we work with and has even accused me of having an affair with one who I closely work with on medical reports. When I confided my concerns to my best friend Daphne, she shrugged it off and said I was lucky to have such a caring and wonderful husband. But this whole jealousy issue is driving a wedge into our relationship and I just hate the way he acts now.” Amit, however, has a different tale to tell: “My wife always wears inappropriate clothes to work: while she wears her medical coat over the blouse, the neck line is too low and she acts too coy. I do not like it one bit. I have also seen her in animated conversations not once, but several times with some of the younger doctors. How else am I supposed to deal with that?”
A Survival mechanism
But is jealousy all bad? According to some experts, jealousy is simply a survival mechanism, although what is most at stake is a matter of debate. Its purpose: to help maintain intimate relationships. According to University of Texas psychologist David Buss, jealousy is a necessary emotion, a potential deterrent to infidelity that arises in both men and women when a threat materialises to intimate relationships. A boyfriend talks to beautiful woman at party and smiles admiringly at her; to girlfriend, a rival is born, a flesh-and-blood warning that what she thought was hers might now be endangered. Or wife suddenly embarks on a series of brief out-of-town trips with co-head of her team. What is at stake is survival of our most valued relationships and thus the future of our children—which is to say, the species.
The ‘crystalline logic’ of evolutionary psychology, argues Buss in The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex, holds that men and women experience jealousy differently, and that it’s the threat of sexual infidelity that most stirs jealousy in men. The burden of manhood is uncertainty of paternity; jealousy serves to keep a mate from straying, upping a man’s confidence that he is the genetic father of his partner’s children. Jealousy arose to keep him from the reproductive dead-end of investing his finite resources in raising some other man’s children. Women respond most to the possible loss of love to a rival female, a way of protecting a partner’s needed commitment to home and kids. And perhaps in the small bands in which humans have lived for most of evolutionary history, jealousy was effective in keeping a mate from straying. Sexual jealousy is the leading cause of spousal murder worldwide. Even then, it’s not really jealousy that’s to blame, contends Buss. “It is the delusion that a loved one has committed an infidelity when none has occurred.” But “this double-edged defense mechanism” wouldn’t exist if long-term love hadn’t emerged among primates. Jealousy is love’s necessary protector—even if, given the cognitive biases built into the brain, it errs on the side of seeing betrayal where it does not exist.
Jealousy is a problem that affects both parties of a relationship. Whether you are the jealous partner or on the receiving end, the friction this emotion causes within the relationship has the potential to destroy everything you hope to gain. If jealously is prolonged and past the honeymoon phase of the relationship, then Dr. Hamden recommends that psychological assistance is sought. “At the same time it should be the couple – not just the jealous individual – in therapy to expedite the therapeutic process,” he says, recommending sessions with the individual and the partner to help them recover and learn new behaviour to replace the jealous behaviour. Cognitive behaviour works, as does psychoanalytic therapy.
Bring it to the attention of your spouse. Your spouse won’t know how you feel unless you confront them about your jealous feelings. Sit down with your spouse and have a heart to heart about what has been bothering you.
Discuss your concerns. You need to tell your spouse that you feel that the jealousy is hurting your marriage. Whether your spouse has been intentionally behaving in a way to make you jealous, or whether your jealousy is largely unfounded, it will still have the same effect on your marriage. Discuss ways that you both can deal with the jealousy in order to help the feelings subside.
Trust your spouse. As hard as it may seem to trust your spouse, give them the benefit of the doubt. You made vows to each others, and trust that your spouse will hold up their end of the deal. You cannot control your spouse, and you’ve got to accept this. Don’t spy on them, snoop around in their email or even check their cell phone history. You’ll end up bringing anger and resentment to the mix, and that will be even more for your relationship to bear.
Come to a resolution. In order to deal with jealousy in your marriage, you and your spouse are going to have to come to an agreement about acceptable behaviour. You’ll want to talk about ways that both of you can interact with other adults in a way that won’t make the other spouse jealous. Don’t resent your spouse for asking you to change your behaviours here either. It’s likely that both of you will need to make a few adjustments in order to validate and appreciate the jealous concerns of your partner.