Maybe you were at a party and your spouse was just a little too friendly with the females. Or your wife wears clothes that you feel are a little bit too revealing for those work meetings.
Jealousy, the so-called “green-eyed monster,” can be a destructive force in a marriage. Here’s what to do to ensure it doesn’t drive a further wedge between you and your spouse and undo the very foundation of your marriage. Keep reading for four steps to take…
What is Jealousy?
Jealousy is classified as an emotion, and as we’ve all experienced, emotions can be irrational. This isn’t to say that you may not have a valid point if you see your spouse flirting with someone and feel a surge inside of you that makes you want to lash out in an attempt to protect your relationship.
The Key Ingredient to Marriage Repair
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The problem that many couples get into is jealousy that has run amok. Jealousy is a strong emotion – especially when you feel threatened that someone is trying to take your spouse away from you, or you discover that your spouse finds someone else attractive, charming, witty, etc. And when we feel threatened, we experience a fight-or-flight response. Jealousy tends to veer sharply toward the “fight” camp – and your spouse is usually the one who gets it with both barrels.
So, does this mean jealousy is an awful emotion – truly a monster? Not so fast. Let’s look next at why it just may be a powerful, positive element in your marriage.
The Internal Comfort Boundary
We all have an internal comfort boundary system. It helps guide our expectations of the world – and the people in our lives. As a married person, you have certain expectations of your spouse. And if anything or anyone – such as your spouse – steps over your internal comfort boundary, your emotions alert you.
So if you’re at a party and you notice your spouse locked in a flirtatious conversation with someone, your internal boundary just may signal a warning that your relationship is in danger. Maybe it’s your expectation that married couples are a little stiffer when speaking to members of the opposite gender. Save the smiles and winks for home, right?
When looked at this way, you can see that jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing: it’s a warning. And wanting to protect your relationship is a good thing. (Indifference would signal a deeper issue, but that’s for another day.)
Jealousy runs the gamut, from low-grade jealous feelings to intense reactions. If you express your jealousy in a joking way to let your spouse know what you’re feeling, this is good version of jealousy. It’s not a threatening expression of your feelings, but it does allow you to express them, and your spouse to understand that something was done to cross your internal boundary.
But let’s say you explode, accusing your spouse of trying to get into the other person’s pants. Or, you withdraw from your spouse, giving them the silent treatment, no explanation given. Now we’ve just strolled over into the realm of bad jealousy. Why is it bad? Because it’s damaging behavior that will negatively impact your relationship.
So, what can you do to make sure your using jealousy to your relationship’s advantage, and staying in the good realm of jealousy? The next time you feel the jealousy monster rearing its head, follow these steps:
Step 1: Stop and count to 10
This initial step gives you a chance to collect yourself and decide your course of action. If you know you’re prone to jealous outbursts, stopping to breathe and count to 10 will help you rein in a very strong reaction before it gets ahead of your rational decision-making process.
Step 2: Ask yourself a key question
Once you feel a measure of control over your reaction, ask yourself: Is my feeling of jealousy justified? Did he/she do something willfully to draw the other person in? Does this really mean they are looking for an opportunity to cheat, or don’t love you anymore? If you decide that the jealous feelings you’re having have some sort of justification, proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Define your stance
So you’ve decided your jealousy is justified. Only you can answer this question to begin with, because again, each person has their own internal comfort boundary. So, define what, exactly, that boundary was that your spouse crossed: Did he/she give the appearance of impropriety, even if they didn’t actually do anything? Would a third-party person standing nearby interpret the scene as sketchy?
Step 4: Frame your response
Once you’ve defined your stance on what boundary you feel your spouse has crossed, respond with specifics. You can use the light joking tone: “Ann, if I’m not careful, that guy may try to put you in his coat pocket and steal you away!”
Or, you can go for matter-of-fact: “Carl, when you touched that woman’s arm and let it linger, I feel it crossed a line of the way I’d expect my spouse to behave with another woman. It could be misconstrued by others, including that other woman, and it made me distinctly uncomfortable.”
Jealousy is an early-warning system, and it’s built into us for a reason. Not much we can do about that. But like any emotion, sometimes it needs simple management to keep it confined and then directed for more positive outcomes. Yelling at and accusing our spouses hardly ever achieves the desired effect: a cease and desist on their part from questionable behavior.
My best to you as you use the monster emotion of jealousy to your relationship’s advantage.
So, when is the last time you had a jealous flare-up?
What specific behavior did your spouse exhibit that crossed your internal comfort boundary?
When you presented your feelings to your spouse, whether in the realm of good jealousy or bad jealousy, what was their reaction? Do you wish you could present your feelings all over again in a way that benefits your relationship?
Please share your ideas and personal experiences with other members of the community.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,