Is s/he cheating? An honest guide to jealousy in marriage

When tackling the issue of jealousy in marriage, Dr. Hirsch likes to start with some Eric Clapton lyrics: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself!”

Like all problems in marriage, both parties are responsible for their part in jealousy or infidelity issues. If you’re faced with a jealous spouse, your behavior is partially the cause (to a greater or lesser extent). If you find yourself feeling the pangs of jealousy, you also must examine your own actions.

Jealousy is a terrible feeling and thinking your spouse might be cheating is one of the most devastating things that can happen to marriage. If you have suspicions of your spouse, how can you know if they are true? This expert advice from Dr. Hirsch can help you decide and, most importantly, address the problem so you can repair your marriage in a positive and empowering way.

Case #1: The jealous spouse is picking up on clues to a real danger

Example: Anna’s husband Tyrone has been working on a tough project for his job for the past week. His work partner: an attractive female colleague. They’ve been working late and getting drinks together after work. Tyrone insists that is normal office behavior and nothing is happening, but Anna can’t help but feel jealous and uncomfortable.

Should Anna be worried that Tyrone is having an affair? It’s important to remember that full-blown affairs don’t happen all of a sudden. At the same time, Anna’s feelings are important because they are warning signs of behavior that is threatening their marriage. Because of this she should speak up and address the problem now. Staying attuned to her early feelings of danger gives him the opportunity to address the issue before it actually leads to an infidelity.

If you are in Tyrone place, you might react to your wife’s jealousy by dismissing it. Of course we aren’t having an affair! How could you think that?? At the same time, remember that something you have been doing has been causing him distress and is already hurting your marriage. This alone indicates that you need to address the situation.

 

Case #2: Projection

Emily and Lyle attend their high school reunion where Emily runs into an old boyfriend. She finds herself thinking about their teenage escapades and noticing how attractive he still is. Susan feels guilty for these thoughts and uncomfortable. Throughout the night she is on edge and becomes surprisingly jealous whenever her husband talks to other attractive women.

In this case, Susan’ jealousy toward her husband is likely unfounded. If logic doesn’t justify the intensity of the jealous feelings, it often turns out that the jealousy is actually a projection.

Projection means that you are seeing in your partner a set of feelings that are actually going on in you.  Susan is projecting her guilty feelings of attraction to her old flame onto her husband. She assumes that he must be thinking similar things about other attractive women he meets.

 

Deal with this type of jealousy in relationships by using the three steps outlined in my last post: prepare, talk, plan. In addition, you will need to be clear with your spouse about your own feelings that sparked the projection. This may be awkward, and at the same time, it will make your marriage stronger by clearing up doubts and reaffirming your trust in each other and in yourself. By asking how or what questions and by avoiding accusations, couples can clear up the problems and get back on track.

 

If you are experiencing jealousy in marriage, here is a 3 Step plan to getting your relationship back on track:

  1. Prepare for the conversation. Choose a time when you are both relaxed and rested and pick a neutral space. You and your partner will want to remain as calm and positive as possible–the following conversation can be challenging with such an emotional subject. Try some PO2 activities to brush up on healthy dialogue skills.
  2. Approach the subject. It may feel awkward to voice your concerns, yet it is so important! Explain calmly and without accusation how you have been feeling. Then stay open to your spouse’s side of the story. Coming out of the discussion with a re-affirmed trust in each other’s fidelity is the goal.
  3. Set up an action plan so the situation doesn’t progress or reoccur. Also set up guidelines for what you consider appropriate behavior around members of the opposite sex. For example, Aliston might ask that Marcus not hang out with female coworkers alone outside of work (this is a good idea in general for any marriage!)

 

If you are having trouble discussing the jealousy or other sensitive issues with your spouse , you may want to try couples counseling or online marriage counseling with Power of Two. In addition, if you have a chronically jealous husband who tries to unreasonably restrict your activity and quality of life, you may want to check if his behavior falls under emotional abuse in our reasons for divorce guidelines.

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I'm Dr. Abigail Hirsch. I lead the Power of Two coaching team. We are here to help you stop fighting and build trust, intimacy and love.

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Funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Health Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant 90-FE-0123. Any opinions, finding, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Health and Human Servies, Administration for Children and Families.