Make no mistake – jealousy can cripple or kill your marriage. It can (consult Shakespeare’s “Othello” for full details) also kill you, in extreme cases. As it is one of the most primitive, primal and powerful of human emotions, jealousy is not to be trifled with.
Take it seriously and do your best to prevent it from gaining power over your marriage.
Dealing with your own jealousy is one thing – after all, you at least have some power over yourself, over your own emotional state. But how do you deal with a jealous spouse? And especially how do you handle one whose jealousy has become wild and unreasonable?
You Are Probably Not Responsible for the Jealousy
Let’s start by reminding you that, in most cases, you are not responsible for your spouse’s jealousy. Obviously, if you are flirting with other people or having an affair and they find out about it, you are partly responsible for the situation.
But remember – your spouse’s emotional response, whether it is anger, fear, sadness, depression, or jealousy, comes from within them. Just as you can’t magically make them happy at the snap of your fingers, you can’t make them feel any other emotion, whatever it is. But you are responsible for your own choices and actions.
So if your spouse is reasonably jealous, if you’ve given them some real reason to be jealous, that’s a different situation. Then, your main responsibility is to end your affair or stop your flirting right away. Their jealousy may continue for a while, but you will have done everything in your power to solve the problem.
But what of “unreasonable” jealousy? Your spouse is suspicious even though you’ve given them no reason to be.
Perhaps they get upset or angry when you spend time with people who are just your friends. Maybe they worry about normal interaction between you and your coworkers. Or maybe they are snooping through your texts or emails all the time.
What Is Your Level of Tolerance?
First, you need to figure out for yourself how much jealousy from your spouse is acceptable to you. If you just have a passionate, mercurial husband or wife, and their intense emotions don’t do any damage to your relationship, you may just want to accept these flare ups as part of your marriage.
But if you decide that your spouse’s jealousy is inappropriate and is harming your friendships or damaging your own serenity and happiness, then you need to take action.
The first step, as with so many other marital problems, is just to sit down with your spouse and have a direct, frank, grown up conversation about the subject. Prepare for this meeting, if it makes you nervous, by taking some time to write down what you want to say.
Make a list of ways and times when your spouse’s jealousy has upset or harmed you. Try to think of what personal and emotional boundaries you wish to set up to protect yourself from your spouse’s jealousy.
This thinking will be a personal experience, different for everyone. Some people may be perfectly comfortable having a joint email account, for example, with their spouse. That way both partners can see everything that comes in or goes out.
But other people, either for personal reasons or because of their work situation, may decided that it isn’t OK for their spouse to read their email. You have to make up your own mind.
How Far Will You Go to Reassure Your Spouse?
Let’s turn the question around and ask the opposite: “How far am I willing to go to appease my spouse’s unreasonable jealousy?” How you answer this question will help you set your boundaries. Are you willing to assure him or her that you are faithful to them?
Are you willing to let them read your email or the texts on your phone? Are you willing to let them browse through the photos on your phone or in your computer?
So far these are relatively straightforward things to do to reassure your partner. But you could go further if you were willing. Would you agree to 24-hour GPS tracking on your phone or on yourself? Probably not. Would you agree to have no friends of the opposite sex? Probably not. Would you agree to never leave your home? No.
We’ve now reached the more unreasonable end of the spectrum. Somewhere between doing nothing and agreeing to constant GPS tracking via a chip implanted in your body is the actual, healthy boundary that you will choose that makes you comfortable.
Once you’ve decided on a particular boundary, be clear about it to your partner. Tell your spouse, quietly and respectfully, that it isn’t OK for them to read your email, or to look at the texts on your phone. If that’s what you’ve decided, stick to it.
A direct, frank and grown up conversation isn’t always easy to have, but it’s important. Be clear with yourself and with your spouse about how much jealousy is acceptable, about what your boundaries are.
Third Person Help
If the two of you aren’t able to work out the problem together, particularly if you can’t stay calm while discussing it, then it’s time to bring in a professional referee like a therapist. As a disinterested person, a therapist will make sure the two of you stay focused on the topic at hand, that you treat each other respectfully, and that you take turns listening to each other, rather than interrupting and shouting each other down.
A trained therapist can also help both of you dig a little deeper and find some of the possible underlying causes of your spouse’s jealousy. That may, however, be something best discussed privately by your spouse with their own personal therapist.
Remember, if your spouse’s jealousy is “unreasonable,” then it isn’t your fault. That’s what “unreasonable” means. You didn’t cause it, and therefore you don’t have any control over it. You can’t stop it or cure it, either. It’s coming from inside them.
It isn’t your responsibility to stop it, either. So your options are limited. You can think about the things you are willing to do to assure them you are faithful and loving. But beyond that, there’s not much else you can do.
If your spouse’s jealousy ever progresses to where you don’t feel safe due to threats, if you’re afraid of being hurt or abused, then you must protect yourself and seek serious help from the police.
Get away and seek help.