Facing jealousy in relationships: Part 2

Last week I used Dr. Hirsch’s favorite Eric Clapton line to start a post on dealing with jealousy in relationships: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself!” This post deals with jealousy that may be unfounded or projected.

Jealousy is a problem–unspoken jealousy eats away at the positivity and love in your marriage and can lead to resentment. Feelings of jealousy shouldn’t be ignored; instead, these feelings can be used as jumping-off points for fixing fault lines in your marriage before they turn into big rifts. Attempts to broach such a sensitive issues can easily to turn into fights. Accusations of infidelity and over-protectiveness can fly. With jealousy in relationships, especially, it’s easy to blame the other person. Yet, as Eric Clapton sang, part of the problem will lie inside yourself, in your reactions, presumptions and behaviors.

Last week I talked about how little gnawing feelings of jealousy can be a legitimate warning sign that your marriage is in jeopardy. Taking a cue from these feelings you can prevent an infidelity from taking place. At the same time, some feelings of jealousy in relationships come from our projection of our own guilt and desire onto our spouse’s behavior.

Case #2: Projection.

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

In this case, Susan’ jealousy toward her husband is likely unjustified. 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 in fact are 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 attractive people 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.