Jessica and Adam have been married for five years and have no children. They love to go out to concerts, clubs and parties. Most of the time they go out together, but sometimes they have nights where they spend time apart. Jess is fine with that and doesn’t consider herself a jealous wife. Jess loves dressing up to go out to parties. She loves how confident she feels when she’s all done up, and how sexy her husband finds her. She also loves the admiring stares she gets from other men. She is naturally very outgoing and enjoys flirting. She’s never cheated on anyone, and loves Adam. At the same time, she likes to make him a little jealous. “It reminds him of how lucky he is to have me,” she thinks.
Adam is normally more reserved than Jess. Last night they went to a house party together and Adam ran into an old friend from high school, Shauna, who was back in town for the week. Jess had never heard Adam mention Shauna before–in fact, he never really talked about that time of his life. Adam introduced them and then spent the rest of the evening talking to Shauna. Jess hung out with some other people at the party, but couldn’t help watching Dave and Shauna the whole night. In the car on the way back home, Adam was in a great mood, but Jess kept quiet.
Adam sees Shauna again before she flies home. They also get coffee together next month when she’s back in town. The month after that, Jess asked Adam if he wanted to go to a city block party downtown. “I can’t, I’m meeting up with Shauna before she leaves. You go with your girlfriends.”
“What? When were you planning on telling me this?” Jess frowned.
“Sorry, it was a last minute plan, she just called this morning.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with this,” she responded after a moment. “Plus, I was looking forward to going out with you.”
“It’s just an hour or two. You get to see me all the time.”
Jess felt herself getting angry.
“So you’d rather hang out with some other woman than me, your wife?”
“No, that’s not…look, she’s only in town for a few more days and I never get to see her. I’ll meet up with you after.”
“Sure, and just have time to go rent a hotel room,” Jess growls.
“You heard me!”
“Jess, she’s just a friend. You think I would cheat on you? You’re saying I can’t hang out with my friends?”
Both Jess and Adam are yelling now.
“I’m not an idiot, Adam. I know how these things start!”
“I’m not taking any more of this. Do whatever you want today.” Adam takes his keys and walks out, muttering “…crazy!” as he slams the door.
What went wrong here? Is Jess a justifiably jealous wife, or is she being unreasonable?
1. Jess is picking up on real danger.
Jess is right in one way: this is how cheating starts. Full blown affairs don’t happen all at once; they develop over time. Affairs come out of increasing intimacy with someone to whom you are attracted. It may start out innocently but then progresses to being sexual.
Jess could be picking up on some very valid warning signs of infidelity. First, Shauna is someone unknown from Adam’s past. This previous connection–especially if they dated or had an attraction as teenagers–provides a strong foundation for an affair to start. Adam may have no intention to cheat and his plans with Shauna may be innocent now. But down the road this could develop into something more. This may be why Adam become so defensive when Jess accused him: deep down he agrees and sense danger.
2. Something else is going on.
When tackling the issue of jealousy, Dr. Hirsch likes to start with some Eric Clapton lyrics: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself!”
Sometimes jealousy is a projection of feelings or worries you have about yourself. If your spouse has no history of indiscretion and you have no serious proof, you should first look at your own motivations, fears and concerns. Jealousy, like anger, can be a useful point for self discovery.
While Adam is gone, Jess cools down and begins to think about the issue. It’s true, Adam had never shown any sign of being a cheater. In fact, he was very trustworthy and dependable. Jess then starts to think about her own behavior. She realizes that her fears of Adam being flirtatious with other women reflected the way she liked to impress other men. Deep down, she always wondered if she would ever cheat on him. Her own parents had divorced because her dad had an affair, and in a way she expected it to happen.
Jess started to feel better about the situation. She knew she shouldn’t be afraid to talk to Adam. She also thought about why she might be feeling more insecure in their relationship than usual. Jess and Adam were planning to start a family in the next few months and Jess was feeling nervous about the transition. She was afraid her changing body would make her less attractive to her husband and that their marriage would begin to fall apart after having kids as her parents did.
3. Receiving jealousy
Being accused of infidelity can be very painful. It hurts to feel that your spouse doesn’t trust you completely. At the same time, Dave’s reaction does not help the situation. His defensiveness contributes to the escalating argument and makes Jess even more suspicious. His labeling of his jealous wife ‘s worries as “crazy” dismisses her feelings. Your spouse’s jealousy may be misguided, and at the same time, remember that anything that causes her distress is valid and needs to be addressed.
4. What should I do?
The only solution to jealousy is to address the situation. Unspoken jealousy can simmer in a jealous wife or husband until it explodes in outbursts like the one Jess and Adam had. If there is an affair starting or about to start, early detection and discussion can prevent it from happening. If there isn’t any actual cheating, a good conversation should address the causes of underlying jealousy.
Brush up on your communication skills before embarking on a sensitive conversation.