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WHAT TO DO WHEN JEALOUSY THREATENS TO DESTROY YOUR MARRIAGE
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Tap to Listen to Article
What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage
Back
Stop Behaviors
Challenge Thoughts
Stop Jealous Self-talk
Improve Self-Esteem
Step 2. Challenge Irrational Thoughts.

Challenge the irrational thinking styles frequently.

Underlying the jealous emotions and behavior are the irrational thoughts. Before you can change the emotions you need to identify, challenge, and change these thoughts. One of the most common types of thought distortions that plays a role in irrational jealousy is the fixed desire. A fixed desire is any kind of belief that demands a certain outcome for the person to be happy. For example, "I must get a promotion at work or I'll be a failure." In this case, the individual's contentment with him or herself is based on obtaining a promotion.

Fixed desires are typically externally based which means that a person is giving control of his/her happiness to something or someone else over which he/she may not have control. Take the above example. What if this person has an unreasonable boss who won't give the desired promotion? But the individual continues to believe that he/she is a failure without it. In this case, nothing he/she can do will change this feeling because it is out of his/her control.

A fixed desire is different from a desire or a goal. In the above example, an individual can desire a promotion but does not have to base his/her self-concept and happiness upon obtaining the goal. Therefore, it is not a demand and he/she can feel okay whether or not the promotion is obtained. "I prefer to get a promotion. However, even without it I know I'm a competent employee."

How does this work with irrational jealousy? A jealous person may have a belief such as "This person must love me or I can't be happy." This type of belief is a demand that potentially leads to thoughts such as "I must make this person love me" or "I must make sure he/she doesn't leave me." These thoughts then will lead to attempts to control the other person or to other jealous behaviors such as suspiciousness and questioning.

If you tend to have fixed desires, you may believe that this thinking is perfectly reasonable. You might be thinking, "Why wouldn't I want to make sure this person loves me?" Again, there is a difference between a desire and a fixed desire (demand). The more you demand love the less likely you are to obtain it especially since the concept of true love is that it is freely given. However, if you are acting on a desire you are more likely to focus on your behavior rather than the other person's behavior. For example, you are less likely to be questioning the whereabouts of your loved one and more likely to be demonstrating your love through caring behaviors. Such behavior is much more effective in obtaining and securing love than jealous behaviors are.

The bottom line, anyway, when it comes to whether someone loves you, is that it is outside of your control. Someone else's love is their choice, not yours. If someone you love does not love you, it does not mean that there is something wrong with you or that you are unlovable. It just means it was not a good fit.

A good way to identify irrational thinking is to write down your thoughts when you are feeling jealous. Try to be specific and try to identify the deepest thoughts possible. For instance, if you think:

"I want him/her to love me."

Ask yourself "What if he/she doesn't?"

"I don't want him/her to leave me?"

Then ask yourself "What if she/he does?"

"I'll be all alone"

"So what if you're all alone?"

"I'll be sad."

"So what if you're sad?"

"I won't be able to stand it."

"And what if you can't stand it?"

"What's the point in living then."

By having this type of conversation with yourself you can identify the thinking at the deeper levels that contribute to the irrational jealousy. In this case, the person is identifying fear of abandonment, inability to tolerate negative emotions, and catastrophic predictions. Once you identify the source of the thinking you can then begin to challenge the accuracy of these thoughts.

For instance, a catastrophic prediction is the belief that the worst case scenario will occur. What is the likelihood that the worst case scenario will occur? You might believe that since other people have left you it is likely that your current spouse will leave you. Is that accurate? Is this person the same as previous people you've with whom you've had relationships? Is this person likely to cheat on you? If your answer is truly "yes" then there may be a problem with how you are choosing partners. Otherwise, it is important to recognize that aside from your jealous behaviors causing the person to leave, the catastrophic prediction is not likely to be accurate.

The inability to tolerate negative emotions, especially sadness and loneliness, is common with irrational jealousy. Often people believe that these emotions will never end and they don't want to feel sad or lonely forever. However, the grief process is time-limited if we allow ourselves to fully feel the grief. When we work through the emotions by experiencing them rather than avoiding them we are able to resolve the grief. Frequently, though, due to fear of experiencing the unpleasant emotions, individuals will become stuck in the grief especially the anger stage of grief. Anger is a self-protective emotion that is often easier for people than the overwhelming sadness. However, some people may be uncomfortable with anger and they may become stuck in the bargaining stage such as believing they can still work it out.

These are just a couple of the ways that inaccurate thinking can occur. However, once you have identified the inaccuracies in your thinking, the next step is to remind yourself frequently of how your thinking is inaccurate. Sometimes it is useful to even write down the more accurate thinking and carry it with you so you can read it frequently. The more often you engage in the accurate thinking, the more quickly your thinking will change. Try an experiment: before you start to change your thinking, spend a day counting each time you have a jealous thought--not each episode of jealousy, but each specific thought. For many people, this will add up into the hundreds. When you have obtained this baseline, you will have an idea of how many times you need to repeat the accurate thoughts to yourself each day because it needs to approximate this number. Another way to obtain the necessary repetition is to record the accurate thoughts and then listen to them over and over. As you achieve enough repetition, you will notice that your automatic thoughts will start to change.

This is not a simple process. However, it is like any new skill you want to learn. You can't expect to drive a car without learning how and then practicing. the same is true of changing thinking: we need to learn the method and then practice.