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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR JEALOUSY THREATENS TO DESTROY YOUR MARRIAGE

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage
Back
Stop Behaviors
Challenge Thoughts
Stop Jealous Self-talk
Improve Self-Esteem

Step 1. Stop jealous behaviors.

Make an effort to no longer engage in the self-defeating behavior.

Changing emotions or how you feel about yourself is a difficult task that takes time. You need to learn to identify the problem areas and then challenge them over an extended period of time to see change. However, what you need to consider is that the most destructive thing to your relationship is your jealous behaviors. These can be addressed immediately even if you haven't changed the underlying causes of the jealousy.

Therefore, the first step is to identify the jealous behaviors. Make a list of the behaviors in which you engage that create problems in your relationship. If possible, talk to your significant other and find out what bothers him or her. Some behaviors to consider are:

1) Do you question your spouse in detail about his or her day looking for discrepancies? Even if you think you are being clever in how you phrase your questions, your spouse will catch on to what you are doing and it will be an irritant.

2) Do you accuse him or her of paying too much attention to someone else or of looking at some attractive person?

3) Do you question him or her in detail about past relationships? Sometimes people do this under the guise of full disclosure or honesty but it will be clear to your spouse that you are just feeding your jealousy.

4) Do you check emails and phone records? Do you then question about unknown numbers and require proof about the identity of the person?

5) Do you control with whom your spouse can associate?

6) Do you sabotage your partner's efforts to look attractive? For example, if she is on a diet and you bring home junk food.

7) Do you belittle your partner and try to make him or her believe that no one else could love him/her the way you do?

The above are just some of the common destructive behaviors. Try to identify your behaviors specifically. If you have trouble with this you could even keep a journal (which can even be a piece of paper you keep with you) and whenever you notice a behavior, write it down. Sometimes to notice a behavior you may first notice the outcome of a behavior such as an argument. So, you might write down every time you argue and try to determine what behavior preceded the argument.

Once you have identified the behaviors, try to include other specifics about the behavior such as:

1) When did the behavior occur?

2) What happened right before the behavior?

3) What was your emotional state right before the behavior?

4) What was your emotional state after the behavior?

5) Was there some reinforcement of the behavior? For example, did you have make-up sex after the argument?

Not all of these questions will provide useful information. However, you want to look at your answers to determine any patterns that might occur. For instance, if you noticed that you tend to engage in the behavior when you've had a stressful day at work, then that pattern would tell you to be on the look-out for the behavior after work. Or if you notice that you tend to engage in the behavior after you and your spouse have attended a party, then you know you need to be careful after a party.

Once you have identified the behaviors and when and how they are likely to occur, you need to make a plan to stop the behaviors. If you have identified a certain pattern when they are likely to occur, you could try changing your routine. For example, if it occurs when you've been stressed at work, you might talk with a friend to unwind or you might go play racquetball to work off the stress.

If you are questioning or making accusations, you may need to be very firm with yourself and tell yourself to "Stop." Once will not be enough. You will need to keep reminding yourself. Also, remind yourself of how the behavior is hurting your relationship. Have someone you can call when you are having trouble resisting. For some people, depending on your relationship, your spouse might be able to assist you. For example, you could tell your spouse not to answer your questions or to walk away. However, ultimately, it is important for you to take control of your behavior.

When people change behaviors, they often believe that the change should be reward enough. However, the jealous behaviors are often very powerfully reinforcing so you need something to counteract that reinforcement. So, when you are doing well or you resisted an urge to engage in the jealous behaviors, give yourself a reward. Rewards can vary according to each person so it may be a good idea of making a list of things you can do to reward yourself. And, if your spouse is willing, have him or her give you a pat on the back as well.

Finally, one very important factor regarding changing behaviors needs to be addressed. So often, I have clients who tell me that they complained to their spouse about jealousy and he or she changed for a period of time. But then they reverted back to the same behaviors. The typical reason this occurs is because all the individual did was to change the behaviors. Without changing the underlying cause of the behaviors such as the self-esteem or fear of abandonment, the behaviors are likely to return because the individual is still in an emotional state of distress. So, in other words, it is not enough to change just the behaviors, you need to take the other steps I've outlined as well.