We know we should be happy if our spouse has a regular paycheck or has embarked on a successful campaign to losing weight in the New Year. But sometimes that green-eyed monster called jealousy interferes with our good feelings. Instead, we wallow in self-pity because we gave up our paying job to stay home with the kids. Or we wonder if our spouse is losing weight to attract someone else.
When that happens, we need to recognize the problem is ours, not our spouse’s, say Patricia Sheck and Teresa CLaeys, both licensed clinical social workers at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Both partners need to decide if someone will stay at home with the children, they assert, and the one who stays home needs to value herself or himself and the role.
Since jealousy can undermine a relationship, it’s important not to let negative feelings fester, Sheck and CLaeys explain. Instead, one should seek help to determine if the thoughts are obsessive, unrealistic, or destructive.
“Sometimes, when one partner has stopped working in order to raise a child, he or she can feel like their opinion doesn’t have as much weight when it comes to money matters and purchasing for the family,” adds Scott Haltzman, MD, associate professor of Psychiatry at Brown University, Providence, R.I. “Or if one partner suddenly starts getting in shape, it can stimulate suspicion in the other partner. ‘Why are you doing this now? Who are you trying to attract?’”
In healthy relationships spouses support each other in making positive changes. It’s important to question yourself if you do not. You should ask questions like what is really bothering me, or am I acting out of fear of abandonment, Sheck and CLaeys advise. Occasionally feeling jealous of your partner is understandable, but, if sustained, these feelings will be detrimental to your relationship’s team dynamic.
“Nowadays, relationships and marriage are less an economic and social union held together by outside forces as they are a love-based union, held together internally,” says Amy Olson-Sigg, a research associate for acclaimed marriage psychologist David H. Olson’s Life Innovations, Minneapolis, Minn.
In other words, romantic relationships and marriages today are more of a partnership. So if one person feels inferior, insecure or jealous, for whatever reason, that insecurity will leak out in other ways, such as low self-esteem, moodiness, irritability, competitiveness or withdrawal, says Olson-Sigg. These behaviors can then impact the other partner negatively and, with a sort of domino effect, throw the entire relationship even further out of whack.
Experts recommend two different tactics for getting back your balance: Talk about it and take responsibility.
Talking about it is just another way of saying good communication, the most important predictor of a healthy relationship, according to Olson-Sigg.
“Women often put themselves last when taking care of the needs of the family and therefore end up feeling exhausted, unhealthy, unimportant or even inferior” says Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Men” (Jossey-Bass, 2005) and “The Secrets of Happily Married Women” (Jossey-Bass, 2008). “But most men don’t want this outcome; they really want their wives to take care of themselves. Don’t be afraid to voice your needs to your husband, but then allow him the opportunity and time to help you, even if his actions are imperfect or ‘inferior’ at first.”
Also keep in mind that the goal of communication is not to blame your partner for your uncomfortable feelings, but rather to feel heard and reassured. Olson-Sigg suggests using “I feel” statements in these situations, such as “Although I really am so proud of your promotion at work, I feel like I am really not getting enough adult-time by myself.” They slow down the communication process and minimize the speaker’s tendency to get off track, be accusatory or defensive.
story by Anna Sachse and Cheryl Rogers