Dealing with Jealousy in a Marriage

Marriage is built on trust, and the healthiest marriages recognize and respect that both partners need space to be individuals. But today, we come into contact with many people outside our marriage: workplace relationships, clients, outside friendships, and social media contacts. With so much access to others outside our relationships, is it any wonder that a large number of marriages end in infidelity?

While jealousy may be a natural reaction to these feelings of vulnerability and competition, irrational jealousy and possessiveness can be serious obstacles to a good relationship. It can even cause the exact behavior the jealous person is guarding themself against. 

Causes of jealousy

Jealousy is fear. It may stem from low self-esteem. A person who struggles with jealousy fears the betrayal and loss of their romantic partner.

Their partner’s current or past behaviors might give them good cause to feel jealous. Perhaps their partner was unfaithful in the past, or maybe they are secretive about “platonic” friendships with the opposite sex or inappropriately flirtatious with others.

But in many cases, jealousy in a relationship is not fueled by the other person’s inappropriate behavior. It is spurred by the jealous partner’s feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt. In many cases, it can be a deep-seated fear of abandonment with childhood origins.

Signs of spousal jealousy

You expect honesty and respect from your spouse. Jealousy can be a reasonable reaction to a lack of that, and it can signal that some issues should be addressed in your relationship. 

But while some jealousy can be helpful in a marriage and even make it stronger, unhealthy jealousy can be harmful to a relationship, especially when there is no justification for it.

What are some signs that your spouse (or even you) may have irrational suspicions and jealousy?

They ask where you are and who you’re with

Checking in with your spouse is a healthy sign of care and respect. That said, there can come a time when a spouse’s need for constant information feels intrusive. If your spouse constantly questions what you do when you’re away from them, it may be due to feelings of jealousy.

They feel insecure and resentful of your outside friendships and platonic relationships

You and your spouse need outside friendships to feel healthy and whole. But if your spouse feels insecure about your outside friendships, it can feel confining. 

They see flirtation when it doesn’t exist

If your friendliness toward others has been construed as flirtation by your spouse, it may be due to their own feelings of insecurity.  

They are intense about your relationship and can be emotionally dependent

Attention can be flattering, but too much can feel repressive. Instead of feeling loved, you may feel controlled and suffocated. 

How jealousy harms your relationship

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between loving concern and jealousy.

Some jealousy is normal and understandable, for instance, if one of you spends a lot of time entertaining clients or traveling for work. But when jealousy is left unchecked, it feels anything but loving. 

Irrational jealousy can be toxic to a marriage if not addressed. It can leave you feeling resentful, disconnected, and controlled. In extreme cases, it can make you afraid for your safety. 

A lack of trust

Jealousy in a marriage is all about a lack of trust, whether valid or not. Once you or your spouse begin to distrust each other, other critical things in your relationship can begin to break down. 

A loss of connection

When you or your spouse is insecure in your marriage, no amount of soothing from your partner may help. You may continue to find reasons to be suspicious, even without cause. This can wear down feelings of love, connection, and communication in your relationship.

An imbalance of power

In a healthy marriage, there should be an equitable balance of power. But when one partner’s jealousy makes the other feel unable to be themselves, it can become manipulative and leave the other feeling powerless. 

What are some signs of unhealthy jealousy?

While jealousy can be an understandable response to insecurity or past hurt, it can also become irrational and intense. Unhealthy jealousy can look like any of the following:

  • Being constantly concerned with what the other is doing and questioning their whereabouts
  • Making up stories and lodging untrue accusations
  • Isolating their spouse from friends and family
  • Stalking 
  • Listening to voicemails and checking texts, emails, and social media
  • Anger and even violence

How to rein in jealousy in your marriage

Healthy relationships require trust and honesty. But jealousy is a strong, uncomfortable emotion, and it can gain a foothold before you even understand what’s happening.

If you’re dealing with a jealous spouse, or if you find that you’re struggling with unreasonable jealousy yourself, it can be challenging. If you can recognize it when it’s happening, acknowledge your feelings, and talk about it with your partner, it can create the open and honest dialog and understanding you need to help each other work through it together.

You and your spouse can begin by being as transparent as possible about friendships and work relationships so neither feels like information is being hidden or withheld. Take a closer look at how you communicate your feelings. Is there a way you can both learn to communicate concerns that will be better accepted by the other? Discuss boundaries and when it might feel like a boundary has been crossed. 

If you’re the one who struggles with jealous feelings, it is something you can control, but it will take time, effort, and mutual understanding. Nobody likes feeling jealous, and few people like hurting a spouse needlessly. It’s important to understand why it is happening and learn how to take control when it feels like it’s controlling you. 

  • Give yourself some self-love. Try to understand where your jealousy comes from. Do you have valid reasons for distrusting your spouse, or is your jealousy a fear of abandonment that stems from your past? Are you being reasonable or reactionary?
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were on the other side of this conversation?”

    • Admit to your spouse where you think your jealous feelings come from. Tell them you know your jealousy is harming your relationship and that you want to learn to control it. Ask for their help and understanding.  

  • Set some mutual ground rules that might help you navigate these feelings going forward.  

Jealousy hurts your relationship. A professional couples therapist can help you understand where your jealousy comes from, help your spouse understand it, and give both of you tools for combating those feelings.

Can jealousy lead to divorce?

Jealous behaviors can lead to irrational and unhealthy control and even violence. Even unfounded jealousy can push one partner away until it eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Unfortunately, no matter how understanding each partner is, jealousy can still lead to the breakdown of a marriage if left unattended. If jealousy has caused your unhappy marriage and you want to leave, we can help. At Hello Divorce, we believe there is a kinder, gentler, and less expensive way to end your marriage. Check out our divorce plans and other flat-rate professional services, or schedule a free 15-minute phone call with us. You aren’t alone. We have your back. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.