Affairs and Cheating

Jealousy Ruins Relationships: Escape the Trap

Jealousy wife listening“My partner’s jealousy and suspicious questions are overwhelming. I get constant texts when I’m just out with friends or a few minutes late.”

“All this jealousy becomes so controlling. I feel smothered! I love my partner, but this can’t continue. It’s tearing us apart!”

“I don’t understand why my partner is so worried. I haven’t done anything to cause concern. I’m loyal, loving and we have a great time together. Yet, the jealousy and the constant questioning has gotten worse the longer we’ve been together.”

Indeed, jealousy is incredibly harmful to even the best relationships. Jealousy, when not understood and talked about, can push couples further and further apart.

We’re going to help you look beneath the jealousy to gain a better understanding. And, if you’re the jealous one, you may find some keys to helping you calm your fears.

Understanding Jealousy

Jealousy is simply defined as a real or imagined threat to a relationship. Some experts point out that there is both “good” and “bad” jealousy. A little jealousy may be okay because it is a sign of commitment to and love in the relationship. In fact, one study showed that 75% of people said they tried to make their partner jealous at one time or another.

Many people see more severe jealousy as “bad” in relationships because we don’t understand how it can occur, and couples typically don’t know how to navigate through the patterns of jealousy and misunderstandings that are taking place. A lot depends on how jealousy happens in the relationship and how the partners handle these feelings.

The difficulties can often stem from not yet understanding the issues faced by the jealous partner. He or she can be very sensitive to any signs of rejection. An “alarm bell” happens in their brain that signals that something might not be secure in the relationship — even though the worries may not be logical. Then, sometimes automatically, the anxiety turns to action. The jealous partner then acts in ways to try to make the relationship more secure, but actually may drive the couple further apart.

As in the examples above, the anxious partner is attempting to make sure the relationship commitment is solid — by calling, texting, asking questions — yet the other partner can become increasingly overwhelmed.

The “Negative Cycle” That Is Your True Enemy

In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, we help couples see the pattern that develops in their relationship where there is arguing and a growing distance between them. If you look back at the beginning of this post, you’ll see examples of that negative cycle — the arguing takes over and, unfortunately, the core issue never gets resolved.

In a negative cycle, couples develop a variety of ways of coping: One partner may be seeking answers and wants to talk, but the other shuts down or even leaves the room. One partner attacks with mean and unkind words; the other may interrupt to defend his or her position.

For some couples, there is a decline in intimacy because the “blamed” partner is so upset by all the arguing and accusations. Unfortunately, this can add fuel to the jealous partner’s fears if they feel intimacy is no longer welcome as it had been in the past.

What Jealousy Looks (and Feels) Like with Couples

Jealousy, if not understood, leads to a variety of feelings. For the partner:

  • Not feeling trusted by the jealous partner, but not fully understanding why
  • Feeling controlled. The jealous partner wants to know where they are, with whom and for how long
  • Giving up time with friends, family and activities because the jealous partner will become upset and, then possibly . . .
  • Building a resentment because of the lack of trust, for feeling controlled and for limiting  activities once enjoyed with important friends and family members

Meanwhile, the jealous partner:

  • May struggle to explain his or her concerns while feeling at times that the jealousy seems to take over his or her daily thoughts and feelings
  • The fear about the partner’s commitment in the relationship can become a constant preoccupation and burden that makes them feel increasingly misunderstood
  • Can become angry easily because their partner doesn’t seem to understand the concerns, or cooperate

The couple finds they’re walking on eggshells because both have become afraid to bring up the topic for fear that a negative cycle of arguing will be the result. Too, they may be concerned about the impact on their children of their arguing and the tension in the household.

What Lies Beneath for a Jealous Partner

Many times, beneath the jealousy is a great fear of losing the partner, of being deeply hurt. There may also be a fear of not being enough for the partner to hold and keep the spouse or partner’s love and affection. Jealousy at its root is really a type of panic that is unprocessed and makes you to things automatically, without understanding how to actually pull for something soothing from your partner. 

Jealousy may have its roots in a past loss: such as a previous partner who cheated or left the relationship for another person. The pain of that loss can be profound — and can unfortunately linger into new relationships, no matter how secure.

When we take a scientific view, we can recognize that humans are wired to bond with another special person. This powerful bond began in primitive times when we needed others for survival. Then, we learned to fall in love — and this person then became more important than any other. Therefore, a hurtful ending of a relationship can leave a wound not easily healed. This baggage can pop up in new relationships, and you need to discuss it. 

Another clue to the jealous partner’s fears may lie in childhood. While our parents may have had the best of intentions, we may not have received the attention and connection to our parents or a caregiver that we needed. These primary wounds can also make us more prone to feel insecure and panicky (read: jealous).

Make New Meaning out of Jealousy

When any behavior, including jealousy, is more deeply understood, change can become more possible.Jealousy about phone

Couples can begin to resolve difficulties between each other by gently bringing the issue or concern to the surface. A calm conversation with a goal of truly understanding each other can reveal a new awareness of each partner’s viewpoint.

It’s important to go slowly, avoid interrupting and listen fully to each other. Set aside time with no distractions and when neither of you is tired.

Be curious. If something isn’t clear, let your partner know. “I hear what you’re saying and that this is important to you. Help me understand a little further. I wonder about . . . .”

Be soft with each other. Put kindness at the forefront. Keep in mind that both of you want to learn how to defeat that negative cycle together. Communication in Relationships can be tough, but there are many ways to get support.

It’s important for both partners to get a chance to be understood. The jealous partner is in pain, AND the partner who is dealing with the jealousy is suffering the impact of that as well.

Watch for Control Issues

Partner demanding phone out of jealousyWhen is jealousy toxic? These fears, if left unchecked, can make the jealous partner try to control that feeling by controlling their partner. The thing about jealousy is that sometimes there can be the belief that if their partner makes them feel insecure (on purpose or not), they deserve to be punished for that, or taught a lesson (“If she makes me jealous, this is what she has to deal with”). Sometimes, partners were raised to believe certain things about the role of women or spouses. If you have a jealous partner and you are increasingly inhibited and feeling afraid of setting your partner’s jealousy off, or you yourself can’t get unstuck from being on guard and making demands, this is a sign that it’s becoming a bigger deal and you may need outside help. We all feel jealous at times, but toxic jealousy can be a symptom of other aspects of power and control issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, and rarely get better on their own. Click here for more information on controlling relationships.

When Couples Continue to Struggle

Our hope is that reading this post helps you realize that you are not alone — either as the person who experiences jealousy and anxiety about the security of the relationship or as the partner who struggles to truly understand the other person’s fears and concern.

When jealousy has taken a deep toll on the relationship, many couples can feel hopeless. Couples counseling may be an important step. Emotionally Focused Therapy offers a brief, proven approach to addressing conflict and the breakdown of communication.

Couples can learn to become more compassionate and understanding of each other while also learning to work through jealousy and other challenges that are limiting their closeness, joy and loving kindness toward each other.


Recovering from an Emotional Affair

Discovering an emotional affair on your phoneIf your relationship is impacted by an Emotional Affair there are things you need to know

Lately, we’re hearing the term emotional affair more than ever. Perhaps the internet has made it easier to reach out to other people. Yet, an emotional affair can begin in the workplace or in any setting in which people interact, such as charity work and sports activities.

By definition, an emotional affair is a relationship outside of the marriage or primary relationship in which a person finds comfort, an emotional connection and often some sexual chemistry with this outside individual. Often, there is not any physical or sexual contact, but many times there is a strong feeling of connection. Many emotional affairs are only conducted online.

The problem lies in the fact that an emotional affair is “an affair of the heart.” Attention is focused on someone outside the primary relationship, the contact can be frequent (sometimes multiple times daily), and is often hidden from the spouse or primary partner. There may be sharing with the emotional affair partner about the primary marriage or relationship and its shortcomings.

There is a “pull” felt within the emotional affair. Starting as a friendship, the connection strengthens, boundaries may become less rigid, one or both may find their thoughts turn to sexual fantasies. The amount of contact escalates. In emotional affairs, both people typically feel compelled to be in touch, to share important thoughts and feelings and to look forward to hearing from the other — often with increasing frequency.

Discovery of an Emotional Affair Brings Many Strong Emotions

When the spouse or primary partner learns of the emotional affair, it may not matter whether there was a sexual aspect or overtones. The hurt is real, yet often not understood by the person engaging in the outside relationship.

“I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not like we had sex. We’ve never actually even met in person.” Denial of the intent or extent of the emotional affair is a frequent first reaction.

However, the spouse or primary partner feels a deep wound. “Why did you need this other person?” “What was he or she giving you that I don’t?” “If it’s not a big deal, why have you hidden this from me?”

Arguments can escalate easily. Here’s why: The emotional affair is a threat to the emotional bond of your primary relationship. That bond is a powerful force that formed when the couple first met and romantic love developed. Because humans are hard-wired for close, loving relationships, any interference with the couple’s connection that had been formed between them feels like an emotional threat to the primary partner.

The anger and upset expressed after an emotional affair is discovered may mask the deep hurt that lies beneath. It’s important to understand that the hidden, secretive way in which emotional affairs take place add to the sting of betrayal and the new insecurity of the hurt partner.

Misunderstandings Abound About Emotional Affairs

A range of emotions typically surface when the couple attempts to resolve the hurtful feelings. These can include:Couple facing disconnection after an emotional affair is discovered

  • The person who engaged in the emotional affair feels overly accused and may minimize the spouse or primary partner’s feelings of hurt and distrust because there was no physical intimacy. Of course, the primary partner feels not heard or understood.
  • For the spouse, there can be a fear that, if not discovered, the emotional affair would have moved further — and into a sexual relationship.
  • The hurt partner can wonder why there was so much contact with this other person if the relationship “truly didn’t matter.” I’ve often heard partners complain that the other person gets more responses via text, email, or phone than they do. This hurts.

Despite the lack of real in-person or sexual contact, emotional affairs are a threat to the marriage because some needs were apparently being met in the emotional affair that were not fulfilled in the primary relationship.

An Emotional Affair Story

Carmen and Jim met at an art class. Carmen’s husband Michael was busy with work, plus he had minimal interest in Julie’s “crafty” pursuits. She’d go alone to craft fairs and art galleries or with girlfriends. Both had said this was okay, but Carmen really wished Sam would take more of an interest or that they would do more activities together.

She enjoyed Jim’s passion for painting as they talked in class. They began to have text conversations. Carmen found she could not wait to hear from him. She even felt anxious when there was a delay. She began to look forward to painting class even more. Carmen admits to herself there was a certain thrill in this new friendship — though she respected the boundaries of her marriage. After all, she truly loved Michael. It started as having a friend with a common interest, and even though there were warning signs, Carmen tried hard not to think that she was playing with fire.

Then Michael discovered the extensive texts on her phone, and he was devastated. So many of the texts were late at night — and some appeared to be a bit flirty. Michael’s hurt often surfaced as anger. The couple found they argued frequently over the emotional affair. This was the first major problem in their marriage, yet Michael could not recover. He felt his trust for Carmen was slipping away, and the more Carmen reassured him that she wasn’t having an affair, the more Michael felt misunderstood and protective of the relationship. Carmen began to feel suffocated by Michael’s reactivity about the issue. Michael started to feel like Carmen didn’t want to help him feel more secure in the relationship.

An Opportunity for Reconnection

After months of arguing, the couple sought help. They learned in counseling why the emotional affair was so deeply hurtful to Michael. Carmen began to understand the depth of his pain.

But more than only resolving the emotional affair, they were able to explore what was missing in their marriage. The strong attachment bond that brought them together initially had become more strained. Michael’s devotion to his career meant long hours away from home. Carmen did not know how to openly express her needs to Michael for greater closeness and more time together. Michael couldn’t understand why his career driven mindset didn’t illustrate how important Carmen actually was to him – he was doing this for them and their future, but he couldn’t nurture their emotional connection.

Unfortunately, the missing pieces in the marriage got filled with the emotional affair.

Carmen and Michael were able to revisit what kept them connected in the past. They had enjoyed hiking and attending local theater — and now needed to to re-prioritize their time together. They once had a daily ritual of having time together on the patio every evening to share their day and other thoughts. They needed to bring back the ritual that kept them in touch and close in the past.

Staying Close in the Digital Age

Couple having an emotional affair onlineCarmen and Michael were able to recover, fortunately. As with many couples today, there are tons of challenges to making the relationship a priority.

Longer work hours, especially when you are building your career, are very common. Working remotely or on weekends makes unplugging more difficult, mentally and physically.

Additionally, meeting the needs of children can become the priority more than the couple’s relationship. Parents want to be supportive of kids’ sports and other activities, but less and less time seems to be available for the couple to be alone together.

Recovering from an Emotional Affair

  1. Do not to underestimate the damage that an emotional affair can have. They can be as destructive as a physical affair, especially for partners who highly value an emotional connection in their relationship. Recovering from an affair is very similar to dealing with an emotional affair.
  2. Understand that to heal, you must feel. That means that if your partner is upset, you need to get it. Truly work to understand and feel their pain in ways that you can show that you are touched by the impact this has had. The worst thing you can do is tell your partner that the emotional affair wasn’t anything to worry about.
  3. Try to get underneath your anger or efforts to “fix” and communicate your needs clearly. Instead of accusing your partner of hurting you in anger, share your fears and hurts. Anxiety after an affair is common, and there are ways to address it.
  4. This is tough, but you have to stop the emotional affair. It’s best not to have any more contact with the person, but if that’s not possible because you work with them, put some boundaries in place. Your relationship won’t heal if you are continuing to poke holes in it.
  5. Seeking help is smart! Even for an emotional affair. If your partner doesn’t think that you need counseling just for an emotional affair, well that may be the first therapeutic issue we tackle. Reach out to a couples therapist, especially one who practices Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Here in Denver, we are happy to chat with you about your couples therapy needs and see if we can be helpful at no charge.