Jealousy is painful - for both partners
It's Othello believing Iago's lies about Desdemona. It's John Lennon singing about being a jealous guy. It's a feeling that drives its host to sleepless nights and obsessive thoughts.
It can start early. The older sibling, having looked forward to the arrival of a new brother or sister, now finds Mummy and Daddy absorbed in the newcomer to the exclusion of all else. When the older child gets near the baby, contact is hedged with restrictions.
'Don't pick up the baby, you might drop her.'
'The baby needs to sleep now, not play.'
'No, darling. Babies don't like being poked in the eye.'
No wonder the older child feels unloved by the parents, and a murderous rage towards the usurper.
In adult life insecurity can arouse similar feelings. The insecure adult has the same fears that the love that is rightfully theirs will be transferred to somebody else, sometimes with tragic consequences. Jealousy has driven its victims to kill their loved ones: 'If I can't have you no one else will.'
If to be jealous is to be consumed with rage and despair, to be the object of jealousy is to be initially bewildered, then fearful. No matter what a person does to try and alleviate their partner's jealousy, it can never be enough. 'I'll stop going out with my friends if it makes you feel easier', is just the thin end of the wedge. Fleeting eye-contact in the street with an attractive stranger can be enough to set off a storm in the mind of a jealous person.
In the end, the partner might end up leaving the relationship. The jealous person will think they were right in their suspicions all along, and their next relationship will almost certainly follow the same pattern.
The counselling room offers a safe place for both partners to examine their feelings. The partner of the jealous person will be supported in deciding whether to leave the relationship or stay, and if the latter, how to manage the jealousy. They may also want to air their feelings around being wrongly accused of cheating on their partner.
The jealous person can talk about their fear that the loved one will desert them. The counsellor may gently ask the client what evidence they have for their partner's infidelity. They will usually be unable to produce any, but that is only the start of the process. The client's head may know there is no reason to be jealous, but it is what is in the heart that needs to be worked with, and it can take time and perseverance by client and counsellor for head and heart to be brought into line.
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About Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee is a counsellor in private practice in South London.