Sexual jealousy is like a toxic weed – if it isn't rooted out it will suffocate and poison a relationship, turning passion into paranoia. The saying “love is blind” isn't strictly true, jealousy is certainly blind.
Jason and Katherine, a couple in their early 30s whom I recently saw, had been together for about a year. When they met, she noticed that he was jealous but she was flattered because she felt, he really must care for her and love her. Now however, the intensity of his unwarranted jealousy was tearing them apart.
He doesn't like her talking to male friends or colleagues and he accuses her of flirting with them. When she goes out with her girlfriends, he texts her every hour to find out what she is up to. Just last month she realised he had been secretly checking her emails and mobile phone.
She has become anxious, feels she lost her freedom and is been driven mad by his clinging. She threatened to leave him if he did not come to counselling and he very reluctantly agreed.
Why was Jason so jealous? His ex-partner had cheated on him and he never got over it, he believed he was made to look like a fool, lost his confidence and had a real fear it would happen again.
His hurt was so overwhelming that he never told Katherine how his last relationship ended. Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship and it's very insulting when your partner doubts you or your behaviour. In the long run, constant questioning can be as destructive as having an affair.
Jason realised he was creating imaginary threats, tormenting Katherine and himself and he is able to manage his emotions better now.
I have spoken to many couples where one of the partners has some sort of sexual jealousy. Some people have such a fear their partners may be unfaithful; they use social media such as Facebook to check on which friends they are talking to. They often insist on having access to their partners' emails and mobile phones. Why not, they say, if he or she has nothing to hide.
Jealousy also rears its head after one of the partners has had an affair, fling or other sexual indiscretion. Whatever the reason for it, infidelity has an often devastating effect on a relationship and it's easy to understand that jealousy will play a big part in it.
Some people are extremely jealous of their partners' sexual past; they believe former partners may have been more experienced or better lovers than they are. They're often so insecure they can't stop asking questions and wanting to know details even when it is self-destructive.
One of my clients is a divorced man who still has a very good relationship with his ex-wife; they move within the same circle of friends and have two young children.
His current partner, whom he really likes and was getting serious about, changed after meeting his ex-wife. She became so jealous that she didn't want any contact with her, except for the occasional “hello and goodbye” when dropping off the kids. He became so worried it would harm his relationship with his children in the future that he decided to break up with her.
In extreme cases, sexual jealousy can sometimes be the motive for a man to kill the partner who wants to leave him; his reason often being “if I can't have her nobody else will!”
This stems from the idea that our partners belong to us, but people are not possessions and our partners don't own us. Owning is the opposite of loving.
Most issues in a relationship can be fixed, but jealousy is a hard habit to break. If a jealous person refuses to change or admit that he or she is in the wrong the relationship will remain unhealthy. Being jealous is a very powerful emotion, it is difficult to control because it's being fed by one continuous thought: is my partner being unfaithful?
Jealousy has a lot to do with self-esteem. If you are happy with yourself and confident in your own skin you are much more likely to think: why would my partner want anyone else when they are lucky enough to have me!
A healthy ego is the best protection against jealousy.