Maya Angelou put it best when she said jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can
enhance the flavor, but too much can spoil the pleasure. And, under certain circumstances,
can be life-threatening.
With deployments, geographic separations and close working conditions, military marriages can easily be a breeding ground for romantic jealousy. We’ve consulted relationship experts to help you know if you’ve stepped into dangerous territory-and to help you discover how just a little jealousy can actually be a good for your marriage.
Origin of the Feeling
While people who feel inadequate, insecure, or overly dependent tend to be more jealous than others, jealousy evolved in humans for positive reasons, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a research professor at Rutgers University who has written five books on the evolution and future of human sexuality, monogamy, adultery and divorce, plus the chemistry of romantic love.
Getting to the Truth
Jealousy can take root whether a spouse is at home or deployed. No matter the situation,
when a spouse’s actions provoke romantic jealousy the first step is to determine whether or not your spouse is actually cheating. If they are being unfaithful, then you have
relationship issues to solve. But if their actions are not adulterous, Fisher says you still need
to inform your spouse what makes you jealous and ask them to stop the behaviors that are
causing you stress. If they do not stop, then you need to decide what you are willing to accept to stay in the relationship.
We all draw the lines in different places: Some people are comfortable with their spouse engaging in a degree of flirting or some level of contact with former partners, while others find things like this intolerable. Sometimes jealousy can be caused by something your spouse has no control over like being attractive, personable and charming. Fisher says that if you’re capable of overlooking the aspect of this situation that you don’t like, and instead can focus on the positives, then your marriage will be better off.
For instance: Say you get jealous when your spouse’s strong personality attracts people who hang on his or her every word. But it’s that same personality that has allowed her to advance in her career and afforded your family a better lifestyle. Realizing that this is essentially a positive thing can change your experience.
Over time, jealousy has discouraged us from staying with philanderers; instead, the feelings caused us to seek out more stable and rewarding partnerships that would lead to security for our young. Those strong partnerships also bring us more happiness.
How does it Start?
Whether or not you consider yourself the jealous type, put under extreme circumstances most people will become jealous. Neither gender is more jealous, says Fisher. And a minimal amount of jealousy can be good, like noticing that your handsome service member’s uniform turns heads.
This casual jealousy may lead a spouse to rekindle some of the romance of earlier married life-maybe give a few extra kisses, or encourage a renewal of interest in repairing some of the neglected areas of a relationship. But uncontrollable or provoked jealousy is the element that can turn a situation into something more dangerous.
Crossing into the Danger Zone
Men and women typically deal with jealousy in different ways. Yes, both may engage in some level of stalking to find out what is going on. And both can allow unchecked jealous feelings to consume them to the point of destroying a relationship. Men are more likely to go over the deep end and get abusive; jealousy has often been attributed as a leading cause of spousal homicide.
Fisher stresses that couples need to build a solid marriage that allows each partner to express what makes them jealous and each person to work on not doing those things. Jealousy can be tough to talk about.
But communicating about it can be a source of strength: Maybe one partner doesn’t realize that a particular behavior is sparking jealousy in their mate. Couples should have transparency in their everyday life that reassures their spouse. Regardless of the cause, if you are unable to control your jealous feelings, seek out counseling so you can get the professional support you need to have a healthy relationship.
While romantic jealousy can easily ruin a marriage, envy of what your spouse (or even a friend!) has or is doing can also damage a relationship. Do you wish you could be the spouse whose career is growing? Or want to be the parent who didn’t have to deal with the diapers or dinner menu? Maybe you wish you got the better housing, like your friend just did. Or you’re really wishing your spouse got orders as good as your best friend’s husband.
Relax: You’re not alone. “It’s normal for people to compare themselves to each other,” says Levine. “This helps us learn, grow and shape our future.”
In the moments when those feelings pop up, consider all the good things you do have (easier said than done, we know) and perhaps make plans to work on improving circumstances that are bothering you.
Feeling envious that a friend has a cool new job? Investigate classes you might take or other things you might do to improve your own career prospects. Wishing you had a home as spacious and sunny as your best friend does? Spend a Saturday brainstorming ways to improve your current home, whether through DIY projects or rearranging your furniture.
And communicate your feelings to the other person, especially if the problem is ongoing. Ask for sensitivity from your friend or spouse in the areas that are causing you to worry, so you’re not left upset and discouraged. Is a friend constantly talking about her upcoming vacation? Let her know that you’re honestly glad she’s got a great trip coming up, but it’s also got you wishing you had similar plans.
Occasional feelings of envy don’t have to impact a friendship or a marriage. The problem arises if one person always feels like the underdog, either because of personality or life circumstances. Then, Levine says, you’ve got an imbalance that can cause real difficulty.
Jealousy can grow enormously when someone is lonely or stressed, says Irene S. Levine,
Ph.D., psychologist, friendship expert, and producer of The Friendship Blog. This makes
deployments ripe for potential jealousy. Add in the high testosterone levels and novelty that comes with being in a war zone and the inability to talk about everything that is going on,
and the potential for jealousy is very high.
While recent events in the news may have many questioning the strength and fidelity of military marriage, there has been no statistical evidence that shows service members and their spouses are more unfaithful than civilian couples. That leaves many to wonder if military life builds a strength that helps support our marriages through difficult times.
If you’re going through deployment and jealous feelings are dogging you, take a moment to breathe. To help balance out the impact of the distance and sadness you may be feeling, make sure to take the best possible care of yourself:
• GET PLENTY OF SLEEP: Everything seems more fragile and chaotic when we’re tired.
• EAT HEALTHY: Good fuel will help your brain and your body.
• FRIEND TALK: Talk with friends you trust, who aren’t currently experiencing deployment stress themselves.
• THINK IT OVER: If you decide to write an emotional letter related to jealousy, set it aside for 12 hours before sending it. Then re-read it and make sure it’s something you really want to send.
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