Updated: Jan 25
#1: Remember, it’s not your issue.
When I first met my husband, I was immediately won over by how thoughtful, intelligent, confident, and handsome he was.
I was to quickly learn though that he had some baggage. He had been cheated on by nearly every woman he’d been with for the last seventeen years. Those wounds hadn’t been healed and had instead festered into some ugly behaviors.
When we’d been dating about two months, I spent an evening at my home cleaning, cooking dinner, and talking with a friend on the phone.
During those two hours, my partner had sent me five text messages. I’d read them, or at least a couple of them, but I was busy and forgot to respond.
When I got to his house that night, he was visibly upset.
Then the questions started:
“Who were you with?”
“What were you doing?”
“Did anyone come over?”
I had no idea how to respond. I felt blindsided, defensive, hurt. I tried to answer honestly and matter-of-factly:
“I was talking to Jenny on the phone,” I said.
“Well, when were you talking to Jenny?” he responded.
I tried to give a time, but then I realized my timing was off, so I tried to correct myself.
“Your story is changing now?” He responded.
“No,” I said and got quiet.
I was at a loss. I’d been folding clothes, hanging them, and talking to my best friend on the phone who was having a hard time, yet my boyfriend didn’t trust me.
I’d done nothing wrong, but I felt like I had.
Thoughts started swirling through my head:
If I’d just texted when I saw them…
If I’d just called…
If I’d just…
But then it hit me that this wasn’t my fucking problem. Even thougheveryone has their phone attached to them, I don’t have to answer ANYONE just because they think I should.
Today my now husband and I have a relationship I’m proud to be in, and I haven’t seen him act out on his jealousy in a very long time.
Here’s what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation:
1. Remember: it’s not your issue.
My partner’s jealousies were HIS jealousies, and they weren’t based in reality, but in fear. I thought if I showed him my phone, gave him a clear timeline of what I was doing when, etc., then he’d understand he was being ridiculous. But in response to me trying to show him my phone, he told me, “You could just delete who you called.”
It wouldn’t have mattered if I could have even shown him a video of exactly what I’d been doing. His brain, tizzied up on fear, was going to tell him different.
2. Watch how you respond.
Fearful people aren’t rational. Arguing with them or trying to prove your point will go nowhere. Further, getting defensive won’t work for you either.
Instead, it would be helpful for you to say things like, “I’m sorry you felt that way. That wasn’t my intention. What can we do to help you not feel this way?”
3. Set boundaries.
Boundaries are for you, not for the other person. Boundaries are not insurmountable walls that some other person has to ascend to meet your requirements to make it acceptable to be with you. Boundaries are not ultimatums. Boundaries are stating clearly what you do and do not like and what you will and will not accept.
Boundaries are stating clearly what you do and do not like and what you will and will not accept.
When a boundary is crossed for me, I notify the other person. If it gets crossed again, I remove myself from the situation. If they keep getting crossed, I remove myself from the relationship.
If your partner has jealousy issues, your boundaries may include that they aren’t allowed to search through your things, not raise their voice when they’re upset, etc.
You know what does and doesn’t feel okay for you. Voice those to your partner, and then maintain them by taking care of yourself when they happen.
Don’t be afraid to express to your partner how their actions make you feel, but also don’t bully, harass, or belittle what they are feeling. Feelings are feelings. No one can unfeel what they feel.
Feelings are feelings. No one can unfeel what they feel.
“When you accused me of being with someone else, I felt hurt that you didn’t trust me” was one thing I said.
“I’m really afraid that this will keep happening, and it’ll escalate into other ugly behaviors,” I also told him.
5. Be affectionate.
At one point in our first fight over this, I picked my bag up and said I was going to go back home.
“If you want to do that, the door’s open,” he told me.
Jealous people are the most fearful about abandonment. The very act of them being jealous can make this a reality since they are literally pushing their loved ones away.
Since I was invested in the relationship, I chose to stay. I chose to walk over and put my arms around him, and say, “I know you’re scared. I care about you. I would like to stay.”
For that particular fight, that broke the craziness in his head because, here I was, reaching out to him and not running away. Over the next few days, I continued to be affectionate, showing him by touch that I was present while also honoring myself by leaving if one of my boundaries got crossed.
6. Know it won’t be fixed overnight, and be prepared to keep revisiting this.
A couple of weeks after that first fight, my partner and I were talking about my children (whose father I‘m divorced from), and I slipped and said, “my husband” instead of “my ex-husband.”
My partner’s immediate reaction was, “Your HUSBAND?” Followed by, “Are you still in love with him?”
I was married to my children’s father for seven years, and my divorce had taken a year to complete and had just been finalized a month earlier. It’s perfectly reasonable that I’d slip up from time to time, and that assuming I was still in love with my ex-husband was a huge overreaction.
Issues like this take time to be healed. My partner had been working on it, and we’re all bound to have setbacks.
As in any relationship, I got to decide how patient I wanted to be. I wasn’t the one with the jealousy issue(see #1), but I got to decide how much space and time I wanted to give him to work this out.
7. While it’s not your problem, you still probably have things to work on.
What I discovered through dealing with my partner’s issues is that I had my own. I could have communicated better. I could have been clearer. I could have been less flaky.
As we worked through this issue together, I had to work on my own too. By By doing so I was able to help us both feel more secure in the relationship.
While every couple has to navigate baggage, there’s no easy or prescripted way to handle something as insidious and invasive as one or both partners’ jealousies. Be prepared for bumps in the road. Be honest. Be clear, and, most importantly, be loving.
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