Jealousy in Relationships Often Has Deeper Meanings
She worried constantly about whether her fiance' truly loved her. Despite his best efforts, it seemed to him he could never reassure her enough. At times, this jealousy dynamic led to arguments. They felt stuck.
He knew, at a deeper level, that his wife was faithful. Yet, if she didn't return a text quickly, his head would spin with scenarios that kept him distracted and disorganized until he heard from her.
Jealousy in relationships often brings couples to counseling because the insecurities become disruptive and threaten the emotional connection.
What these couples will learn is that the roots of jealousy and insecurity may go far deeper than they imagined. And, they'll be relieved to know the anxious feelings can be understood in a new context and dealt with in a way that brings them closer.
Getting to the Heart (and Root) of the Matter
A key foundation and strength of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy -- the most successful approach to helping couples reconnect and restore a healthy relationship -- is its use of attachment theory to help couples deepen their understanding of themselves and their partner.
Attachment is a bond with one most-significant person with whom we want to maintain emotional and physical closeness. After the bond is established, we seek the comfort and reassurance of this special person. Our initial bonds were with our primary caregivers as infants and children. Our most important bond as adults is established when we fall in love.
Through our early experiences, we develop an attachment style. Typically formed in childhood, we may carry forward this attachment style into our adult relationships. Three basic attachment styles have been identified as secure, anxious and avoidant. Some people have traits in more than one style, and our attachment style can change based on a particular situation.
Attachment Styles Offer Keys to Deeper Understanding
Having an attachment style other than "secure" does not mean there is something wrong with us. However, understanding the anxious and avoidant styles opens the door to great insight about ourselves and our partner. This understanding helps uncover the arguments that can stem from jealousy in relationships.
People with anxious attachment may appear "needy" or "clingy" or insecure and can become upset easily if the bond with their partner appears in any way threatened. Jealousy becomes a fierce emotion and, subsequently, a cause of arguments with the other partner doesn't feel trusted.
People with avoidant styles often retreat from conflict and can seem detached and distant. What's challenging for couples is that it can appear to the partner that the avoidant partner is less caring or invested in the marriage or relationship. However, this is typically far from the truth: People with avoidant styles care deeply, yet are more cautious in expressing their emotions and often tend to withdraw or become quiet when conflict arises.
The most challenging combination is an anxious partner who is in a relationship with an avoidant partner. The anxious person craves reassurance; the avoidant person struggles to understand the partner's requests.
There's good news, it's important to note: Attachment styles can change!
The Strain of Jealousy on Relationships
Jealousy and anxiety in a relationship often brings couples considerable distress. Jealousy can take the form of accusations and assumptions. The anxious partner seems to constantly be on alert for some kind of betrayal. The other partner is baffled, and, understandably, begins to resent the partner's attacks on their integrity. It seems no amount of reassurance seems to decrease the anxious partner's emotions.
In couples counseling, we discover each partner's attachment styles. Often, this produces "Ah-Ha moments" -- now the jealousy makes some kind of sense. The person with an anxious style realizes their emotions stem from earlier times of insecure bonds -- from parents or previous partners. Complicating the situation, 0ur anxious brain has learned to become vigilant in keeping track of our partner, and the anxious partner comes across as controlling and demanding -- when in fact, they truly need reassurance.
Our brain has an uncanny ability to remember past hurts. Often, if someone experienced infidelity in a past relationship, they can have considerable difficulty trusting their current partner. If a previous partner was untruthful, it's possible to bring the pain that caused forward into the present relationship.
Solving the Puzzle of Jealousy in Relationships
Jealousy can indeed be exhausting -- for both partners. Through the counseling process, both partners learn to join together to ease the anxious partner's fears. The jealous partner learns the deeper context and sources of their anxiety. They come to understand their jealousy not as a character flaw, but the brain's response to past painful experiences.
The anxious partner can learn to reduce their jealousy responses, to fully absorb and appreciate his or her partner's reassurances and to calm the quick response of their anxious brain.
The other partner often feels relieved, too, by this new understanding. They learn to help each other when anxiety strikes. The anxious partner develops an ability to express their needs in calm requests to which their partner can truly respond
What we seek in our love relationships is a safe haven -- the one person we can go to and rely on to soothe us when we have a bad day at the office, when we are upset and uncertain in the face of life's inevitable challenges. Couples can learn how to comfort one another, how to be fully present and listen to their partner's expressed needs and to be more sensitive to each other's cues that closeness is needed.
Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at 602-882-0533 or Linda@awarecounseling.com.