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Battling the green-eyed monster

Imagine, coming home and finding your husband with another woman. Your blood goes up to your face, you can't think, all you can see is red and the face of the woman who is canoodling with your husband...

And the rest, as they say is history. Crimes of passion are no folktales. It's even used as a legal defense because crimes committed out of passion, sudden violence caused by a jealous rage or heartbreak, not premeditated murder, is looked upon more leniently in court and if accepted, reduces the sentence. That's jealousy for you: it maims; it paralyses; it kills.

Everybody feels jealousy
We've all experience jealousy at some point in our lives. When we perceive that there is a threat to our relationship with somebody we value — we feel the onset of this very complex emotion. Your best friend gets a boyfriend who steals most of the time which you used to spend together. Your single mom who's your best buddy in the whole world remarries and now she has to factor in her new husband with your plans.

After years of being the only child or the youngest, a new baby arrives changing the household dynamics — making the baby the centre of everyone's attention. Your husband prioritises your mother-in-laws opinions over yours. Your colleague gets more recognition at work than you do. The teacher prefers to call on your classmate. Your brother gets a nicer job... There are plenty of circumstances that can get your inner green monster roaring.

Jealousy, is truly a complex emotion — it can make you feel pain, rage, anger, sadness, grief, humiliation and envy, one at a time or all at the same time. It can make you resent others and it can make you resent yourself. Worst of all, it can drag you into the bottomless pit of self-pity. It can make you feel faint, make you tremble and sweat and as history has shown us time and time again, it can make you act violently. That happens when your jealousy propels you to act out the rage. You see red and your own Mr. Hyde takes over.

The root of the problem
“Jealousy comes about when one of the couple, either the man or the woman, is insecure,” says *Magda Smith, a UAE-based marriage counsellor. “We had a case before, when the husband would all but restrict his wife from going out and meeting friends. He would get jealous when she went out to dinner or a party with a group of friends or if he's with her, leaves his side to chat with somebody.”

The wife tried to put up with it for some time. But she knew that they could not last together if her husband's behaviour continued. Arguments between them were escalating, especially when they were alone. They simply did not have any quiet moments together anymore. Her husband kept nagging her on why she went out, why she talked with that guy or why she left him to join another group.

The fights became a daily ritual and the cold silence a habit. Finally, when their relationship was worn ragged by the emotional fights, they managed to reach an agreement and decided to go for counselling. They heard about Magda from one of their friends and they ended up having a weekly dialogue with each other with Magda as a mediator.

“As it turned out,” Magda started, “The husband was always insecure. He was always thinking that she might meet somebody better out there or that she prefers to talk to other people rather than him — which stemmed from the fact that he was not confident about himself. Feeling insecure, he preferred to sit in a corner during parties or more often than not, he preferred not to go out at all! And he wanted her to do the same.”

Their issue can be resolved, given that both parties are willing to work for it, says Magda. In this case, it's important for the woman to reinforce her husband's positive qualities. She should let him know the ways she appreciate and love him to bolster his confidence. She should also check her behaviour and avoid things that trigger his jealousy which eventually leads to messy arguments. As for the guy, he must resolve to be more open to his wife. He needs to talk to her when he feels insecure and seek loving reassurance. He must also make an effort in socialising with their friends, to be by his wife's side and not merely on the sidelines.

Dr Kennon Rider, a Marriage and Family Therapist at the Dubai Community Health Centre, agrees. “If its normal jealousy, the best way is with lots of reassurances, and with a strict adherence to careful boundaries,” he says. “If you know your partner is the jealous type, then try very hard not to do things you know would upset your partner, within reason of course. You cannot agree to speak to no one of the opposite sex at a party, but you can agree to have conversations in a larger group, and to include your partner in most encounters, and to show the utmost respect for your partner while you are talking to others. You would have to be careful to introduce her/him and continue to pay attention to your partner in small ways.”

During conversation with a large group of people, try to speak and act in ways that show that you are together. Refer to him or ask his opinion. Touch him on the shoulder. Talk about things that you did together. Even little things help.

Going off on the extreme end
However, not all cases of jealousy are easy to treat. When people encounter the extreme form, the irrational sort, it can damage not only the relationship but their own morale.
*Salma cannot be without her mobile phone, even for just a minute. Her boyfriend, *Khalil, goes berserk when he calls and she fails to pick up. At first, Salma thought it was the cutest thing. He was always so worried about her and was calling up frequently to make sure that she's all right.

Three months after they officially got together, Salma accidentally left her mobile phone at home. She didn't think much about it. She missed Khalil's text messages and calls but there was a lot of work that day that kept her occupied. When she got home, the worry-wart BF was there waiting for her. But he didn't look like a concerned BF about to ask what happened to her, he looked like a bull ready to charge. She hadn't even reached the door yet and Khalil was already mounting a tirade, his hands going all over the place in angry motions that matched his tone.

“Why were you not answering my calls?”, “Who were you with?”, “Are you seeing somebody else?”, “What's your problem?”, “Why don't you answer the phone?”, “Are you hiding from me?” “It was embarrassing, I think our neighbours heard,” Salma said. She was also very worried. It was the first time she saw Khalil that angry.
“I guess, I thought he was just really worried.”

Later, when Khalil was calm enough, he said that Salma should not make him worry like that, that she should always keep her phone with her. “I don't want anything bad to happen to you,” he said. And she thought, “This guy must really love me.”

Events like this happened whenever Salma, for one reason or another, wasn't able to answer her phone. It always ended in ugly fights. Khalil would be shouting angrily at her while she was crying meekly at the side. She learned to live with her phone beside her even in her sleep.

“Typically, excessive questioning becomes the norm when jealousy is getting out of hand. Partners feel badgered and pursued. Partners find themselves having to defend their behaviours when no reasonable person would question their behaviour. The relationship becomes very anxious and tiring,” explains Dr Rider. But he says that all is not lost. “If the problem persists, you might need to suggest outside help, as in a counsellor.”

Ironically, Salma shared, the breaking point came when they went out with her friends. Rami her cousin and also one of her best friends was with them. They were going to catch a movie and the group was waiting in a parking lot beside their cars. As they waited for the rest of their friends to arrive, Salma, who was sitting on a plant box, asked for a sip of Rami's soft drink. It was the beginning of summer and the day was quite warm. Rami handed her the can and as she reached for it, she felt Khalil move behind her. His right arm slipped over her right shoulder, as if to embrace her, and the left elbow came to rest on her left shoulder.

“At first I thought he was just being his sweet self,” Salma shares. “But I felt his elbow digging into my shoulder. He stood there, relaxed and smiling for entire the world to see, for my cousin to see, but he was hurting me!”

It was the last straw. Salma had vowed to herself as a young child growing up hearing horror stories of abused women, that the first instance she is physically hurt by a man, she will leave him no matter what. “Breaking up with him was hard. He wouldn't give me peace. He was always calling and shouting and making me guilty but at that point, I did not want anything to do with him anymore. His jealousy was just too much! Rami is my cousin, and even if he wasn't, I only asked for a sip of his drink.”

Make or break
Jealousy is healthy because it reminds a couple not to take each other for granted. However, when actions dictated by jealousy becomes irrational, it can become a make it or break it point for some couples, just like in Salma's case.

For Leila, it was different. She, as she described, went “psycho” about her boyfriend. When her boyfriend went for his vacation back home, he reconnected with an old high school friend which turned out to be a female. When she heard about this, she was overcome by a jealous rage but she couldn't do much about it, at least, not at first. After much mulling about her situation, she enlisted the help of another friend who taught her how to install some software that will record passwords used on a computer. When he came back from his vacation, she tracked his passwords and the websites he used, in case he was chatting with his “friend”. It became her personal project, practically an obsession.

When he was asleep, she would check his emails. Whenever his phone rang, she would see who it was. When a message came in, she would read each letter. It was a lot of work and even she felt tired from the effort, but it was all she could think about at the time. Unfortunately, her boyfriend wasn't very understanding of her new hobby. When he found out initially, he tried to calm her fears. But after a month and he saw that she was still doing it, they started a calm discussion which quickly ended up in a terrible shouting match. He gave her an ultimatum: trust him or they break up. Leila tried but she couldn't let go of her fears. That old girl friend knew more about him. She's gorgeous. She knew all of his dreams. They talk like they've known each other forever. Leila felt that the friend was everything she was not.

They eventually broke up. Leila on looking back, feels regret. She knew she could have handled it differently. As Magda cautions, “People should be secure about themselves before entering a relationship because your insecurities can be magnified when you're in a relationship.”

“In some cases jealousy is a long-term problem related to past relationships more than to the present one. In this case the baggage needs to be jettisoned, and you need to see the current relationship as it is, and not through the lens of past infidelities. A counsellor can help with this,” says Dr Rider.

If you don't address those insecurities that you feel or the baggage that came from old relationships, they become food that feeds your inner green-eyed monster to life. Then you become a ball of mixed emotions: pain, rage, anger, sadness, grief, humiliation and envy all at the same time. Jealousy can make you feel powerless but it doesn't always have to be like that.

*Name has been changed or withheld to protect the identity of the person.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 26/06/2008

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