I wrote a post about someone, Caroline, who was hysterical after her husband, Phil, accused her of having an affair when she was not. He was relentless in his attack, even waking her in the middle of the night to “discuss” it. Her over-the-top reaction was normal under the circumstances. Next, “Caroline” wrote me that she was thrilled to find out that she was normal because her spouse really gave her good reason to yell. Uh-oh. So I wrote another post explaining how I felt about screaming and anger in general.
Now “Caroline” wants to know if perhaps her husband is not normal for his jealousy.
Why Jealousy Is Self-Defeating
Let me be clear that jealousy is not good. It’s not helpful. Not only doesn’t it improve the relationship, but it’s one of those things that creates a self-fulfilling prophesy: It is guaranteed to push away the very person whose love you want.
But is it normal?
How To Raise A Child To Become A Jealous Adult
Let’s take a look at Phil’s early relationships to see whether it would be normal for Phil. Phil grew up with hard-working parents. His mother was a high-powered corporate attorney and his father owned a successful business. There was always a nanny around who made sure that Phil ate and had clean clothes. He was not deprived of toys. He was smart and picked up two foreign languages from his nannys.
As a small child, when he saw his parents, he whined for their attention and they brushed him off with cool statements to “grow up.” He never knew what was wrong with him that made them not love him. At least, that was his perception: that there must be something fundamentally wrong with him and that they didn’t love him. Neither was true, of course. In their own way they did love him but were unable to show it. They lacked the sensitivity necessary to raise a child.
To complicate matters, Phil’s mother had a child, Brad, from a previous marriage who was far better adjusted than Phil was. That is because his biological father had been sensitive to and affirming of him. So when Brad would get the attention that Phil craved, it underscored his belief that the problem was him.
How Toxic Messages Affect Marriage
When someone “knows” for sure that his own parents rejected him because there is something wrong with who he is as a person, he will go forward into life desperately needing and craving the missing validation that every human being needs.
Unable to give that validation to himself—because he doesn’t believe he “deserves” it—he turns to the only logical person to provide it: his spouse. Of course, a spouse is unable to make up for a missed childhood. When the spouse doesn’t “come through,” the individual has “proof” again that he is unlovable.
If he focuses on his own presumed deficiencies, he will become depressed. The alternative to being depressed is to focus on the deficiencies of his spouse. This way, he can concentrate all his energy on the faults of the spouse “who didn’t come through for me.” This is a brilliant coping mechanism. In this way, a person can hobble on through life, working, parenting, and seemingly functioning even though his or her basic machinery of survival—self love and self esteem—is broken.
So, is jealousy “normal”? Sure! For a person with Phil’s background, it is not only normal, but expected. Very, very few people with a childhood history of emotional neglect come through any better. It is like dropping an object to the ground: It falls. Gravity is a law of nature and Phil’s behavior is as close to following a law of nature as humans can get.
This jealousy, as toxic, painful, and destructive as it is, is actually enabling Phil to function in what would appear to the world as a normal fashion. He’s hobbling on crutches, but he’s hobbling.
Obviously, when therapy helps Phil heal from his childhood mistreatment and acquire self-esteem, he will no longer need the crutches of toxic jealousy and Caroline can then begin to heal, too, if she waits that long.
Remember, “normal” doesn’t mean “healthy.” It means “expected.” Phil’s behavior is expected given his childhood, just as Caroline’s is expected given how Phil is treating her. Both Phil’s and Caroline’s reactions can change to healthy ones with healing and the acquisition of powerful skills to get their needs met in a positive way.
Getting Rid of Jealousy By Improving The Rest of The Marriage
There’s a whole other aspect to this jealousy question, too. What is the quality of the relationship that Caroline and Phil have, anyway? Are they having fun together, often? Are they a team in their decisions about their home, their kids, their futures? Can they support one another? How do they handle differing opinions?
Jealousy is like weeds in the lawn: It can only grow where the good grass is not growing. When the soil is inhospitable for growing healthy grass, the weeds find their way in.
On the other hand, if Phil’s history nearly dictated that he would become a jealous adult, it also dictated that he would lack the skills for the ability to have fun, teamsmanship, supportiveness, and handling differences necessary for any relationship, so it doesn’t mean that jealousy is the normal result of all those missing skills.
Nevertheless, if those other aspects of the relationship can be fixed, the jealousy might just disappear on it’s own. The more a couple supports and validates one another, the greater the healing for early childhood pain. Therapy that addresses the rest of the marriage might just work to eliminate the jealousy.