Q and A: My significant other is jealous, and I think that’s unreasonable. What do I do?

The Q: My significant other is jealous, and I think that’s unreasonable. What do I do?

The A: When I was 20, I sort-of-dated a bassist in a rock band. From behind merch tables in crowded church halls, I watched him sign posters with Sharpies and take pictures with fans. While he stood and smiled surrounded by flirty girls, I pretended not to feel what I probably usually felt: mildly jealous.

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To be jealous is to “feel or show suspicion of unfaithfulness in a relationship.” To express jealousy is, in my observation, on a lot of peoples’ unwritten lists of “what not to do while you’re dating.” We are probably hesitant to express jealousy while we date because the phrases “jealous person” and “unreasonable person” are often — and wrongly — used interchangeably.

What sparks jealousy for one person won’t spark it for another. A behavior that is neutral for one person is a red flag for another. We all look at our lives through unique lenses, shaped by experience, influence, genes. What’s important is to discuss this while you date, to disclose — from each of your perspectives — what behaviors are and aren’t appropriate, to decide before you’re married whether you can support your significant other’s expectations of you. (If you can’t while you date, you won’t while you’re married.)

When you are jealous, you have options: harbor your feelings and thoughts for fear your significant other will call you crazy, or communicate your feelings and thoughts authentically.  You can decide without communicating that what a significant other does is indicative of infidelity (which would be irrational), or you can tell him or her what happens in your head when he or she does it — what meaning you attach to his or her behavior, accurate or not.

When your significant other is jealous, you also have options: call him or her crazy (which would be unloving), or respond with respect for and sensitivity to his or her feelings and thoughts. You can refrain from modifying your behavior out of pride or principle (i.e., “I will not stop doing X because X does not mean I am unfaithful!”), or you can patiently work with him or her (and with a good, licensed therapist when necessary, especially if you two are married or intend one day to be), to strengthen or rebuild trust regardless of whether what you did objectively warranted a rift.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I used to work in Catholic marriage prep, and I would encourage the couples I worked with to discuss “the line” they couldn’t cross without being unfaithful. For example, can you go out for lunch alone with a coworker or friend of the opposite sex (married or unmarried) without telling your spouse? Do you need to ask permission? Do you just need to let your spouse know beforehand?

    Those might seem like nitpicky, awkward questions (and they probably *are* awkward), but it’s so much better to draw the line first than try to explain afterward how someone crossed it who might not have known it was there at all.