How to Avoid both Emotional Infidelity and Irrational Jealousy
EMOTIONAL INFIDELITY vs. EXCESSIVE JEALOUSY
Of all the columns I’ve written, this is the one I’ve had the most requests to send out. Now because of social media, the following is a much longer version of the column I first wrote years ago. Though it will talk about marriage, it is also meant for those in long-term committed love relationships.
The opportunity to have a healthy friendship with the opposite sex comes often to married people online, at work, at church, at family gatherings, in the neighborhood, at parties and on vacations with friends, and talking with other parents at children’s school and sporting events, just to name a few.
I am continually amazed at how many people fall into sexual infidelity and divorce from enjoying too much of what seemed to them at first like a perfectly normal opposite-sexed friendship (OSF). They are like the frog in the kettle of slowly warming water—they don’t jump out, because the temperature rises so slowly they don’t try to jump out until they find they can’t, because they don’t realize they’re being cooked. Here are some meat thermometers you’ll do well to use:
Emotional infidelity does indeed damage a marriage, and every couple needs to agree on where to draw the line. As a suggestion, I have seen certain guidelines that will enable OSF’s to remain just friends, and that will at the same time enhance and preserve a marriage. When OSF’s get too close and personal, either the friendship or the marriage will get destroyed, and often both. The following guidelines aren’t widely observed, but they need to be:
Avoid discussing your or your OSF’s love-life or marriage, past or present, good or bad. That would set up strong desires to meet each other’s needs. Tell them that they can assume your marriage is good, and that if it wasn’t, to protect your friendship, you wouldn’t tell them so.
Don’t discuss your “relationship”, your feelings about doing things with each other, or especially your feelings for each other. Don’t discuss anything related to attractiveness or body image. Even in your own mind, don’t compare the feelings you have toward your OSF with feelings you have toward your Spouse. The two different kinds of relationships, settings and conversational topics naturally would bring out different emotions, regardless of the personalities.
Don’t touch or make glances at your OSF in ways you wouldn’t do in front of your Spouse.
Avoid even the appearance of entanglements. Don’t go alone with your OSF into any place that has a bed. Don’t ask your OSF to help you with anything not required by an organization.
Avoid spontaneous contacts. Don’t start conversations that aren’t necessary: “What’s up?/How have you been?/How was your weekend/vacation/etc.?”
Avoid spontaneous getaways. Before being alone with your OSF even in public, especially over a meal or beverage, and especially at any time you aren’t working and your family is available. If you feel it’s needed for some reason, give your spouse prior knowledge of your intentions, including the time, place, and agenda, before you set it up. Give your spouse veto power, and the power to suggest modifications of your plan, such as your Spouse planning to join you. If this veto or revision privilege is in your opinion abused, you all need to have given a mutually trusted friend in advance the power to mediate and propose compromises.
Don’t share secrets with an OSF that your Spouse doesn’t know, or that your Spouse has asked you to keep. That includes using pet or special names or nicknames with your OSF, including nicknames for your spouses or lovers. Don’t give your OSF access to apps, email accounts, conversations, or social media that your Spouse can’t use and oversee.
Don’t share personal goals, activities, desires, hopes, passions, or dreams (daydreams or nocturnal) with your OSF, especially ones you haven’t fully shared with your Spouse.
At home, don’t argue, inquire, or go on and on about temptations or feelings about each other’s OSF’s. Thoughts and feelings should be confessed to Spouse only if Spouse agrees to handle gracefully their own feelings, thoughts, and conversations about it. Because if Spouse is not able to gracefully handle the truth about your temptations, that is if they don’t take responsibility for getting over the feelings the confessions produce, if they can’t help pressuring you to say certain things, he or she is making it harder for you to be honest, and is undermining their own need to trust you. People cannot take responsibility for their partner’s feelings without compromising their capacity to be honest. Healthy marriages require honesty, and both partners taking full responsibility for their own feelings, opinions, and behaviors. That means they don’t take responsibility for their Spouse’s feelings and behaviors.
Finally, about things covered and not covered above, establish in advance what your Spouse would want to know, when, and then confess faithfully as agreed. If this seems to you impossible or unwise, consult a mutual friend, or a counselor. Then you can enjoy life within your revised boundaries.
The guidelines above for emotional infidelity are the same ones you should use for excessive jealousy. When a spouse insists on stricter guidelines than above, his or her jealousy has probably become overprotective and harmful to the relationship. As harmful as emotional infidelity is to a marriage, excessive jealousy (called irrational by many men and possessive by many women) can do just as much harm. Overly jealous spouses will be miserable until they get themselves some help.
DO TRY THIS AT HOME: Copy this column and make a list of what changes you’d suggest making in the guidelines I have given you here, to suit your marriage or relationship. Ask your partner to do the same. Then exchange lists, think about it silently for ten minutes, and combine them again into one set of guidelines you can both agree to abide by.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown and Lexington, (502) 633-2860.